ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation)

Normal service resumes for China men’s table tennis as Ma Long leads team to world title after a year to forget

Eleven months after a saga that saw three star players punished for their no-show at two tournaments, the mainlanders dominate at the highest level again

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 11:08am

China lifted their ninth straight men’s title at the world team table tennis championships in Halmstad, Sweden, but more importantly it proved the most dominant nation in the sport didn’t suffer from the fallout of having their beloved coach, Liu Guoliang, axed from the team.

Last June, Liu was controversially removed as head coach to take up a position as vice-president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, a decision that led to Ma Long, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin, the three top ranked players in the world, to protest by not showing up for their matches at last year’s China Open in Chengdu and the Australian Open.

The trio had said they were “too heartbroken” to play after Liu, previously coach for more than a decade, was removed in a major restructuring of the team. The players had formed a very close bond with Liu and their “no-show” earned a stinging rebuke from the mainland’s top sports body, the General Administration of Sports of China.

Ma, Fan and Xu Xin were each fined US$20,000 by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) as punishment but the world’s governing body stopped short of suspending the trio.

Liu’s removal from the team came hard on the heels of China’s former national women’s coach, Kong Linghui, also known as the “ping pong prince” – a double Olympic gold medallist – being suspended from the team a month earlier after it was revealed that he had been sued over an alleged casino debt in Singapore.

China’s troubled past seemed to have been forgotten after the mainlanders swept past Germany 3-0 in the men’s final in Halmstad on Sunday, lifting the coveted Swaythling Cup for the 21st time in another show of dominance. It was Liu Guozheng’s first major success as coach as well, proving that all is well with the China team.

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Ma, Xu and world No 1 Fan never really had any trouble against Germany’s veteran, Timo Boll, the world No 2, Ruwen Filus and Patrick Franziska in their matches.

Ma, the triple Olympic Games gold medallist, laid the foundation by defeating 37-year-old Boll 11-4, 11-8, 11-3. The 21-year-old Fan then gave China a 2-0 lead in rubbers in the best-of-five showdown when he thrashed Filus 11-4, 11-5, 11-4. And Left-handed Xu then completed victory against Franziska, with a come-from-behind 9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 victory.

Xu was thrilled with his victory and told the ITTF website: “I’m so happy, I was under pressure but I responded and the crowd supported me. When I was losing in the second game I knew I had my teammates to follow even if I lost but I believed in myself and I became more active.”

China captain Ma attributed victory to the whole team and said the next big major event the team will be aiming for will be the Tokyo Olympics.

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“Two years is not long from now. We need to plan for it. First of all, I have to get the ticket to Tokyo.”

China also won the women’s team title a day earlier by defeating Singapore 3-1 in the final, making it a double victory for the table tennis superpowers.