24 July 2020
Volkswagen 2004 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals: Wang Liqin justifies status
The name at the head of the end of year standings, China’s Wang Liqin, duly justified his place at the top of the draw to win the men's singles title at the Volkswagen 2004 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals staged in Beijing from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th December.
Ending the hopes of colleagues was very much par for the course; the only player he faced from foreign shores was Belgium’s Jean-Michel Saive in the opening round. Wang Liqin prevailed in six games (6-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-7, 11-13, 12-10), before very much repeating the performance one round later when opposing Chen Qi; a similar margin of victory (8-11, 14-12, 14-12, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8) was the outcome.
A place in the semi-finals booked, he accounted for Wang Hao in a most impressive straight games manner (11-5, 11-9, 13-11, 13-11), prior to securing the title at the expense of (11-8, 11-8, 3-11, 11-9, 11-4).
Earlier, Ma Lin had overcome Peter Karlsson in round one (11-7, 9-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-6), before beating Denmark’s Michael Maze in the quarters 11-4, 11-6, 9-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9) and, in arguably the best match of the tournament, Germany’s Timo Boll, at the semi-final stage (11-7, 7-11, 8-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-7, 14-12).
Michael Maze underlined the progress he had made in 2004 although in the opening round he almost allowed a winning position to slip from his grasp. Playing Austria’s Chen Weixing he appeared to be in control, leading by three games to nil but rash strokes when nearing victory almost cost him dear, the match went the full distance with Maze eventually emerging victorious by the narrowest of seven games decisions (11-5, 11-8, 11-9, 8-11, 12-14, 9-11, 11-9).
Against Ma Lin, the Dane made a disappointing start; he lost the first two games without causing Ma Lin too many problems; however, from the third game onwards he made the Chinese star fight for a place in the penultimate round.
Competing against Ma Lin, it was always very difficult to establish a rhythm. He was so devastating on the first three balls in the rally; however, a player who was able to find a rhythm was Timo Boll, his contest against Ma Lin kept the Beijing crowd spellbound.
Ma Lin won the first game, the German recovered, won the second game and with extremely astute tactical awareness claimed the third; well aware that Ma Lin is exceptionally strong with his forehand from the backhand side of the table he played controlled forehands wide to Ma Lin's forehand to win the last two points of the third game and leave Ma Lin stranded.
Boll, playing with increasing confidence, won the first six points of the fourth game, eventually securing the game 11-6 to move three games to one ahead; in the fifth Ma Lin made the better start but when the German closed the early gap to 5-4 it seemed the momentum was swinging in favour of Boll.
Chinese coach Liu Guoliang called “time out”, the break worked to the advantage of the Chinese pen-holder; he won the next three points and eventually the game. Ma Lin, as in the fifth game, made the better start in the sixth going ahead 6-2, Boll reduced the arrears but Ma Lin maintained the advantage, won the game and thus a decisive seventh game was required.
Neither player was able to establish more than a two point lead early in the game; at the change of ends Ma Lin led 5-4; then he won the next two points. It prompted coach, Richard Prause, to call “time out”. Boll reduced the arrears to 7-6 but Ma Lin won the next two points eventually going ahead 10-8 and thus having two match points. Boll, serving, levelled; then Ma Lin had his third match point but Boll recovered, won the next two points and had what was to be his one and only match point.
He attempted a forehand flick the ball flew off the end of the table; then on the next point a backhand flick from the German hit the top of the net and likewise flew off the end of the table. Once again it was match point to Ma Lin he duly converted the advantage with a powerful forehand topspin that saw Boll on his knees in a desperate attempt to make a return. Ma Lin had won a superb match and was in the final.
Wang Liqin awaited; a contest that was hard to predict, on no less than 17 prior occasions in international competition Wang Liqin had won eight of the encounters and Ma Lin nine. Wang Liqin levelled the score.
The champion elect won the first two games in impressive style, consistent from the backhand, devastating from the forehand; he won both games 11-8 but in the third made errors as Ma Lin gained in self-belief; the latter winning by the convincing 11-3 margin to reduce the match score deficit to one game. It was not to be the start of a major recovery; Wang Liqin won the fourth game, in the fifth Wang Liqin raced quickly ahead 6-0 then 7-1. In top spin to top spin rallies he won time and time again eventually going ahead 9-3 the point at which Ma Lin elected for a “Time Out”. He won the ensuing point but the reprieve was only temporary.
Wang Liqin clinched the next point; the contest finishing in exhibition mode with Wang Liqin jumping over the barriers to retrieve the ball as both players circumnavigated the table and left the umpire somewhat perplexed.
Success for Wang Liqin in the Grand Finals; it was to be his third and last time. Previously he had won in 1998 in Paris and the following year in Kobe.
Wang Liqin received a Volkswagen Carbriolet car for his efforts; just one problem, he didn’t have a driving licence!