Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, they are the players charged with upholding the fortunes of China in the men’s singles event at the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, play commencing in the Metropolitan Gymnasium on Saturday 24th July.
Evidence is strong they could they be the gladiators to contest the final.
Who from foreign shores on duty in the Japanese capital city is likely to beat them? Two teenagers have thrown their names into the hat, Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto.
At the 2019 T2 Diamond in Johor Bahru, Lin Yun-Ju beat both Ma Long and Fan Zhendong; later in the year when opposing Ma Long at the Chengdu Airlines 2019 ITTF Men's World Cup, he repeated the feat.
Likewise, at the Chengdu Airlines 2019 ITTF Men's World Cup, Tomokazu Harimoto accounted for Ma Long, having one year earlier in 2018 succeeded against the reigning Olympic champion on the ITTF World Tour in Japan. Additionally, in the same year he had beaten Fan Zhendong at the Asian Cup in Yokohama.
Meanwhile, Fan Zhendong needs to be aware of Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Brazil’s Hugo Calderano, as does Ma Long of Germany’s Timo Boll and England’s Liam Pitchford.
In 2017, Ma Long was beaten by Timo Boll at the Liebherr Men’s World Cup in Liège, the following year on the ITTF World Tour in Bulgaria by Liam Pitchford. Similarly, Fan Zhendong lost to Hugo Calderano at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Incheon, as well as to Dimitrij Ovtcharov in 2017 and 2020 on the ITTF World Tour in Germany.
There is no guarantee that either Chinese superstar will reach the final but is it not the match in Tokyo we are looking forward the most to witnessing?
Do we really care that they are both from China? Do we not want to see a repeat of their final at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf?
Since that epic, taking that match won by Ma Long into consideration, on the international stage of their eight encounters, it is honours even, four wins apiece.
It is the classic heavyweight encounter, perhaps not in terms of kilos, but in terms of grandeur. It is the “Rumble in the Jungle” when on Wednesday 30th October 1974, Muhammed Ali fought George Foreman, or when one year later on Wednesday 1st October 1975, he confronted Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila”.
Get ready for the “Tango in Tokyo”.
Editor: Ian Marshall