A performance of the highest calibre, justifying the accolade that he can rightfully be considered one of the greatest players of all time; on the evening of Friday 30th July, China’s Ma Long won the men’s singles title at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The no.2 seed, at the final hurdle, he beat colleague Fan Zhendong, the top seed (11-4, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-7) to etch his name indelibly in the history books of sport; he became the first player to retain the title, the first to succeed on two occasions.
Ma Long has now won 16 of his 21 matches against Fan Zhendong at international level but commencing in 2019 it is only the third time he has succeeded in seven meetings.
Since table tennis was first staged in the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, it was the sixth all-Chinese men’s singles final. The exceptions: Seoul in 1988 when Korea Republic’s Yoo Namkyu beat colleague Kim Kaitaek, Barcelona in 1992 when Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner overcame Frenchman Jean-Philippe Gatien and Athens 2004, when Ryu Seungmin, like Yoo Namkyu from the Korea Republic, accounted for China’s Wang Hao.
Five Chinese players have won the men’s singles title at an Olympic Games: Liu Guoliang (1996), Kong Linghui (2000), Ma Lin (2008), Zhang Jike (2012), Ma Long (2016, 2020).
Success for Ma Long but disappointment for Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju, the no.5 seed; in the bronze medal match, he was beaten by Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the no.7 seed (13-11, 9-11, 6-11, 11-4, 4-11, 15-13, 11-7); the German saving four match points in the sixth game.
It is the second time when Dimitrij Ovtcharov has won bronze in the men’s singles event at an Olympic Games and, as in London in 2012, he beat a player from Chinese Taipei to secure the third step of the podium. On that occasion he accounted for Chuang Chih-Yuan.
Also, it was the second time when Lin Yun-Ju had finished in fourth place in the Olympic arena. At the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, he was beaten by Kanak Jha of the United States in the bronze medal contest.
Notably, it is the first time the men’s singles bronze medal match at an Olympic Games has gone the full distance.
Play resumes with the men’s team and women’s team events on Sunday 1st August.
Editor: Ian Marshall
Photo Credit: ITTF