Ma Lin is Moscow bound.
Ma Lin lines up alongside Ma Long, Wang Hao, Zhang Jike and Xu Xin.
Notably, in an era where the shake hands grip is used by the vast majority of players on the world scene, China, favourites to retain their Swaythling Cup title, field a majority of penholders in the ranks.
Wang Hao, Ma Lin and Xu Xin are all penholders with Ma Long and Zhang Jike being shakhands grip players.
Thriller in Manilla
In Hangzhou, in a contest that was televised live and overshadowed all other sporting events; the “Heart-Stopper in Huangzhou” matched the “Thriller in Manilla” between Muhamed Ali and Joe Frazier on Wednesday 1st October 1975, Ma Lin won 12-10, 6-11,11-8,11-4.
Wang Liqin Makes Better Start
Success for Ma Lin but it was Wang Liqin who made the better start. In the early stages of the first game he led 7-3 before Ma Lin recovered to steal the game 12-10.
Stung by the concession of a series of points, Wang Liqin captured the third game but from 6-all in the third Ma Lin asserted his authority.
Memories of Zagreb
In the fourth game he went ahead 7-1; in 2007 in Zagreb he had been in a commanding situation in the Men’s Singles final at the Liebherr World Championships when leading by three games to one and 7-1 in the fifth.
In the Croatian city he let the chance slip through his fingers; in Hangzhou he clenched his fist, grasped the opportunity and secured his boarding pass for Moscow.
“In the first game, I fell behind 1-6 and that seemed a very bad omen but I just held the belief that I could win this vital match, and never say die till the last moment; so winning the first game is very very important for me”, reflected Ma Lin. “When facing Wang Liqin in international arena, such as the finals of Shanghai and Zagreb World Championships, I usually held the early advantage but he recovered to win; this time I reversed the decision.”
Well Aware of Slow Start
Certainly in Zagreb it was Ma Lin who controlled proceedings in the early stages of the contest, a fact of which Wang Liqin was well aware.
“Always I seem to have a slow start against Ma Lin, so today I paid more attention in the first game, to make some changes when attacking; I led 6-1 then 10-6; then I relaxed a little in mind and even began to think about how to play in the second game!” sighed Wang Liqin. “Ma Lin made a come back, finally he won the game 12-10.”
Loss of Focus
A game is never over until that final point is sealed but for mere mortals it shows that even the vastly experienced Wang Liqin, three times Men’s Singles World champion, is human.
The mind wandered, he lost focus. It cost him dear.
“After winning the second game, both of us knew the importance of the third game, in that game we both played with a great degree of control”, continued Wang Liqin. “At 5-all my coach Qin Zhijian called a Time-Out, because he noticed I was not doing well with my services; I trailed 7-8 and lost a good chance due to my hesitation.”
He who hesitates is lost and so it proved to be the case for Wang Liqin.
“Ma Lin began to enlarge the gap”, concluded Wang Liqin. “That point at 7-8, really had a bad effect on my mind.”
The comment endorses the comments made by both Jan-Ove Waldner and Deng Yaping at a Press Conference prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when both stated clearly that any major duel is won or lost in the mind.
Wise words but when you are playing a friend, a colleague, the mental battle is even more difficult.
“Actually we are too familiar with each other, so competition between us is not purely about technique and strategy, the one who enforces his technique and strategies wins”, continued Ma Lin. “Today both of us were under huge pressure; the last time we played was when we contested the fourth place; Wang Liqin was in quite good condition and beat me, I had some chances against Wang Hao but finally lost, this is the cruel side of sport.”
In any contest, there is a winner and a loser; that’s sport, that’s table tennis.
“Recently I kept thinking about the competition between Wang Liqin and myself; we were promoted to second tier then the first tier of the national team at the same time; we were selected to be the main force at the same time and then competed in many deciding matches of World championships, World Cups and Olympics Games”, continued Ma Lin. “Just as coach Liu Guoliang had said, this is just a match, a qualification match for Moscow; it could not prove that I am stronger than him, or Wang Liqin’s time is over”.
Is this the end for Wang Liqin; well, not in the opinion of Wang Liqin.
Looking to London
Before this match I was mentally prepared to accept the result; now I of course feel very disappointed, but still see myself improving; at least I played better than the first three selection tournaments”, said Wang Liqin. “After all, Moscow is not my only goal; I still set my eyes set on the London Olympics. I need to make more adjustment, in order to compete against the younger generation.”
It is the younger generation that is the major threat for Wang Liqin’s ambitions to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games; Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Xu Xin form an awesome trio.
Met Before in Selection Duel
“In fact this is not the first time that I played against Wang Liqin in a deciding selection match before big events”, added Ma Lin; before the 2004 Olympic Games he had to play in a contest to decide the Men’s Doubles partnershiup for thje 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Chen Qi and Ma Lin beat Wang Liqin and Yan to gain the verdict, thus denying the latter duo the chance of defending the title they had won in Sydney four years earlier.
“For Wang Liqin and myself, this match could encourage both of us to improve further; if there had been no Wang Liqin I don’t think you would have seen me play at such a high level”, concluded Ma Lin. “This competition, however, will not affect our friendship, we are used to victory and defeat against each other.”
First Time Since Manchester
No doubt that is the case but for Wang Liqin it is a bitter pill to swallow; it will be the first time that Wang Liqin, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday in June, has missed a World Championships since his debut in Manchester in 1997.