World no 1 beats compatriot MA Long in seven-set men’s final at Weihai Nanhai Olympic Sport Centre, the first major men's event since COVID cancellations whilst Japanese prodigy HARIMOTO Tomokazu earns bronze
People's Republic of China’s FAN Zhendong has won a third-consecutive ITTF World Cup in a gripping final that saw him secure a 4-3 win over three-time Olympic table tennis champion MA Long in Weihai.
But it was a neck-to-neck battle from start to finish, with Ma taking an early lead in the first set only to be outplayed by Fan in set two, three and fourth.
Whilst Fan held the lead, reigning world champion Ma didn't make it an easy win. Ma dictated the best rallies of the tournament to win the first and sixth set and took the match to a deciding seventh set.
At 5-5, the two men couldn’t be separated, until Fan took a key time out, which allowed him to rally and close the final set out 11-9, and secure the trophy with an 9-11, 11-8, 11-3, 11-6, 7-11, 7-11, 11-9 victory.
Fan's victory equals MA Lin's record of four World Cup titles and the first player to win three consecutive World Cup championships.
After the game, when talking about this hard-won championship, Fan said: "This kind of score and the suffering on the field have given me a lot of training and made this victory even more meaningful."
“I would like to thank the Local Organising Committee and the ITTF who, under such difficult circumstances, managed to pull off one of the biggest events like the World Cup. I would also like to thank my team. Despite this pandemic, we could continue to train at a very high level. After eight months without international events, I didn’t feel very rusty or unable to do what I set out to," he added.
As for Ma, the ITTF World Cup showcased that he was back in top form after years of injury.
Before the finals, Ma said in June:
"The COVID-19 pandemic indeed influenced the arrangement of our preparation for the World Team Table Tennis Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games."
"However, it also provided me with the opportunity to recover from injuries and maintain a good mentality. I can take the time to adjust to the best shape of my body."
In the third-place playoff, world no 4 HARIMOTO Tomokazu rallied from two sets down to seal a 7-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6, 14-12, 6-11, 11-5 victory over JANG Jike.
“There is a huge difference in performance level from the afternoon match," Tomokazu told the ITTF after claiming bronze.
"I made a lot more errors. In the afternoon I played really well against Ma Long and after losing I was quite disappointed. Against Woojin I was still a bit nervous, I think I am still lacking in some areas. Being able to win a medal is still a good achievement, it was not easy winning a single match here but it was still a real pity losing the afternoon match.”
Now, with the end of both the Women's and Men's World Cups, the best singles players will now move on to compete in the the ITTF Finals (19–22 November) in Zhengzhou.