China’s Ma Long and Zhang Jike booked their places in the Men’s Singles final at the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals at the ExCel Arena in London, following semi-final success on the afternoon of Sunday 27th November 2011.
Currently standing in top spot on the Men’s World Ranking list, Ma Long overcame compatriot and the player in second spot, Wang Hao, in six games (11-2, 11-4, 10-12, 8-11, 11-2, 11-4) before Zhang Jike followed suit. Listed at no.3 on the global list, he defeated Singapore’s Gao Ning, world ranked no.18.
Zhang Jike won in five games (11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9).
Regular Foes The meeting between Ma Long and Wang Hao was no less than their 23rd clash in world ranking events, since they first met at the Qatar Open in Doha in February 2005.
Overall in the duels prior to their confrontation in the ExCel Arena the advantage was with Wang Hao; he had won 13 of the meetings.
Age Difference However, age and experience must be taken into consideration; there is almost a five year age gap and when they met in Doha in 2005, Wang Hao was an established member of the Chinese elite, Ma Long, 17 years old at the time, was still and under graduate.
In 2004 in the Galatsi Olympic Stadium in Athens, Wang Hao had suffered in the Olympic Games Men’s Singles final again Korea’s Ryu Seung Min; whilst later in the same year Ma Long had won the Boys’ Singles title at the World Junior Championships in the Japanese city of Kobe.
Anticipated Result The win one year later in Doha was to be anticipated and Wang Hao proceeded to win nine of their next eleven meetings.
However, in June 2008, Ma Long turned the tables. He beat Wang Hao at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event at the Volkswagen Open Korea and then won six of their next nine international duels.
Ominous Sign Notably, in their most recent meeting, in the final of the Men’s Singles event earlier this year in Stockholm at the Swedish Open, Ma Long beat Wang Hao in four straight games; an ominous sign.
Fast Start Ma Long made the better start in the duel in the ExCel Arena, he won the first six points before Wang Hao responded. He totally dominated the first game; Wang Hao was afforded only two points.
The second game followed the same path, Ma Long raced ahead 6-1; the only difference on this occasion was that he afforded Wang Hao four points!
Closer Could Wang Hao stem the tide? In the third game he responded, he clinched the game 12-10 after saving one game point when trailing 9-10.
The gap had been reduced to one game and the brakes applied to the Ma Long express.
Time Out After never been in the races in the first two games, Wang Hao was now in the battle; in the fourth game Wang Hao led 8-7. He Called “Time Out”.
It proved a wise move, Wang Hao lost just one more point; the contest was level at two games all.
Back in the Fast Lane A close contest appeared to be brewing but Ma Long had other ideas; the first two games scenario returned.
Ma Long afforded Wang Hao just two points in the fifth game!
The momentum was now back with Ma Long; he dominated the sixth game and at 10-4 held six match points; he needed just one.
Clear Favourite Ma Long started as the marginal favourite against Wang Hao; Zhang Jike started as the clear favourite in opposition to Gao Ning.
The two had met on six previous occasions in world ranking events and Zhang Jike had won on all six duels.
Furthermore, only on one of those occasions had Gao Ning really threatened to upset the newly crowned World champion.
Asian Championships 2009 In their third career clash at the Asian Championships in the Indian city of Lucknow in November 2009, Gao Ning had extended Zhang Jike the full seven games distance in their third round contest.
However, that was the only time the Singaporean had tested the Chinese star.
Earlier in the Year One year later in August at the Harmony China Open in Suzhou, Zhang Jike had needed six games to beat Gao Ning but in their one and only previous confrontation in 2011 at the Slovenian Open in January, Zhang Jike had won in four straight games in their quarter-final clash.
In the ExCel Arena, Gao Ning who had beaten China’s Ma Lin and Korea’s Ryu Seung Min, the two most recent Olympic champions, in the two previous rounds maintained his form but he found Zhang Jike a different proposition.
A Higher Gear Zhang Jike won the first game with a degree of comfort; however, the second game was much closer and gave Gao Ning an injection of confidence.
The Singaporean recovered to win the third game but Zhang Jike had an extra gear; he needed to jolt of losing the third game to find that extra gear.
Backhand Effective In the fourth game he minimised the unforced errors and proved effective with his trademark backhand return of service.
Zhang Jike secured the fourth game and in the fifth won the first three points.
Yang Chuanning, the Head Coach of the Singaporean Men’s Team called “Time Out”.
Place in Final Secured At 10-8 Zhang Jike held match point, Gao Ning won the next point; Liu Guolianf the Chinese Men’s Team Head Coach called “Time Out”.
A wise move, the next point went to Zhang Jike; a place in the final was booked.