2004 World Junior Championships: Ma Long announces arrival
The name of China’s Ma Long was known, having completed a clean sweep of titles in 2003 at the ITTF World Cadet Challenge in Malaysia and also having advanced to the quarter-finals of the boys’ singles event at the inaugural World Junior Championships in Santiago.
One year later at the 2004 World Junior Championships in the Japanese city of Kobe, he announced his arrival; in that tournament he underlined the fact that not only did he have the technical skills to succeed, also he possessed the mental attributes.
He concluded the tournament by winning the boys’ singles title. In the later rounds he accounted for Poland’s Pawel Chmiel (7-11, 11-6, 11-8, 12-10, 11-7), before overcoming colleague Lin Chen, the top seed (11-9, 11-3, 10-12, 11-5, 11-4) and Korea Republic’s Cho Eonrae (11-7, 11-5, 11-7, 9-11, 11-7) to seal the title.
However, it was earlier in the tournament when Ma Long, 16 years old at the time, had demonstrated that he was a player to note; a player to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Liu Guoliang, Kong Longhui and the emerging duo of Ma Lin and Wang Liqin.
Supported by Li Hu and Zhou Bin; the boys’ team title was secured. Ma Long remained unbeaten in an event that provided a classic.
At the semi-final stage China recorded a nail-biting 3-2 win against Japan’s Seiya Kishikawa, Jun Mizutani and Taku Takakiwa.
After the opening two matches honours were even. Zhou Bin had lost to Seiya Kishikawa (16-14, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10) before Ma Long had overcome Jun Mizutani (11-9, 11-7, 11-6).
It was at that stage the drama began. Taku Takakiwa rose to the occasion to beat Li Hu (13-11, 11-13, 11-8, 23-21). Memorably, at 22-21 in the fourth game, Taku Takakiwa switched the direction of his service fast and wide to the forehand, it left Li Hu dumfounded and flatfooted; incredible bravery.
To the rescue came Ma Long. He accounted for Seiya Kishikawa (8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 14-12) to level matters. The outcome of the fixture rested on the shoulders of Zhou Bin and Jun Mizutani.
The contest went the full distance; in the decisive fifth game Zhou Bin established a 5-2 lead; Mario Amizic, the coach for Japan, called “Time Out”. Jun Mizutani won the next seven points, then he went ahead 9-7 only for Zhou Bin to win four points in a row and seal victory (7-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9).
A tremendous contest, only 15 years old, Jun Mizutani had given heart and soul for the cause, no-one could have asked for more; the match ending in a manner most cruel. A topspin from Zhou Bin that clipped the edge of the table, impossible to return; China had escaped, Japanese hearts were broken.
Equally, the counterpart semi-final had been a nerve jangling affair; the hero of the hour being Lee Jinkwon as the Korea Republic recorded a 3-2 success against Germany.
In the second match of the fixture he beat Dimitrij Ovtcharov (11-13, 11-4, 3-11, 12-10, 11-8), before in the vital fifth and deciding encounter overcoming Patrick Baum by the very narrowest of margins (7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 13-11, 11-9).
The one remaining win for the Koreans was recorded by Cho Eonrae; in the fourth match of the contest he overcame Dimitrij Ovtcharov. The wins for Germany were recorded in the opening match of the engagement by Patrick Baum against Cho Eonrae (11-4, 4-11, 11-7, 10-12, 14-12) and in the third contest by Alexander Krieger in opposition to Yen Inho (11-8, 11-7, 11-8).
Dramatic semi-finals, the final was less so; the reason, Ma Long was imperious form. He beat Lee Jin Kwon in the opening match in straight games (13-11, 11-6, 11-7) finishing proceedings in typical style. The Korean played a strong forehand topspin across the table only to see the ball come back even faster from Ma Long to give China the early advantage.
Next on court arrived two young men who were no strangers, for China it was Li Hu, for Korea Republic Cho Eonrae; they had met in the boys’ singles final at the World Junior Championships in Santiago, Li Hu prevailing. The Korean established a two games to one lead and in the fourth went 8-1 ahead; he won with ease, he had extracted revenge, the match score was level.
Maintaining the same calm attitude as in the penultimate round against Japan, Zhou Bin overcame the defensive skills of Yeo Inho, a player modelled on Joo Saehyuk (11-8, 11-9, 11-4), before Ma Long returned to seal the victory.
He beat Cho Eon Rae (13-11, 11-6, 11-7), his backhand was a model of consistency with his forehand devastating. China had retained the junior boys' team title. Ma Long had arrived.
Editor: Ian Marshall
Photo Credit: Mariann Domonkos