Landmark tournament, for more than one reason
A landmark tournament, not just because it signals a return to action for the elite male players on planet earth as sport adjusts to the ramifications of COVID-19 but also because it marks the start of a new decade.
The Liebherr 2020 Men’s World Cup, scheduled to be staged from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November at a venue in China yet to be determined, starts a new decade.
First discussed in November 1979 by the ITTF Executive Committee, the inaugural Men’s World Cup was held in Hong Kong from Friday 29th to Sunday 31st August 1980; the winner was Guo Yuehua, in the final he beat colleague, Li Zhenshi. An all Chinese affair, in the third place contest, it was an all Czechoslovakian duel, Josef Dvoracek accounted for Milan Orlowski.
Fast forward to the 40th edition, the Chengdu Airlines 2019 Men’s World Cup, held from Friday 29th November to Sunday 1st December, again there were medals for China but perhaps not the colour anticipated.
The teenage generation made its presence felt. At the time 16 years old, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto caused a major upset by beating Ma Long in the penultimate round to reach the final where Fan Zhendong ended adventures. In the opposite half of the draw, Chinese Taipei’s 18 years of age, Lin Yun-Ju lost to the champion elect but in the bronze medal contest overcame Ma Long.
It was the first time the reigning Olympic Games and World champion, since making his debut in 2008 in the Belgium city of Liège, had not concluded proceedings with a place on the podium. On his first appearance he had experienced a semi-final defeat at the hands of Germany’s Timo Boll, before overcoming Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece in the third place contest.
Since those days, Ma Long has twice been the winner, once the runner up and bronze medallist three times.
Once again in 2020, the name of Ma Long appears on the invitation list as do those of Fan Zhendong, Tomokazu Harimoto, Lin Yun-Ju and his nemesis 12 years ago, Timo Boll.
Aiming to succeed for the third time, for Fan Zhendong the goal is success for a fourth and maintaining his record of always reaching the final; on debut in 2015 in Halmstad, he was beaten in the final by Ma Long, it is his only defeat in the competition.
Previous winners in the guise of Fan Zhendong and Ma Long; there are two more, Timo Boll and his compatriot Dimitrij Ovtcharov, notably Timo Boll achieving what was to elude both Fan Zhendong and Ma Long. In 2002 in Jinan City, making his very first appearance in the tournament, only 21 years old at the time, Timo Boll accounted for China’s Kong Linghui, at the time the reigning Olympic champion, to seal the title.
More experienced, some 15 years later in Liège, he reached the final yet again; thus this time he had to settle for the second step of the podium, after recording a semi-final success against Ma Long, he experienced defeat at the hands of colleague, Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Could there be a repeat in 2020; or might some young pretenders have a say in the matter?