A fourth round men’s singles exit for Fan Zhendong at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest was somewhat of an upset.
The top seed, he was beaten in the fourth round by colleague Liang Lingkun, the no.9 seed.
It was not headline news. The defeat was overshadowed by the fact that he lost to a colleague and thus there was the aspect of familiarity.
Also, the reverse one round earlier experienced by Xu Xin at the hands of Frenchman Simon Gauzy, added to the antics of Korea Republic qualifier An Jaehyun, required to negotiate the qualification stages, reaching the semi-finals and Sweden’s Mattias Falck advancing to the final, was of greater media worth.
Two years prior to Budapest, it had been a very different story. At the Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf, Fan Zhendong had been beaten in the men’s singles final by Ma Long, rated by many a contest that took the sport of table tennis to a new level.
Runners up spot, it was the same at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in 2016 in Doha and 2020 in Zhengzhou when losing to Ma Long. Likewise, in Ahmedabad in 2017 he had to settle for silver at the Asian Cup, when losing to Lin Gaoyuan.
Moreover, at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Incheon, he experienced a second round defeat at the hands of Brazil’s Hugo Calderano.
Relative disappointments, it happens to everyone, the comic book hero, Roy of the Rovers, doesn’t exist; but in the time that has elapsed since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, no player can match the record of Fan Zhendong.
Note the titles he has won. In 2017 he secured the men’s singles title at the Asian Championships in Wuxi; in both 2018 and 2019 he struck gold at the Asian Cup on both occasions the tournament being staged in Yokohama.
Meanwhile, in the period since Rio de Janeiro, he has won six ITTF World Tour men’s singles title, at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, he prevailed in 2017 in Astana, in 2019 in Zhengzhou.
However, it is at the Men’s World Cup where he has reigned supreme. He won in 2016 in Saarbrücken, 2018 in Paris, then in the ensuing years in Chengdu and Weihai. The reason he did not win in 2017 in Liège is because he did not play!
It may be for Fan Zhendong his debut in the Olympic Games, but he does have Olympic experience; in 2014 he won the men’s singles and with Lin Gaoyuan, the mixed team at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.
Add that venture to the equation, the signs in Tokyo bode well for Fan Zhendong.
Editor: Ian Marshall