(3/11/16) - Last week saw the close of the Perfect 2016 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur, where over 90 countries participated across 4 divisions for a chance to write their names into the record books. Up to 10,000 people who entered Malawati Stadium were treated to a phenomenal 8 days of table tennis at its highest level, full of epic rallies and exciting matches.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the powerhouse of table tennis China once again displayed their dominance by retaining the Men’s Championship title by beating Japan in the final. In front of a strong Chinese support the outfit of Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike put in a professional performance to convincingly beat their Asian rivals by three games to nil. It was always going to be a tough ask for Japan to beat a Chinese team comprised of the current four best male players in the world, however they would have remained hopeful considering that the last time China failed to win this event was in the same city of Kuala Lumpur 16 years ago when Sweden won in the final.
While most would have predicted for China to take out the title, it is the fashion in which they did so which is truly remarkable with all 4 team members remaining undefeated throughout the whole of the tournament. An even more remarkable achievement is that this is the 3rd consecutive World Team Championships where Ma Long has not dropped a single set in all of his matches, reinforcing why he is currently ranked #1 in the world.
Likewise, these two countries would meet up again in the women’s final, but unfortunately for Japan the result would be no different as the Chinese women’s team matched the achievements of their male compatriots to win three games to nil. This win marked the 20th time that the Chinese women’s team has taken out the title at this event, leaving table tennis fans wondering if there is anyone who can take on the seemingly unstoppable force which is China.
With an injury to Germany’s best player Dimitrij Ovtcharov and world #9 Timo Boll still struggling to perform at his best after back surgery late last year, the German team was left severely weakened for this tournament. Things went from bad to worse when Boll also picked up an illness a couple of days into the event which meant that he missed out on a number of matches in the group stage. After losses to France and England in their group, a valiant performance by the remaining team members to beat Sweden was still not enough to prevent the runners up from last year’s Championships from crashing out in the group stage.
Considering that the 2016 Olympic Games is coming up later in the year, this is a missed opportunity for the other members of the team such as Bastian Steger and Patrick Franziska to impress their coach and secure a spot in the team for this prestigious event.
Seemingly against all odds, the England team who only reached the top division of the World Team Championships a few years ago had the tournament of their lives to reach the semi-final stage of this event. The trio of Liam Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker who entered as the 18th seeds unexpectedly advanced from their strong group with a great win over Germany. They then went on to the knockout stages to prove that this victory was no fluke, beating the highly ranked teams of Poland and France 3-2 on both occasions to earn a spot in the semi-final against Japan.
While they would ultimately lose 3-1, the matches were much closer than that score line suggests with England’s #1 player Liam Pitchford narrowly losing both of his games in 5 sets. While England would have been disappointed that they couldn’t go one step further to reach the final, by reaching this stage they were the last European country remaining in the tournament, putting the rest of the world on notice that they will be serious contenders in the foreseeable future.
The backbone to England’s amazing run, Pitchford played the tournament of his life to get victories of several higher rated opponents such as France’s Simon Gauzy. Along with these victories, other impressive performances such as narrowly losing to world number 6 Jun Mizutani in the semi-final meant that you expect his world ranking to improve dramatically after proving that he can compete with some of the best players in the world.
Dyjas formed part of the Poland team who advanced from the group stage but narrowly went down to England in the round of 16. He was the hero for the Polish team throughout the tournament, when his win over highly ranked Marcos Freitas helped to propel his team to a 3-2 victory of the number 5 seeds Portugal in the group stage. This teams match was a must win fixture for the Polish team to keep their hopes of progressing alive, and a mature performance by the 20-year-old ensured that they would do just that.
At just 15 years of age, Ito forms part of the formidable Japanese women’s team which reached the final against China. It is already impressive enough for any player that young to be part of their national team, let alone being a key player for one of the strongest countries in the world at table tennis. Ito was instrumental for the Japanese team in reaching the final, as she earned a comeback victory in the semi-final against DPR Korea which secured her team a place in the final. At such a young age to be playing at the top level, her potential is limitless and is well on her way to becoming #1 in the world.
Written by: Rayden Smith