Olympic champion Zhang Jike made a resounding point to the Chinese selectors today with a superb five-set victory over his team-mate and world number one Ma Long in the men’s singles final at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour Kuwait Open.
Zhang, the world singles champion in 2011 and 2013, has not been as successful in recent seasons and was in danger of slipping out of contention for the two singles spots in the Chinese team at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
His performance in beating current world champion Ma 11-9, 11-9, 5-11, 12-10, 11-9 will have certainly put his name back in front o the selectors.
It marked the 28-year-old’s sixth World Tour title but his first since his victory at Kuwait in 2013.
“As team-mates, we know each other very well, so it’s normal that we have a close match,” said Zhang.
“Even though it was four-one, the four games that I won were all by the minimal two point margin.
“Today against Ma Long, I think I won because of my mind-set.”
Question marks still surround Zhang’s prospects against non-Chinese players in comparison with his team-mates, something which may ultimately count against him.
He beat Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov in a seven-set quarter-final yesterday, however, before an impressive 11-9, 12-10, 3-11, 11-9, 11-9 win over another Chinese contender, Fan Zhendong, in this morning’s semi-final.
Ma had earlier overcome team-mate Xin Xu 8-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 in the first semi-final.
Double Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia won the women’s singles event, overcoming team-mate Ding Ning in the final for a second successive season.
She won 11-6, 2-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8 to continue her good form in Kuwait, which including knocking out team-mate Liu Shiwen, the world number one, in yesterday’s quarter-final.
“I haven’t been having systematic training for quite some time due to my injuries so I have never thought that I could win,” Li, whose victory was her 11th World Tour title, said.
“I think my mentality helped in my victory – I came here without any expectations.”
- By Nick Butler
- Republished with permission insidethegames.biz