How Ma Long Became World Champion-Analysis of Final Points


Ma Long is the man! He won both men’s golds at last year’s Rio Olympics and now successfully defends his World Men’s Singles title in a thrilling final! (Courtesy ITTF)

Here is the video of Ma Long and Fan Zhendong starting at 9-9 in the deciding 7th game in one of the best men’s singles worlds final ever. It has great commentary by Adam Bobrow for WatchESPN. Here is my analysis of what happened to determine the World Champion.

9-9-Ma Long went for a long serve at this critical juncture of the match to Fan Zhendong’s backhand likely to get into a backhand to backhand exchange as Ma didn’t step around after the serve. Many top players choose to do something different at critical moments such as this long serve. Fan’s forehand was stronger from the backhand side than his forehand side throughout this match. Fan tried to step-around after playing the first backhand and played one step-around forehand. Then Fan may have thought the ball was going to miss and surprised him by landing on the table or continued to have the trouble with fast balls into his body on the second forehand leading to an error as Ma placed the ball wide to Fan’s backhand. Fan made an uncomfortable forehand and missed awkwardly. Fan was fine against slow or medium-speed balls into his body but had trouble with fast balls into his body throughout this match.

10-9 Ma Long up-Great point! Fan Zhendong starts the rally with his banana flip as he has done throughout this match. The Chinese take calculated risks to make a stronger shot with their forehand and both Ma and Fan step-around to play their forehands on the next ball. Fan’s step-around goes down-the-line to Ma’s wide forehand. Ma is strong everywhere but sometimes has more trouble on the wide forehand ball and plays a weaker ball by his standards, then fishes the next ball with his backhand, and Fan finishes with another laser forehand to Ma’s wide forehand. Many top players play their best and produce highlight points at critical moments and this point proves it. The forehand is measured at 85 km/hr which Adam Bobrow mentions is possibly the fastest shot they have seen the entire Worlds. Of course, this happens at World Championship point! The speed is not as high as you see for tennis serves, for example, but considering how much closer you are to your opponent, the ball seems much, much faster and requires faster reflexes and footspeed.

10-10-Fan does his reverse pendulum serve to Ma’s short forehand and Ma drops it back to Fan’s short forehand. Throughout this match, Fan would use his forehand from his short forehand but this time attempts to flip the ball with his backhand from the forehand. Fan would sometimes use the backhand banana flip from more over towards the forehand side on serve return but never after that. I don’t know if this was a mental mistake as he decided to play backhand before he saw where the ball was coming but the backhand flip was likely the weakest backhand flip he hit the entire match. His flip hardly had any spin, hit the top of the net, and missed. Even if he had made the shot, it would not have put in a a favorable position for the remainder of the point so he may have been better off just using his forehand. Fan has won the World Cup and Asian Championships but the Worlds is bigger and was this an inexperienced mental mistake that may have cost him a title? I don’t recommend for my students to do something new at critical moments unless they feel confident and comfortable with it or have practiced it a lot. I have no idea if Fan practices this backhand banana flip shot from the middle or forehand besides on serve receive but he basically didn’t use it the entire match besides when receiving serve. 

11-10-Match point for Ma Long-This is an example of both players taking risks where one “guessed” right and one “guessed” wrong. World-class players often guess, take risks, and anticipate certain balls. Fan backhand banana flipped Ma’s serve and Ma stepped around his backhand to play his stronger forehand. Fan took his own risk and was getting ready to step around his backhand to play his forehand anticipating the ball to come to his backhand like at 10-9. However, Ma went down-the-line to Fan’s wide forehand going for a clean winner. Ma is World Champion again! Heartbreak for Fan who was so close but he will have many more chances as he is still young. I would be very, very surprised if Fan is not on the 2020 Chinese Olympic Team in Tokyo where he would be one of the main contenders for gold. He has already won the gold in singles at the Youth Olympic Games, World Cup, and Asian Championships. Ma was voted China’s best male athlete in 2016 after his double gold performance in Rio, now has back-to-back World Men’s Singles titles, and will be in the conversation for men’s GOAT after his career is over.

Here is the full match: