CHINA’S Olympic champion Ma Long capped off a glorious year by defending his ITTF World Tour Grand Finals title at the Ali bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena in Doha last week.
In the final, he defeated compatriot and emerging star Fan Zhendong 11-5, 11-4, 11-9, 7-11, 12-14, 11-9.
The world No.1, who dominated his opponents throughout the year, had also clinched team gold at the Rio Olympics and World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, besides winning the the ITTF World Tour Qatar Open.
“I’m happy to win my fifth title of the year. I played well, but there was a lapse in concentration and I couldn’t deal with crucial points. But luckily, I was able to pull it through,” Ma told Doha Stadium Plus.
Ma seemed to be in a hurry to wrap up the proceedings as he raced to a 3-0 lead. Though Fan fought back to win the next two games and saved five match points, Ma maintained his composure to finish off the match.
“I thank everyone who supported me throughout the tournament. I also thank the International Table Tennis Federation and Qatar Table Tennis Association for organising the event in Doha. It’s a beautiful city and I love playing here. I hope the sport will become even more popular in the region,” said the 28-year-old.
Meanwhile, world No.4 Zhu Yuling ensured China retained the women’s title after she defeated Germany’s Rio Olympic silver medallist Han Ying 11-9, 12-10, 12-10, 11-3.
The last-minute withdrawal of Olympic and defending champion Ding Ning due to high fever had robbed the tournament of some sheen, but Zhu rose to the occasion to win her maiden title.
“I was a bit anxious during the match because I was playing in my maiden final, but slowly I calmed down a bit,” said Zhu. “Winning this tournament is a small step to improve further and do well for the next Olympics.”
In men’s doubles, Japan’s top-seeded Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima lost to South Korea’s Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu 5-11, 2-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-7, 11-4.
In the Under-21 men’s category, Chinese Taipei’s Liao Cheng-Ting defeated Japan’s second seed Yuto Muramatsu 11-6, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8 for his maiden title.
Japan’s Hina Hayata, who was recently crowned World Junior Team champion in Cape Town, bagged a double, winning the women’s doubles and U-21 singles titles.
In doubles, she paired with Yui Hamamoto to overcome Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching 11-8, 15-17, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 12-10 while in U-21 singles she defeated Doo 11-8, 7-11, 11-8, 13-11, 11-7.