Do you love table tennis or ping pong? Let me introduce you to some of the best and most unique players of this sport.
Ma Long's Early Days
Before he climbed to the very top of table tennis, Ma Long was born in Anshan, Liaoning province of Northeastern China on October 20, 1988. At the time of this writing, he is 33 years old. Ma is his last name, and it's one of the most common Chinese last names. His first name, Long, means dragon in Chinese. Ma Long was born in the year of the dragon according to Chinese zodiac, hence the first name. When he was young, his body was weak, and he was sick a lot. Ma's parents wanted their son to get stronger, so they decided that he should play table tennis to improve his strength and health. However, Ma's talent was soon discovered. This is the beginning of the story of "The Dragon."
Ma Long's Early Professional Career
Contrary to popular belief, Ma Long had some difficulty during his early professional career. His first coach immediately noted Ma's natural talent, intelligence, hard working attitude, diligence, and dedication to table tennis even at a young age. With the coach's help and his own hard work, Ma Long improved very fast. Even when other kids felt that practicing table tennis everyday was very difficult and taxing on the body, Ma Long never complained and worked hard all the time. He loved practicing and improving his table tennis skills. You can say that this is the beginning of greatness. When Ma Long was in school, he was also a very good student and consistently scored very high on all subjects.
When Ma Long turned 11, he was chosen as a player from the Liaoning province. Ma Long and his mother moved to Shenyang, the capital city of Liaoning province, to focus on table tennis. Ma Long's parents were not wealthy at the time. His dad became the sole provider for the family. Even at a young age, Ma Long understood his parents' difficult financial situation and showed maturity beyond his age. It was during this time that Ma Long became even more dedicated to table tennis and practiced diligently everyday. However, he was not the best player in the provincial team and even faced elimination. Fortunately, Ma Long was chosen by the Beijing team in 2001 and moved there to further his career. Due to his talent and hard work, he was chosen to enter the Chinese National Table Tennis team in 2003.
Ma Long Achieving Greatness
Fast forward to many years later, Ma Long is now the greatest table tennis player of all time. With Double Grand Slam, he is the only male player to achieve this feat. What is a Double Grand Slam? A Grand Slam is achieved when a player wins gold medals in singles Olympics, singles World Championship and singles World Cup events. He won these three gold medals a second time in order to achieve Double Grand Slam. This means Ma Long has to maintain his top form for at least 6 years or longer. This is incredibly difficult because of the super competitiveness of table tennis at the professional level. Even at 33 years old and many injuries, Ma Long is still able to hold his own in top level matches against many opponents. Nicknamed as "The Dragon" and "The Dictator," you can tell how powerful this player is. Known for his explosive and one the best forehand attacks, Ma Long is also very good at backhand and outthinking his opponents. Combined with his humbleness and dedication to table tennis, he has fans all over the world.
Ma Long's First Great Rival - Wang Hao
However, Ma Long did not have a smooth path to the top. He had many rivals during his climb before being crowned as the king of table tennis. Early on, one of his biggest and most difficult rivals was none other than the talented, Wang Hao. For those that are not familiar with this player, Wang is a very good table tennis with a traditional Chinese penholder grip. Ma lost a lot of confidence with 3 defeats at the hands of Wang Hao during World Championships 2009, 2011 and 2013. Not losing his persistence, Ma became more consistent and was finally able to overcome Wang Hao later in 2013 in the World Tour China Open. After Wang's retirement in 2014, their rivalry ended.
Ma Long's Second Great Rival - Zhang Jike
Just as Ma Long was about to achieve greatness, Zhang Jike appeared and achieve the Grand Slam in only 445 days. Ma Long was left behind and at the bottom of his career. However, the dedicated Ma Long was not defeated. He honed his skills even more with his personal coach, Qin Zhijian (he's now the head coach of the Chinese table tennis man's team). In 2015, Ma's breakthrough came with the gold medal at the World Championships men's singles. With Zhang Jike's increasing injuries, Ma Long started to dominate more of their encounters after 2015. Ma once looked up to Zhang Jike's achievement. However, he is now at another level in terms of table tennis achievements.
Ma Long's Most Younger Rival - Fan Zhendong
Ma Long's youngest rival is none other than the super talented Fan Zhendong of China. Currently, Fan Zhendong is the world rank number 1 player in the table tennis. However, he was defeated by Ma Long many times. Fan was defeated in the semi-finals by Ma Long in the 2015 World Championships. Then, Fan was again defeated in the finals by Ma Long in the 2017 World Champions. During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Ma defeated Fan in 6 games to win the gold medal in singles. This achievement made Ma a Double Grand Slam. Fan said in an interview that Ma is the best player that he's ever seen. Remember that Fan is a player that wins over 90% of the times during all of his major encounters at the highest competitive level. Fan gained a huge boost of confidence with his win over Ma during the finals at the 2022 Singapore Smash.
Ma Long's Love Life, Marriage and Child
Ma is a very handsome athlete with a huge female fan base. One of his most notable admirers is the talented Kasumi Ishikawa. Many speculated that Kasumi likes Ma long romantically for the longest time. However, the rumors came to a close in 2017 when Ma married his long term girlfriend, Xia Lu. In the same year, his wife gave birth to a son. Ma stated in an interview that he dated his girlfriend for 8 years before tying the knot in 2017. Let's hope that he stays happy in his marriage forever.
What's in the Future for Ma Long?
At 33 years old, Ma Long is near the end of his professional table tennis career as a player. It is safe to believe that he will most likely stay in the table tennis profession. Most prolific Chinese male table tennis players went on to coaching. Let's hope Ma Long will do the same and lead a new generation of talented players. However, he has not retired from playing yet. With determination, he is still playing competitively at the highest level. Only time will tell when he will retire. But fans will continue to see Ma Long in the future for sure.