by Kabir Nagpal

A year of glory

Ma Long is to this very day a master of his art – on his route to securing gold in both the men’s singles and men’s team events in Rio, he gave a series of performances that were simply breathtaking.

Coming into the 2016 Olympic Games, Ma Long had already been crowned World champion and Men’s World Cup winner, glory reserved for the best player in the world at any given time.

However, it was the final frontier in Brazil which would crown Ma as undisputed no.1 in more than one respect. After all, what is the best way to assert your dominance in a sport? The answer: by beating the very best there is.

“I am very happy as this is my first Olympic finals. It was a difficult match particularly in the last three games. Making the finals is extremely meaningful to me as this is the dream for all athletes… I’m looking forward to it. My opponent will be the strongest in the world, and I don’t want go into the match with any pressure.” Ma Long

On the 10th August, 2016 the table tennis fraternity was treated to a match long awaited. Two of the sport’s biggest names were set to collide in splendid fashion as Ma Long faced defending Olympic champion Zhang Jike in a thrilling all-China affair.

Zhang was pitted against a man who was quickly becoming his biggest threat in the game, as the top two seeded entries faced one another in the final of the men’s singles tournament in Rio. The stakes could not be higher as Olympic champion Zhang clashed heads with the World champion Ma!

The final of champions

The final, like many before it, featured a score-line which didn’t reflect the full story. Despite Ma Long being the favourite for the crown in Rio, Zhang Jike was back on the stage where, four years prior in London, he had proved himself very much at home.

Featuring arguably the best backhand in the world against the best forehand, each player also proved most adept at what could be described as their weaker wing, which happens to be just as equal if not even greater than the rest of the field.

Ma reigned supreme with a 4-0 (14-12, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4) victory, however, Zhang pushed his compatriot to his limit. There were plenty of nervous moments and the rallies were kept to a minimum length.

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