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  • How good are the Lebrun brothers? A historical perspective

    How good are the Lebrun brothers? A historical perspective

    Table Tennis Media looks at the historical perspective of Europe’s most talented players throughout the years.

    The talented French brothers – Alexis and Felix Lebrun have regularly made headlines in the table tennis news during the past few years. They have been successful not only on the national level, winning medals at the French Championships but also earning recognition and accolades in the international arena.

    For our Premium Members, we present you with a visualised historical perspective on the development of the Lebrun brothers, compared to some of the other European all-time greats.

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  • Fan Zhendong defends his crown in the worst organized World Championships ever

    Fan Zhendong defends his crown in the worst organized World Championships ever

    The 2023 World Table Tennis Championships brought plenty of pleasant surprises and the worst organization ever by ITTF and WTT.

    When we evaluate and look back at such a big event as World Championships, we need to separate the performance of players, which was truly exciting, and the organization. In terms of purely table tennis, World Championships simply cannot disappoint. Of course, the Chinese dominance might annoy or scare away some parts of the table tennis audience, but we still got a chance to enjoy all the best players in action. All the favorites went to Durban to pursue the medals.

    The season, leading up to this tournament saw some of the Chinese players having a tough time in WTT tournaments, but as predicted – they reached the top form for the most important tournament of the year. All five Chinese players were able to reach the 1/4 finals stage, and eventually, they won all the medals in the singles event. They once again proved that when it matters the most, their mental strength is at its peak.

    You cannot say the same about other internationals. 2021 World Championships finalist Truls Moregardh showed that his temper and slightly arrogant attitude cannot carry him past the Round of 32. The Swedish star is a very talented, but still unstable player. All the comparisons with Jan-Ove Waldner should calm down a bit now. It’s one thing to shine when you’re underdog, but completely different when you have a status of a favorite. Pressure is different.

    However, this tournament once again strengthened the idea that outside of the top Chinese players, everyone can win anyone. The Rankings system is broken, and it does not give a clear indication of a player’s strength. Even a Top 10 player, like Hugo Calderano, can be knocked out in the first round. That’s why we saw the Danish sensation Anders Lind make it to the Top 8. He might be ranked outside of the Top 100, but the quality is there, and his ranking does not do any justice.

    Many fans were hoping to see Ma Long make a strong run and win his fourth singles title in his career. The 34-year-old veteran truly had a good run, feeling little to no resistance up to the semi-finals stage. There, he had to surrender his title hopes to Wang Chuqin. Ma Long still has the quality to be a title contender, but Wang Chuqin seems the one player that is simply too hard to beat for him. Too fast to keep up with him in the decisive moments.

    The eventual champion Fan Zhendong, on the contrary, was able to find his ways to win his second consecutive World Championships title. Unlike his older teammate, who has gone through surgeries and injuries, Fan Zhendong remains in top condition. Wang Chuqin resisted well and gave the impression that he might this one, but he lacked composure in the decisive moments. He occasionally got caught up in a desire to finish the point earlier, while his opponent was slightly more patient and consistent in such episodes. It was a lightning-speed versus brutal power matchup, and this time, power closed the deal.

    And now the worst part. The organization. Awful, terrible – only negative words can be attributed to ITTF and WTT. Nobody cared about this tournament in South Africa. The decision to make the background during live streams almost black was simply to hide the fact that the stands were empty. It’s a World Championships, but the atmosphere was simply non-existent. It reminded some WTT-organized Feeder tournament, rather than an actual WTTC.

    It clearly shows that awarding major tournaments to countries without any serious table tennis traditions is a mistake. Why would anyone buy expensive tickets, if nobody cares about this sport there? Organize the World Championships in China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Spain, and the list goes on. There are so many countries around the world that would guarantee a wonderful experience for both – players and fans. But no, ITTF and WTT completely messed it all up.

    The same can be said about the system of this tournament. It’s broken. The last actual World Championships took place in 2019. Since Budapest, it has been sort of a parody. If it’s World Championships, why not allow every country to send its best athletes to participate? In the past, the system was perfect. Top-ranked players waited for the main draw, while the lower-ranked players had a chance to enter the main draw through the qualification rounds. It’s a completely fair and understandable system. Now you get a limited number of countries participating, and the draw also messes up everything. You can get two mediocre players drawn together in the first round, and one of them advances to the next round. At the same time, you can get two strong players to face each other in the first round, and one has to exit early. Sure, the draw can never be 100% perfect, but the current system is awful. It’s not worth limiting the countries that can participate.

    The live-streaming also did not make much sense. Many fans were stripped from the opportunity to see the action in the decisive stages. If ITTF and WTT do not respect the actual table tennis fans, there is no way such an attitude will lead to an increase in people who would like to follow this sport. Unlikely, but hopefully, some notes will be taken, and we will never again have to see such a terribly organized event. It does no good to the popularization of table tennis.

    2023 WORLD TABLE TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS RESULTS

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  • The TOP 10 highest ranked players at 2023 WTTC – looking back at their past success

    The TOP 10 highest ranked players at 2023 WTTC – looking back at their past success

    An infographic featuring the Top 10 highest-ranked players before the 2023 World Table Tennis Championships in Durban.

    As the World Championships is approaching, we recently published a video about the 10 most accomplished players in WTTC history. Definitely give it a watch.

    However, the question of, who will see the glory in Durban, remains to be answered. Obviously, the Chinese national team is keen to take all the gold medals possible, and they will present all their best players in South Africa. Fan Zhendong, Wang Chuqin, and of course, the legendary Ma Long as well.

    In the infographic below, you can see all the highest-ranked players before the World Championships, and the amount of success they had in previous WTTC editions. Some are well-accomplished already, but most of them are still dreaming of their first gold at the biggest stage. The Brazilian star Hugo Calderano is yet to enjoy the feeling winning of a medal at the World Championships since he’s the only one from the Top 10 who has never won any.

    Will there be any massive surprises, or this will be another tournament of China’s continued success? We will find that out very soon!

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  • Wilfried Lieck – one of the greatest blockers in table tennis history

    Wilfried Lieck – one of the greatest blockers in table tennis history

    Proper blocking is one of the most underrated skills in table tennis. When we think of the masters of this skill, the first world-class names that come to mind probably are, Jan-Ove Waldner, Oh Sang-Eun, and Vladimir Samsonov. Back in the 60s, there was a young German player on the rise who perfected the blocking skill and earned plenty of accolades in the next few decades. His name is Wilfried Lieck.

    Born in 1945, the future German international won his first medal at the national championships in 1965. Soon, he joined the national team and successfully represented Germany in the international arena, for almost two decades. Shot-blocking became the key element in Lieck’s playing style. He played close to the table and relied on this element a lot. To block the shots efficiently, a great feeling and control of the ball are crucial. Lieck had it all, and his rare style of play brought a lot of success, both – nationally and internationally.

    Throughout his career, he became the most successful German player on the national level, with a total of 16 gold medals in the German National Championships. Timo Boll and Jörg Roßkopf have the same amount of gold medals, but Lieck was able to win more medals in total. He was also very successful in the German Bundesliga, winning four titles during his career.

    In the international arena, Lieck won silver and bronze medals in the team event of the World Championships together with other renowned German players, such as Eberhard Schöler. In 1978, Wilfried Lieck became the European champion in the mixed doubles event. On the professional circuit, the German international won two singles titles.

    Despite his rare playing style, the success was there. Lieck is without a doubt – one of the greatest shot-blockers in table tennis history. Every top-class player can have a sequence during the game where he uses blocking as his main weapon. However, there is a massive difference between using this element occasionally and building the whole game around it. On the top level, Lieck and the Englishman, Desmond Douglas were the only two players who managed to achieve success at the major tournaments by keeping close to the table and being able to return the variety of the opponent topspins with confidence and great consistency.

    Lieck played in an era when top-class players had very different styles, tactics, and characters. Unfortunately, nowadays, you won’t see this kind of player succeed. Even the defenders are the dying breed of table tennis, and blocking is more of a supplementary element for the top players rather than a cornerstone of their game. Luckily, we can at least enjoy some of the highlights, from the games of Wilfried Lieck. Such one-of-a-kind players made the game truly exciting to watch.

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  • 44-year-old Vallot Vainula rewrites the history at the Estonian National Championships

    44-year-old Vallot Vainula rewrites the history at the Estonian National Championships

    The living Estonian table tennis legend became the absolute champion in the 2023 national championships, also setting a new record.

    Prior to this year’s tournament, the Estonian veteran had 36 gold medals on his resume. Just one less than the 1973 World Championships bronze medalist Rein Lindmäe. Vallot Vainula had a chance to rewrite history and become the most accomplished player in the national championship’s history. As you can already guess, he excelled in this task.

    Teaming up with Aleksandr Smirnov, they won the doubles event, overcoming Aleksandr Lušin and Stanislav Strogov in the final 3-1. In the mixed doubles final, Vainula and Airi Avameri won against Aleksandr Smirnov and Katlin Põldveer 3-1.

    The journey toward the gold medal in the singles event was the most challenging one. Experienced Vainula had plenty of trouble in the semi-final against the 16-year-old Estonian talent Markkos Pukk. He had a 3-2 and 9-6 lead, however, Vainula remained focused and was able to take the game to the seventh set. The decider was close, but the experience took over youth and Vainula advanced to the final.

    In the final, his opponent was Mart Luuk, who had a successful start, having a 2-1 lead. The next three sets were tight and Luuk put up a great fight. However, Vainula won all three sets in a row and won his 9th singles gold and 39th gold medal overall.

    The future tournaments will be interesting to follow, as Aleksandr Smirnov will continue to pursue gold medals to overcome Vallot Vainula as the most accomplished Estonian table tennis player of all time. After this tournament, Smirnov has 36 gold medals. Since he is seven years younger than Vainula, the age difference might be an advantage at one point. Who will be the Estonian all-time leader? The time will show.

    2023 ESTONIAN TABLE TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS MEDALISTS

    SINGLES
    Vallot Vainula
    Mart Luuk
    Aleksandr Smirnov
    Markkos Pukk

    DOUBLES
    Vallot Vainula/Aleksandr Smirnov
    Aleksandr Lušin/Stanislav Strogov
    Maksim Vuhka/Sergei Petrov
    Mart Luuk/Mihkel Pae

    MIXED DOUBLES
    Vallot Vainula/Airi Avameri
    Aleksandr Smirnov/Katlin Põldveer
    Stanislav Strogov/Vitalia Reinol
    Maksim Vuhka/Valeria Hachard

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  • International stars struggle, as Ryukyu Asteeda wins its second Japanese T-League title

    International stars struggle, as Ryukyu Asteeda wins its second Japanese T-League title

    The 2022/23 T-League season finished with a thrilling final, featuring some of the world’s best players.

    Similar to previous seasons, the 2022/23 season featured four teams that played each other seven times during the regular season. The two best teams advanced to the final at the end of the season.

    Aside from the local Japanese stars, such as Tomokazu Harimoto, Koki Niwa, and Maharu Yoshimura, T-League also presented some international stars, such as Hugo Calderano and Lin Yun-ju. The Brazilian superstar was a part of Kinoshita Meister Tokyo that finished the regular season in first place. Calderano contributed to its success with 6 wins, while he also lost 8 games.

    In the final, the club from Tokyo met Ryukyu Asteeda, led by Tomokazu Harimoto and Maharu Yoshimura. The atmosphere was truly electrifying with more than 2000 spectators in the hall. Players were really passionate during the games, and Harimoto was shouting even louder than usual. However, it wasn’t the easiest day for the Japanese superstar.

    Ryukyu Asteeda took a lead after the first match, as the Yoshimura brothers won the doubles against Hiroto Shinozuka and Yuya Oshima 2-1. Kinoshita Meister Tokyo made the game even after Mizuki Oikawa confidently won Kazuki Hamada 3-1. The next game had a clear favorite and Ryukyu Asteeda fans definitely expected to see their team taking a lead as Tomokazu Harimoto was about to play Hiroto Shinozuka. It turned out completely opposite. Harimoto looked powerless and Shinozuka took a very confident 3-0 victory. The overall result was 2-1 in favor of the Tokyo club, and they were just one win away from the title.

    The current number five in the World Rankings, Hugo Calderano had a chance to become a hero of this match. All he had to do was to win against Maharu Yoshimura, who is an experienced player, but he has mostly excelled on the local level in recent years. The Japanese took the lead early, but Calderano was able to come back every time, taking it to the fifth set. This is where Yoshimura proved his quality, winning the decider 11-7 and taking down the Top 5 player in the World.

    With the overall result 2-2, the 2022/23 champion of the T-League was decided in a one-set-showdown between Tomokazu Harimoto and Hugo Calderano. The Japanese quickly took a lead, Calderano tried to change the course of the game with a time-out, but it did not help. Harimoto won confidently 11-4 and the audience could the best of his emotions. It has been a truly great journey for Harimoto in T-League. In five seasons of its existence, the Japanese superstar has won four titles.

    Overall, T-League is a really exciting competition to follow. From the 2023/24 season, there will be also two new teams joining the league, and there could be more international stars strengthening the squads of the Japanese teams. It looks like the T-League is on the way to becoming the world’s second-best club competition after the Chinese Super League. If the progress continues, it can definitely overcome German Bundesliga in the future.

    2022/23 T-LEAGUE FINAL

    3 Ryukyu Asteeda
    2 Kinoshita Meister Tokyo
    Maharu Yoshimura/Kazuhiro Yoshimura Yuya Oshima/Hiroto Shinozuka 2-1 (11-7, 10-12, 12-10)
    Kazuki Hamada – Mizuki Oikawa 1-3 (8-11, 7-11, 11-8, 9-11)
    Tomokazu Harimoto Hiroto Shinozuka 0-3 (8-11, 7-11, 8-11)
    Maharu Yoshimura Hugo Calderano 3-2 (11-6, 6-11, 11-3, 9-11, 11-7)
    Tomokazu Harimoto Hugo Calderano 1-0 (11-4)

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  • Marc Duran takes the crown at the Spanish National Championships in Jaen

    Marc Duran takes the crown at the Spanish National Championships in Jaen

    The national championships in the European countries are on the way. Spanish table tennis fans already know their 2023 champions.

    The 35-year-old Marc Duran repeated his 2022 success and won the singles event in Jaen. Since the leading Spanish player Alvaro Robles did not take part in this tournament, it evened the chances for other players and increased the intrigue. Plenty of players could have taken the title.

    Duran is an experienced player. Prior to this tournament, he already had 11 national titles on his resume (8 in doubles, two in singles, and one, in a mixed doubles event). On the way to the final, Duran confidently got past Daniel Berzosa (4-1) in the 1/4 finals, and Alberto Lillo in the semi-final stage (4-2).

    His opponent in the final, the 30-year-old Carlos Franco had a slightly more challenging path. In the 1/4 final, it took Franco seven sets to get past Juan Perez. In the semi-final, his opponent was the Spanish legend, the 42-year-old veteran Carlos Machado. He is an 11-time Spanish champion in singles. However, the experience did not help this time and Franco got a 4-2 lead.

    The final did not turn out as a spectacle for the fans. Duran took a confident lead and gave away only one set to Franco. 4-1 and Duran got his third singles title! For Franco, a slight consolation was the doubles event where he managed to win the gold medal together with Miguel Angel Vilchez.

    In the mixed doubles event, the 41-year-old penhold player Jesus Cantero added another gold medal to his collection. He repeated his 2022 success and together with Maria Xiao, they got a confident 3-1 win in the final against the young Universidad de Burgos players Daniel and Maria Berzosa.

    2023 SPANISH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS MEDALISTS

    SINGLES
    Marc Duran
    Carlos Franco
    Carlos Machado
    Alberto Lillo

    DOUBLES
    Carlos Franco/Miguel Angel Vilchez
    Rafael de las Heras/Angel Ayuso
    Francisco Ruiz/Jose Guillot
    Alvaro Gainza/Juan Perez

    MIXED DOUBLES
    Jesus Cantero/Maria Xiao
    Daniel Berzosa/Maria Berzosa
    Miguel Pantoja/Eugenia Sastre
    Carlos Caballero/Sofia-Xuan Zhang

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  • Dimitrij Ovtcharov & Neu-Ulm vs. TTBL. Who Is Right In This Conflict?

    Dimitrij Ovtcharov & Neu-Ulm vs. TTBL. Who Is Right In This Conflict?

    Recently, after the semi-final of the Champions League, one of TTC Neu-Ulm’s leading players, Dimitrij Ovtcharov came up with criticism toward the German Bundesliga and the fact that Borussia DĂĽsseldorf’s manager is a part of the supervisory board of the German Bundesliga. After a while, Ovtcharov edited his post and expressed doubts about the continuation of his career in the Bundesliga due to the suspensions and fines against his teammates – Lin Yun-Ju and Truls Moregardh. The situation evolved quickly, and soon Neu-Ulm club announced its withdrawal from Bundesliga and plans to continue playing only in the Champions League. Who is right in this situation? Actually, this is not one of those complex conflicts.

    First of all, it’s obvious that Dimitrij Ovtcharov made a terrible decision to make these comments. Neu-Ulm has shown plenty of childish behavior and disrespect toward the fans and the Bundesliga. While other clubs have to write their history step by step and advance to the elite of German table tennis, TTC Neu-Ulm appeared out of nowhere in 2019 and got their place in Bundesliga only because of a wealthy owner. As you might guess, such a club does not get much love from German table tennis fans, and deservedly so.

    The current situation just shows what comes with having these wealthy individuals in the league. They know what the rules are, players know what the rules are, and there is nothing wrong with Bundesliga fining anyone, who breaks those rules. If there is a rule that a Bundesliga player cannot play in any other country as long as he’s under a contract with a German club, it must be respected. Ovtcharov’s and Neu-Ulm’s criticism is unfair and has no context. Let’s take a simple analogy from football. Imagine, if Lionel Messi would ask PSG to occasionally allow him to play for Barcelona again. Do you think anyone would allow such nonsense? That’s pretty much what Ovtcharov and Neu-Ulm were unhappy about.

    So clearly, Bundesliga has the right in this situation and Neu-Ulm’s withdrawal is not a big deal, in general. They anyway barely played their star players in Bundesliga games, mostly deploying their B squad. From the league’s standpoint, there is no reason to somehow allow a breach of rules for a team that openly downplays Bundesliga importance. Ovtcharov criticized Borussia DĂĽsseldorf’s manager, but if you look at their approach, there is no B-squad. Fans can be sure that in most of the games, they will see Timo Boll, Anton Källberg, and Dang Qiu in action. No matter, whether it’s the German Bundesliga or Champions League. If Ovtcharov and his teammates wanted to play for different teams during this season, they could’ve signed contracts in Sweden or other countries that allow such an approach.

    Such conflicts do not benefit table tennis as a sport, and it once again proves that such artificial projects as Neu-Ulm bring more bad than good. Table tennis is a poorly financed sport, compared to other sports, but German Bundesliga is by far the best and most competitive table tennis league in Europe. If players, like Ovtcharov, do not appreciate the opportunity to play there, it’s perfectly fine. At the same time, are there any better options? Chinese Super League rarely invites European players, and the Japanese T-League remains the only lucrative option outside of it.

    Some might argue that it’s unfair to criticize Ovtcharov for his loyalty to Neu-Ulm’s policies. But there are two moments. First, nobody forced Ovtcharov to make any comments and then edit them. Second of all, he’s a seasoned veteran who knows the German system and rules perfectly. If he would be one of his younger and foreign teammates, there could be given some benefit of the doubt, since they are less familiar with Bundesliga. Honestly, in this situation, Ovtcharov simply seems to be bitter about his failure to get those crucial wins in the Champions League semi-finals, and his emotions went in the wrong direction. Still, it can’t be an excuse.

    In conclusion, we might not see the TTC Neu-Ulm in the next Bundesliga season, and it’s not a loss at all. We never really saw its full power in the Bundesliga anyway. Judging by the table tennis fan reactions on social media, this club won’t be missed. The majority of the fans prefer to see the clubs that evolve and write their history naturally, by winning their way into the Bundesliga, not by simply purchasing it. Hopefully, Bundesliga management will also take a lesson, and won’t approve such clubs in the league again.

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  • A closer look at the 2023 Chinese World Championships Trials

    A closer look at the 2023 Chinese World Championships Trials

    Sixteen of the best Chinese players meet to battle for the opportunity to play in the 2023 World Championships in Durban.

    Outside of Lin Shidong (he was replaced by Xu Haidong), who was diagnosed with COVID-19 after return from Amman, all the current leading Chinese players were ready to earn their ticket to Durban. However, as the event progressed, three more players withdrew due to fever – Xiang Peng, Chen Yuanyu and Zhou Kai.

    One of the surprises of the group stage was the unsuccessful run of Lin Gaoyuan, who placed only third in his group after losing to Xue Fei and Liang Jingkun.

    The main favorites proved their quality and won their respective groups. The winners of each group advanced to the semi-finals stage. Draw brought together Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin, as well as Ma Long and Liang Jingkun. Unfortunately, Wang Chuqin had to withdraw and join the list of players who were affected by the virus. It allowed Fan Zhendong to qualify for the final effortlessly and join Ma Long, who got a confident 3-1 win against Liang Jingkun.

    In the final, Ma Long got a surprisingly confident 3-0 win against Fan Zhendong. It looks like the 34-year-old veteran remains the main favorite to win the singles title in Durban. This could be his fourth singles title – a unique feat in modern table tennis.

    In mixed doubles event, Lin Gaoyuan and Chen Xingtong were the strongest pairing, overcoming Yu Ziyang and Sun Mingyang in the final.

    FINAL

    Ma Long
    3-0 vs. Fan Zhendong (11-8, 11-5, 11-7)

    SEMI-FINALS
    Fan Zhendong
    W-0 vs. Wang Chuqin

    Ma Long
    3-1 vs. Liang Jingkun (11-7, 11-5, 3-11, 13-11)

    GROUP STAGE

    GROUP A

    Player1234PointsPlace
    Fan Zhendong3-13-13-061
    Zhou Qihao1-3W:03-152
    Zhou Kai1-30:W0:W14
    Liang Yanning1-30-3W:043

    GROUP B

    Player1234PointsPlace
    Ma Long3-03-13-261
    Xu Yingbin0-33-13-052
    Xu Haidong1-31-33-043
    Yuan Licen2-30-30-334

    GROUP C

    Player1234PointsPlace
    Wang Chuqin3-0W:0W:061
    Liu Dingshuo0-33-0W:052
    Xiang Peng0:W0-30:W13
    Chen Yuanyu0:W0:W0:W04

    GROUP D

    Player1234PointsPlace
    Liang Jingkun3-13-23-261
    Lin Gaoyuan1-30-33-043
    Xue Fei2-33-02-342
    Zhao Zihao2-30-33-244

    2023 CHINA WTTC TRIALS HIGHLIGHTS

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  • Shunsuke Togami does it again! 21-year-old Japanese wins his second All Japan Table Tennis Championships title in a row

    Shunsuke Togami does it again! 21-year-old Japanese wins his second All Japan Table Tennis Championships title in a row

    The 2023 edition of the All Japan Table Tennis Championships brought another surprise in the singles event.

    While in the international arena, the main Japanese hope is Tomokazu Harimoto, the internal competition has once again proved that Shunsuke Togami is ready to write his name among the greats of Japanese table tennis. Same as the year earlier, Togami managed to win the singles event. Last year, he overcame Kenta Matsuidara in the final 4-2. This year, the final’s result against Harimoto was the same.

    Togami’s success will only strengthen his position in the Japanese national team before the upcoming World Championships in Durban. He has previously expressed a high motivation to earn his spot for the 2024 Olympic Games, and all the recent success only increases Togami’s chances to play in Paris alongside Harimoto.

    As long as Harimoto continues to be among the leading players in the world, he remains pretty much untouchable in the Japanese team. A tougher internal competition can be seen as a positive thing. The recent Team World Championships showed that Harimoto is capable of winning against any opponent, but to win the gold medals, he needs help. Despite losing the singles final, Harimoto managed to earn two gold medals in this tournament, winning doubles and mixed doubles events.

    This tournament proved to be a successful run for the 15-year-old talent Sora Matsushima, who reached the doubles final together with Mizuki Oikawa. Also worth mentioning is the bronze medal for Hiroto Shinozuka, who has been successful in the WTT tournaments during 2022 and is also slowly climbing up in the ranks of the Japanese team.

    2023 ALL JAPAN CHAMPIONSHIPS MEDALISTS

    SINGLES
    Shunsuke Togami
    Tomokazu Harimoto
    Hiroto Shinozuka
    Kakeru Sone

    DOUBLES
    Tomokazu Harimoto/Masataka Morizono
    Mizuki Oikawa/Sora Matsushima
    Kohei Sambe/Ryuzaki Tonin
    Tazoe Kenta/Yuya Oshima

    MIXED DOUBLES
    Tomokazu Harimoto/Nina Hayata
    Yuta Tanaka/Chiaki Tanaka
    Shodai Sakane/Maki Shiomi
    Norihiro Ito/Natsuko Hagii

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  • Zhuang Zedong – three consecutive World Championships singles titles & a key role in Ping-pong diplomacy

    Zhuang Zedong – three consecutive World Championships singles titles & a key role in Ping-pong diplomacy

    Before the successful run of Ma Long, there was a Chinese international who dominated the World Table Tennis Championships in the 1960s.

    Zhuang Zedong was a member of the talented Chinese generation that managed to break the dominance of Japanese, Hungarian and Czechoslovak table tennis legends. Until the 1960s, the players from these countries were winning gold medals in singles and team events. In 1959, Rong Guotuan managed to win the first singles title for China, beating Hungarian veteran Ferenc Sido in the final. It marked the shift in the course of table tennis history.

    For the next three World Championships, the Chinese team dominated most of the events, and Zhuang Zedong was unbeatable in the singles event. In 1965, he won three gold medals out of four possible, only coming short in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles event.

    Zedong had a very modern technique for the time, being able to attack from both sides and generate great spin with shorter strokes than most of his opponents. However, the Cultural Revolution that began in China in 1966 set his career on pause. Ongoing internal clashes left Chinese table tennis players isolated, and they could not take part in the 1967 and 1969 World Championships.

    Even after a six-year absence from major international tournaments, Zedong proved his quality again in the 1971 World Championships in Nagoya, helping the Chinese team to win the gold medals in the team event and overcoming the biggest rivals – the Japanese team. However, this was the last major tournament for the 31-year-old World champion.

    Unfortunately, Zhuang Zedong did not have a chance to win more titles during his athletic prime, but he was still able to become only the second player in history to win three consecutive singles titles in a row (first was Viktor Barna with four consecutive titles from 1932 to 1935). 54 years later, Ma Long repeated the achievement of his renowned compatriot.

    The impact on table tennis history by Zedong went beyond his achievements. In 1971, the accidental meeting with the American player Glenn Cowan at the 1971 World Championships laid the foundation for the future meetings of Chinese and American politicians. Now, these events are known as Ping-pong diplomacy. Ironically, Zedong was in favor as long as Mao Zedong was in power. After the leader of the Chinese Communist Party died in 1976, Zedong fell out of favor and was imprisoned for four years.

    Like most of the Chinese table tennis legends, Zhuang Zedong’s career largely depended on the political landscape in China. While modern-day stars enjoy more freedoms and opportunities to earn a comfortable life, Zedong’s gold medals did not bring him much comfort. Some of his teammates, like Rong Guotuan, faced an even more tragic fate.

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