China’s world No2 Xu Xin denied compatriot Ma Long a fourth singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals with an emphatic display of aggressive table tennis at Al Nasr Leisureland yesterday, and added another trophy to the one he won in 2012.
After beating talented 16-year-old Fan Zhendong 4-1 in the semi-finals earlier in the day, Xu Xin set up a final with world No1 Ma Long, who had eased past Korea’s Kim Minseok 4-0.
Despite having the better start, Xu Xin kept getting pegged back by Ma Long, who forced a decisive seventh game only for the world No2 to regain his composure and secure a 4-3 (11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 4-11, 11-5) victory.
“Leading up to the final I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to but my fans have never stopped believing in me and supporting me, and that helped,” said 24-year-old Xu Xin after the win.
“Ma Long is one of the hardest team-mates to beat and today I was very relaxed. I performed really well, I believed in myself and I’m pretty happy how I played in the final.”
In front of a close to 1,000-strong crowd of fans, Xu Xin had a fierce start before the world No1 snuck away with a tight second game to draw level.
After Xu Xin edged ahead in the third, and led 6-4 in the fourth, Ma Long took a strategic timeout and came back strong to steal the fourth to make it 2-2.
Xu Xin led again for 3-2 but Ma Long stormed back with the sixth. But it wasn’t enough as the world No2 opened up a 10-3 lead in the final game.
With seven match points in Xu Xin’s hands, the pair surprised the crowd with a phenomenal point where Ma Long kept defending with high balls while simultaneously rotating around the table until both players switched sides and the point ended with a smash from Ma Long.
Xu Xin sealed the win two points later much to the delight of the roaring fans.
“Table tennis is an individual and very competitive sport and we wanted to show the fun part of the game. That point was for the fans,” explained Ma Long after his defeat.
“I’m happy with the way I played, nobody can be a champion every single time. I’m now looking forward to 2014 and the new challenges it will bring.”
On his part, Xu Xin says that besides the support of the Dubai crowd, he believed he mentally handled the match better than his opponent.
“In the matches against Ma Long, it always narrows down to who can be more relaxed and who is more confident and that’s what made the difference today,” said Xu Xin.
Looking ahead to 2014, the winner added: “This year I want to be focused on the World Team Championships and the Asian Games.
I want to keep growing and show the world what I’m about.” In doubles, China’s Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia breezed past Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching and Huang Yi-Hua 4-0 to take the title.