Throwback Thursday: Top 6 Moments At Men's World Cup & 2017 Men's World Cup Preview

Photo: ITTF
The Men's World Cup is about to start off tomorrow on 20 October in Liege, Belgium. There is so much international depth that it looks like close to ten players had the shot of getting onto the podium. This edition of Throwback Thursday is going to revisit 6 exciting matches from the past Men's World Cup and a brief preview of the lineup of the 2017 Men's World Cup.

The Men's World Cup has been held annually since 1980. The reigning world champion, winners of the continental cup and athletes among the top of the world-ranking are invited to the competition which ensure there is an equal representation of athletes from each region while the competition field remains at a world-class level. 

2017 World Cup Preview

At 2017 Men's World Cup, there are 20 men (click here for the full lists of participants) competing for world cup title. Most notable on the list is the reigning World champion who won men's singles champion at the 2017 Chinese National Games, Ma Long from China. The grand-slam athlete is a tough one to beat as he is experienced and has all the skills needed to win the meet. It has been one and a half month since Ma Long competed at a competition and is expected to compete at the World Cup with a recharged look. The second man from China is Lin Gaoyuan the 2017 Asian Cup champion who defeated Fan Zhendong in the finals. I am not expecting much from Lin Gaoyuan as this is his first World Cup. However Lin Gaoyuan earned his spot to compete at the World Cup and would strive for winning all non-Chinese players and hopefully meeting Ma Long in the semifinals. If he can seize the opportunity at the World Cup, he will further move up the world-ranking as well as the rankings in the national team. 

The Chinese aside, Lee Sang-Su from Korea is the one to watch. He won a bronze medal at the men's singles at 2017 World Championships as well as the Asian Cup. He is known for his aggressiveness and if he plays a bit more variations in the matches, he could be the dark knight of the meet. 

There are also athletes from Chinese Taipei to think about. Chuang Chih-Yuan has just crowned the men's singles champion at the Taiwan National Games while Chen Chien-An placed 4th in that meet. They showed great form in that meet and are very likely to maintain that in the upcoming World Cup.

Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov from Germany are phenomenal. They led the German Team to win the 2017 European Championships Team title a month ago. And Timo Boll is the only player on the list other than Ma Long to win two World Cup champion. Let's wait and see whether the European is able to standout among the strong Asian players. 

Last but not least, we shall put an eye on the Japanese athletes, Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa. The Japanese Team has put a lot of resources building up their program leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. We have seen the surge of the Japanese women's team and junior team but not as exciting from the senior men's team. I wonder would this be the chance for the Japanese men to prove themselves.

Of course, any athletes who have made to the World Cup are world-class players. We shall never underestimate the ability for those who aren't mentioned above to surprise us at the World Cup.

World Cup Medalists

Even with the depth of the Chinese Team, 14 out of 37 Men's World Cup champions go to the non-Chinese athletes. This tells how entertaining and unpredictable the meet is.

Men's Singles
YearHost CityGoldSilverBronze
1980Hong KongGuo YuehuaLi ZhenshiJosef Dvoracek
1981Kuala LumpurTibor KlampárXie SaikeGuo Yuehua
1982Hong KongGuo YuehuaMikael AppelgrenXie Saike
1983BarbadosMikael AppelgrenJan-Ove WaldnerErik Lindh
1984Kuala LumpurJiang JialiangKim WanUlf Bengtsson
1985FoshanChen XinhuaAndrzej GrubbaJiang Jialiang
1986Port of SpainChen LongcanJiang JialiangKim Wan
1987MacaoTeng YiJiang JialiangAndrzej Grubba
1988Guangzhou & WuhanAndrzej GrubbaChen LongcanJiang Jialiang
1989NairobiMa WengeAndrzej GrubbaMikael Appelgren
1990Chiba CityJan-Ove WaldnerMa WengeChen Longcan
1991Kuala LumpurJörgen PerssonJean-Philippe GatienJan-Ove Waldner
1992Ho Chi Minh CityMa WengeKim Taek-sooYoo Nam-kyu
1993GuangzhouZoran PrimoracWang TaoWenguan Johnny Huang
1994TaipeiJean-Philippe GatienJean-Michel SaiveZoran Primorac
1995NimesKong LinghuiJörg RoßkopfLiu Guoliang
1996NimesLiu GuoliangJan-Ove WaldnerVladimir Samsonov
1997NimesZoran PrimoracKong LinghuiVladimir Samsonov
1998ShantouJörg RoßkopfKim Taek-sooZoran Primorac
1999XiaolanVladimir SamsonovWerner SchlagerZoran Primorac
2000YangzhouMa LinKim Taek-sooWang Liqin
2001CourmayeurVladimir SamsonovWang LiqinJörg Roßkopf
2002JinanTimo BollKong LinghuiZoran Primorac
2003JiangyinMa LinKalinikos KreangaWang Liqin
2004HangzhouMa LinKalinikos KreangaWang Hao
2005LiègeTimo BollWang HaoMa Lin
2006ParisMa LinWang HaoWang Liqin
2007BarcelonaWang HaoRyu Seung-minWang Liqin
2008LiègeWang HaoTimo BollMa Long
2009MoscowVladimir SamsonovChen QiMa Long
2010MagdeburgWang HaoZhang JikeTimo Boll
2011ParisZhang JikeWang HaoJoo Se-hyuk
2012LiverpoolMa LongTimo BollVladimir Samsonov
2013VerviersXu XinVladimir SamsonovDimitrij Ovtcharov
2014DüsseldorfZhang JikeMa LongTimo Boll
2015HalmstadMa LongFan ZhendongDimitrij Ovtcharov
2016SaarbrückenFan ZhendongXu XinWong Chun Ting

Top 6 Moments At Men's World Cup

1.) 2002: Timo Boll First World Cup Champion

15 years ago, Timo Boll won his first World Cup champion in Jinan, China. He defeated grand-slam player, Olympic champion Kong Linghui by 4-1 in the finals. Although it looked like quite an easy victory, there are lots of amazing rallies and exciting moments in the match. One of the drama happened in the 5th game when Timo Boll had 6 match points in his hand, leading 10-4. He was literally 1 point away from winning the champion but Kong Linghui fought strong in an Olympic-champion fashion, saving 6 match points. At 9-10 when Kong was trailing behind, his forehand push caught the top of the net helping him to level the game to 10-10. Fortunately Timo Boll did not let go any opportunity and played aggressive forehand loop and took the last 2 points.

2.) 2005: Timo Boll's Second Champion in Leige

If you think Timo Boll's victory in 2002 was a streak of good luck. Then he truly proved himself at the 2005 World Cup. He won over Wang Liqin (WR1) and Ma Lin (WR3) in the quarterfinals and semifinals and earned himself his second World Cup champion defeating Wang Hao (WR4) in the finals. After a slow start in game 1, Wang Hao got more aggressive in the first three ball contacts and had a 3-2 advantage after 5 games. However Timo Boll took the initiative to play pivot forehand loops and added spins to control the trajectory of the ball in the 6th and 7th game. He won the critical 6th game after trailing 4-8 behind and extended his lead to a 6-0 in the decisive 7th game. As Wang Hao failed to block the last point, Timo Boll leaned on the table to celebrate the victory. Let's see whether he can repeat history in Liege again in 2017.

3.) 2006: Classical Battle Between 2 Penholders

The penholders! There is something so tricky yet brilliant about the the battle between penholders that have a style of its own. The 2006 Men's World Cup finals between Wang Hao and Ma Lin tells it all. Wang Hao showed the versatility a penholder could have. His reverse penhold backhand flick in the first 2 ball contacts had posed huge threats to Ma Lin. He also had excellent control on the soft pushes and the aggressiveness in his forehand flick, making every point very unpredictable and put Wang Hao to a 2-0 lead after 2 games. The 2 players took risks playing the pivot forehand strokes right after the serve as sometimes traditional penhold backhand is sometimes not powerful enough to earn them points in such a high-level competition. However pivot forehand would leave them a huge forehand side uncovered. That's why sometimes players would have their opponents to play their backhand and hit down the line to the uncovered corner like the point at 4-6 and 5-6 in the 3rd game. Tactics is just a part of competition and sometimes it comes down to the ability to make adjustment when the competition field is so intense. Wang Hao had a good chance at the 5th game but he was overly aggressive and gave Ma Lin a chance to take the lead. He was again too aggressive in the decisive 7th game and finished as runner-up. While Ma Lin celebrated his 4th World Cup champion and is still the male athletes who has won the most world cup champion.

4.) 2009: One Of The Best Matches In Vladimir Samsonov's Career

The evergreen of table tennis world Vladimir Samsonov mentioned in 'Ask a pro anything' that one of the matches he would remember for his whole life is the semifinals at 2009 Men's World Cup where he defeated Ma Long 4-3. There is a reason for calling that match one of the most memorable match. In the match Vladimir Samsonov demonstrated clearly the key of winning is not to play hard but to play smart, especially in the 5th game.At 10-5 in the 5th game, Ma Long thought his powerful strokes were good enough to win him the game point and did not prepared for following up the return from Vladimir Ssamsonov. This had left the door open for Vladimir Samsonov to make a dramatic comeback. Ma Long retained his composure in the 6th and 7th game but Vladimir Samsonov took the initiatives at 8-8 in game 7 and won 3 points in a row with his forehand. 

5.) 2010: Zhang Jike's Remarkable 7-Game Thriller

The 2010 semifinals of the Men's World Cup should be on the list of dramatic matches. It was an intense match between Zhang Jike and Jun Mizutani with amazing rallies and powerful strokes. Zhang Jike was 0-3 down after 3 games but things started to change after the timeout at 8-9 in game 4. I wish I could know what did coach Wu Jingping told Zhang Jike during the timeout as he made less error in his rallies and made his way to the finals.

6.) 2014: Win It And Lose It

The 2014 Men's World Cup finals is an unforgettable match. It was an exciting match between legendary athletes Zhang Jike and Ma Long. The speed, the power, the spins, the rallies were absolutely phenomenal. After 7 games, Zhang Jike walked away with his second World Cup title with disgrace as he might be overly 'emotional' after the victory and destroyed the ad boards. ITTF decided not to award him prize money as a punishment of his misbehavior. This incident once again raised the concern on athletes winning the competition but losing sportsmanship.

So these are a lot of thoughts and opinions, and thanks for sticking with me through this belated Throwbacks / Preview. I'm trying to be more productive and write more informative yet interesting articles which table tennis lovers and random people could gain some insights from them. Look out for my articles about Throwback Thursday, Women's World Cup Preview, Y2Klub and Chinese Junior National Championships coming over the next week or so. I hope you have been enjoying all the articles from this blog and please fill in the short survey "What do you like about this blog" so that we can make better articles!


  1. Wow, Lin Gaoyuan lost despite being in the lead 10-4 in the seventh against Timo. What have the reactions been in China? I know that the coaches emphasize the importance of being able to perform in the most narrow situations, and failure to do so - like Hao Shuai against Maze in 2005 - tends to result in the player being relegated from participating in any international singles championships. But this is really remarkable: first Lin lost against Xu Xin in Düsseldorf despite being up 10-5, and now against Timo despite leading 10-4. What do you think, will we see more of Lin Gaoyuan in international competition or has his mental game proven to be a hurdle too big to climb?

  2. I think many fans feel sorry for Lin Gaoyuan because we all know that Lin has gone through many challenges to earn this opportunity to compete at World Cup and we know that losing Xu Xin when being up 10-5 was quite a painful lesson (as well as a frequently re-visited chapter as fans, commentators and the media keep on mentioning that) to Lin Gaoyuan and the match against Timo Boll is almost a replica of the match against Xu Xin in Dusseldorf. As an audience, I hope Lin Gaoyuan could still have chances to compete internationally and I think national team coaches would not pull him out of contention immediately unless there are some young athletes coming up with a significant advantage over him. After all, it is not easy to train a top player and many effort and resources have been put on him. However I think he does not have the edge over other contenders (Fang Bo, Liang Jingkun, Yan An, Zhou Yu etc.) for the no.5 player on the CNT men's team. We will have to see whether there are promising youngsters standout in the upcoming CTTSL and challenge for the no.5 spot on the team.

    Talking about improving mental game, it is easier said than done. I went through those moments losing critical points when having significant lead in the competitions years ago. It happened repeatedly in the same meet few years in a row. Despite trying many training methods that improve my consistency, it is devastating that the same thing happened again and heart-breaking that I let myself, teammates and coaches down. I think the way to overcome that is to learn from the experience but not having that on the back of the mind, or else those experience will convince you that you will fail whenever it is critical. I hope Lin Gaoyuan can overcome this and I know how terrible it feels.