The Chinese Trials have concluded: (1st) Xu Xin, (2nd) Zhang Jike, (3rd) Ma Long, (4th) Fan Zhendong, (5th) Lin Gaoyuan.
The 2016 Trials were for the express purpose of picking a team for the World Championships, so this is not necessarily a limitation on who the Chinese will send to the Olympics this summer. That said, this is a big first step towards Rio, and there were some surprises.
First, the format was best of 9 games. Nearly all major events have been to 7 games only – including the World Championships and the Olympics. With ten players competing in this event, perhaps it shows the Chinese are placing an emphasis on stamina… or perhaps, like many recent changes in the sport, this change at the highest level in China is a sign of things to come.
It may be a surprise to many that Ma Long finished third. That is, if this was the Olympic Trials for Team China, the World No.1 would be left out of the singles event in Rio (as a maximum of two players can represent a country). Ma Long lost to both Xu Xin and Zhang Jike. Ma Long has been consistently successful against the top Chinese players (and everyone else) – and has been in the Top 3 in the World Rankings since 2011, an amazing run that at one point included five consecutive ITTF Tour event victories.
|Xu Xin put in a dominant performance and may be peaking at the right time. The No. 3 player in the world beat all of the top players logging victories over the World No. 1, No. 2, No.5, and No.10 before suffering his only loss (to Yan An – World No. 17).|
Zhang Jike was also dominant, defeating everyone except for Xu Xin. Jike was the best player in the world for a two or three year period and he’s the defending Olympic Champion. However, he hasn’t been ranked in the Top 3 since a series of injuries began affecting him in 2014. Perhaps he has timed his recovery to be ready to defend his Olympic title this year? When Jike is at his best, he may be the most exciting player in the World… If his reemergence is sustained it will be tough to leave him off of the Olympic roster.
|Another victim of great performances of his teammates is Fan Zhendong who finished fourth. Fan entered the event as No. 2 in the World, so anything short of the Top 2 is a disappointment. Perhaps worse, he lost to each of the Top Three finishers (and also to Shou Yu). Its clearly one of the toughest events in the world, but he wants to be one of the Top 2 for the Olympics.|
No matter how you look at it – These are the favorites for the World Championships and for the Rio Olympics. If the internal rankings stayed as they are, Yan An and Fang Bo are both off the team and on the outside looking in – and the top two players in the world (Ma Long and Fan Zhendong) would not be the participants in Singles in the Olympics.