Top seeds and clear favourites for the title, China justified their exalted status by winning the Men’s event at the 2015 World Team Cup in Dubai on the early evening of Sunday 11th January.
In the first stage of the competition they had recorded three-nil wins on both visits to the table; in the last eight and the penultimate round it had been the same verdict.
At the final hurdle, there was no break with tradition, a three matches to nil win was recorded against Austria, the seventh seeds.
Fan Zhendong settled any Chinese nerves by beating Daniel Habesohn in the opening exchange (11-3, 11-5, 11-8), before Zhang Jike extended the advantage. He overcame Robert Gardos (11-7, 12-10, 12-10).
Proceedings came to a conclusion with the doubles combination of Xu Xin and Zhang Jike accounting for Stefan Fegerl and Daniel Habesohn (11-3, 11-7, 11-9).
Match Points in Tokyo
“We met in the group stage and in the final”, said Robert Gardos when reflecting on his contest against Zhang Jike. “He’s really very strong, I played well but he just played better; it was almost like the situation during the Tokyo World Championships, there I had match points against him but somehow he just came back to win the match.”
At the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, in the their quarter-final duel, Robert Gardos held match points in the fourth game before eventually experiencing defeat (11-5, 10-12, 8-11, 14-12, 11-5).
Most Satisfactory Finish
Defeat in the final but runners up spot was a most satisfactory finish for the Austrians.
They are only the third European country ever to reach the Men’s Team final. Sweden won in 1990 when the tournament was first staged, whilst being the runners up in 1991 and 1994. In 1995 Germany finished in the silver medal position.
Notably since 2007 when the tournament returned to the international calendar, no European team has reached the final.
“We are happy; this is the best result that we ever had in the World Team Cup”, added Daniel Habesohn. “We are growing as a team but China is definitely too strong for us at the moment.”
An improving team, it was a fact which Zhang Jike acknowledged.
“Austria played well and they managed to make us struggle, I am sure they will get stronger in the future and make us struggle more”, said the reigning Olympic and World champion. “It was good to play a different team in the final; we are good friends with the Austrians, so it is always nice to play against them.”
Good friends, certainly they are no strangers to each other; they met in both stages of the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships and in both stages of the 2015 World Team Cup.
Rio de Janeiro in Mind
Maybe they might meet again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016? The South American city is very much in the mind of Xu Xin.
“The World Team Cup is similar to the Olympic Games in terms of the playing system and this will probably be the last World Team Cup before the Olympics; hence this was a very valuable opportunity for us”, he explained. “This victory means one more major world title for us and of course means a lot to our team.”
One more gold medal to add to those already won at the World Team Cup; for Fan Zhendong it was his first in the competition.
“We played well here in Dubai, and our results prove that our hard work and efforts have paid off well”, he said. “However, we still can’t let our guard down as the competition is getting tougher internationally; other national teams are also training hard and getting stronger, so it's important for us to train even harder to maintain our edge over the rest.”
Success for Xu Xin and Zhang Jike meant it was the fourth time that the both players had been members of the gold medal winning Chinese team at a World Team Cup; the same number as Ma Long.
He had been in action en route to the concluding contest but in the final was resigned to support duty.
Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike all made their debut appearances in Linz in 2009 and have been present in the World Team Cup ever since that date. The following year they appeared in Dubai, before in 2013 being present in Guangzhou and now once again in the United Arab Emirates.
Same Name, Different Player
They are the most successful male players in the history of the competition; they are only players to have succeeded four times even though Wang Hao has won on five occasions!
Wang Hao, a right handed defender, who was born in 1966 and created his own niche in sporting history by being the first Chinese player to leave for foreign shores and then return to national team ranks, struck gold at the World Team Cup in 1991 and 1994.
Somewhat later, arguably the more well-known Wang Hao, the right handed pen-holder born in 1983, who recently announced his retirement from the Chinese National Team, was a member of the winning outfit on three occasions. He stood on the top step of the medal podium in 2007, 2010 and most recently in 2013.
Success for Wang Hao in the World Team Cup and the likes of the modern day legends such as Liu Guoliang, Ma Lin and Wang Liqin have all struck gold but there is one celebrated Chinese name who never enjoyed success as a player at the World Team Cup.
Kong Linghui, Olympic and World champion plus the owner of all other major individual titles in his career, played just once. He was a member of the squad in 1995 in Atlanta alongside Ding Song, Liu Guoliang, Wang Tao and Xiong Ke. They finished in fifth place.
Gold for China in Dubai, it was the seventh time they have clinched the title and the fifth in succession.
Meanwhile, for Austria it was their first appearance in the final.
China – Gold Medallists in Men’s Team Cup
Ma Long (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015), Xu Xin (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015), Zhang Jike (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015)
Wang Hao (2007, 2010, 2013)
Wang Hao (1991, 1994), Wang Liqin (2007, 2013)
Chen Qi (2007), Ding Song (1994), Fang Bo (2015), Fan Zhendong (2015), Hao Shuai (2010), Lin Zhigang (1994), Liu Guoliang (1994), Ma Lin (2007), Ma Wenge (1991), Qiu Yike (2009), Wang Tao (1991), Xie Chaojie (1991), Zhang Lei (1991)