Out-of-Sorts Ma Long Upset By Xu Chenhao In Chinese Olympic Scrimmage Quarterfinals
Xu Chenhao upset an out-of-sorts Ma Long 11-5, 11-9, 12-10, 5-11, 5-11, 11-8 in the quarter-finals of the second leg of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmage. Whether due to an undisclosed injury or personal mental issues, Ma played some of his worst table tennis in recent memory throughout the first three games as he committed countless unforced errors, exuded dejected and tired body language, and gave up on points before they were over.
Ma was able to turn it around in the last three games as he played significantly better, albeit not quite at peak form. However, the 3-0 deficit that he had dug for himself was too much. High-quality play from Xu delivered him the sixth game as he pulled off the upset of the tournament so far.
In the semi-finals, Xu will play Xu Xin, who defeated Liang Jingkun 4-0. On the other side of the bracket, Fan Zhendong, who beat Lin Gaoyuan 4-1 in the quarter-finals, will play Wang Chuqin, who defeated champion of the first leg of the scrimmage Zhou Qihao 4-2 in the quarterfinals.
Ma and Fan are fresh off a selection to represent China in the men’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics (they will be joined by Xu Xin in the team event, with Wang Chuqin as a reserve). If Ma shows up in Tokyo playing the way he did in the first three games against Xu, he may be in serious danger of failing to medal, which would be an unprecedented failure by the Chinese National Team. However, Ma still has roughly two months to gather himself physically and psychologically to peak for the Olympics.
Ma pushed the ball into the net for the very first point of the match and continued to make unforced errors in the form of missed counters, chop blocks, and short flicks. Ma was unable to establish any dominance in the rallies either as Xu cruised to an 11-5 victory. Three out of the five points that Ma won in the first game were also on easy errors from Xu, as Ma looked completely out of sorts in the first game.
Xu won the second game 11-9, but the score makes the game look closer than it felt. It initially looked like Ma was rounding into form as he opened the game with two pretty rallies to take a 2-1 lead. Xu leveled the score to 2-2 with a wide chiquita to Ma’s forehand, a shot that would bother Ma throughout the game. After Xu missed a short forehand flick, Ma proceeded to make three consecutive unforced errors. Xu again burned Ma with a wide chiquita to the forehand, taking a 6-3 lead. Ma displayed some alarming body language during this point as he did not even try to reach a wide ball.
Ma was able to take two points back but then pushed a serve return into the net. Xu opened wide to Ma’s forehand, and Ma again displayed the same dejected body language as he missed the return. A missed push and chop block from Ma allowed Xu to take a 10-6 lead. Although Ma was able to win three straight points to narrow the lead to 10-9, his play was nothing notable during these points, and he missed a short backhand opening at 9-10 to give Xu the second game 11-9.
Ma’s tricky serves and early 4-0 lead kept the score close, but otherwise it was a continuation of disastrous play from Ma, including a 6-0 run from Xu to take back an early 6-4 lead. In total, Xu missed three serve returns and popped up another four. Xu managed to split the points where he popped up Ma’s serve return 2-2, including a missed easy high ball from Ma at 10-9. Ma missed a half-long serve return at 10-10, and then Xu killed Ma’s half long serve at 11-10 to take the third game 12-10.
In game 4, Ma appeared to largely shake off whatever was plaguing him during the first three games. A series of nice counters helped him build an early 5-2 lead. Ma missed a flick and Xu won three consecutive rallies, despite a time-out from Ma after the second rally, to take a 6-5 lead. However, Ma landed a pretty chiquita to Xu’s middle for a winner and then took a risky step-around down-the-line forehand winner on the next point. Ma continued his dominance as he closed out the game on a 6-0 run to win the fourth game 11-5.
To start the fifth game, Xu let out a loud cholae after Ma missed the serve return on the first point as Xu appeared to realize that he could not rely on Ma playing terribly for the whole match. A combination of rushed openings from Xu, smart variation from Ma, and a return to form from Ma allowed Ma to take seven straight points and build a 7-1 lead. Ma cruised to a 10-3 lead to take complete control of the game, eventually taking the fifth game 11-5.
Ma and Xu exchanged pretty opening and rallies to start game 6 with an even 3-3 score. Xu then landed three huge forehand winners and won a pretty backhand-backhand rally to win four straight points to take a 7-3 lead. Ma stopped the bleeding with a pretty block, but Xu landed his go-to wide forehand opening that Ma was unable to reach, giving Xu an 8-4 lead.
Down 8-4, Ma broke out his backhand serve for the first time in the match. Xu popped up the first backhand serve and dumped the second into the net. Ma closed the lead to 8-7 with a hard backhand opening, but he missed a serve return of his own to give Xu a 9-7 lead. Xu then popped up yet another backhand serve from Ma to narrow the lead to 9-8, but he correctly read the next serve and landed a strong forehand flick and won the ensuing rally to take double match point at 10-8. Ma then missed yet another serve return, giving Xu the sixth game 11-8 and the match 4-2.
The full match is linked below:
A sample of some of Ma Long’s low-lights:
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