|Can Ma Long claim a Grand Slam?|
There is no doubt that Ma Long is a strong contender when it comes to any world class international event, but while once upon a time he was noted as a grand slam contender, now the talk seems to have faded as people doubt his ability to raise the bar for the big events. While Ma Long was able to win win a World Cup title in 2012, he has never made the final of a World Championships, having won 3 bronze medals in the previous 3 competitions.
While there is still a chance for Ma Long to raise the bar and win a world championships, he still faces an even greater challenge and that is representing China in the singles competition at the Olympic Games. 2 years out from the 2016 Rio Games and he faces tough competition from his teammates. So who are his biggest threats on his way to winning a Grand Slam now?
Zhang Jike: Zhang Jike has cemented himself as potentially the world's best big stage player, having completed a Grand Slam in the shortest amount of time and being the first player to hold each of the big titles simultaneously. He has proved his ability to raise the bar on the highest international level of competition and is now aiming to complete a second Grand Slam, already having defended his World Championship title in 2013. There is no doubt in my mind that if Zhang Jike maintains his form for the next 2 years then he will be guaranteed as an individual competitor in Rio, especially if he is able to win a World Cup in that space of time, this would leave the Olympics as the final hurdle for his second Grand Slam and would realistically likely be his last chance to achieve the feat.
Xu Xin: The creative left handed penholder has been a thorn in Ma Long's side on more than a few occasions. Winner of the 2013 World Cup and a bronze medallist in the 2013 Paris World Championships, he is a big opponent on the world stage. The big contention for Olympic Games currently would be between Ma Long and Xu Xin, as Xu Xin sits behind Ma Long as number 2 on the ITTF World Rankings. He has also won the World Tour Grand Finals for the last 2 years.
Fan Zhendong: Fan Zhendong is the world's emerging star. Currently the youngest member of the Chinese National Team and the 2012 World Junior Champion. Fan Zhendong has already won 3 ITTF World Tour titles and currently sits at number 3 on the ITTF World Rankings, ahead of Grand Slam title holder Zhang Jike. What Fan Zhendong can achieve in the next 2 years of his career will be the big test as to whether he can represent China at an Olympic Games, this reveals a big threat to Ma Long, can he keep a hold on his place with the youth rising to compete for places?
The best battles of Ma Long and Zhang Jike
Besides the competition to get selected to represent China, Ma Long will have to overcome the mental pressure. This is no small task, Ma Lin and Wang Hao were among the strongest players in the last era of the Chinese National Team and the pressure even defeated them. Ma Lin a 3 time finalist at the World Championships, Wang Hao a 3 time Olympic Finalist. If they had won the first time, would they have potentially won on all 3 occasions? We will never know.
For Ma Long the challenge is monumental. Personally while I would love to see Ma Long rise the position that was so hoped for him, but I'm not sure if he will be able to achieve the Grand Slam in his career. I look forward to seeing him give it his all though! Would love your thoughts and contributions!