|Zhang Jike will rise from the ashes|
The Super League Drama
Zhang Jike's contract dispute with Shandong Luneng was a big factor on his worsened performance in matches, the Chinese star was absent from competition for many weeks after his club refused to give him a contract until he competed. Jike was less than cooperative and required a contract prior to playing, rightly so. This absence from competitive matchplay seemed to take its toll on him as he began to slump in form on the ITTF World Tour.
Losses from Bad to Worse
The first loss on the World Tour came in Chengdu at the ITTF World Tour China Open where Zhang played a less than inspiring match against Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan. The grand slam winner exited the tournament earlier than expected and appeared, much like his match with Fang Bo, much more passive than we have seen in previous engagements.
Later in the year we witnessed a double loss, losing in the teams and individuals of the Asian Championships to Korea's Jang Woojin. This was amid much controversy during and after the match.
Fast Forward a couple of months and Zhang Jike experienced his first major upset at the hands of Austria's Stefan Fegerl. It is not often European players can boast to have stolen a result from the reigning Olympic Champion, alarm bells started to ring. In a post-match interview Zhang Jike admitted that he was not in form and that he certainly wasn't at his worst yet.
It seems he spoke too soon, just a few days ago suffering another upset loss at the hands of Sweden's Jens Lundqvist. These are all shock losses for Jike who, despite focusing on major events, still maintained a reliable record on the ITTF World Tour.
A Case of Ma Lin
In 2011 we saw Ma Lin suffer 3 major losses on the world tour at the hands of European players. First Alexey Liventsov, outside the top 100 in the world at the time, had victory. Weeks later it was France's Quentin Robinot (also outside top 100 at the time) who unseated the 2008 Olympic Champion. To top it all off, Liventsov's teammate came in for the remains, it was Kirill Skachkov who became the 3rd player in months to defeat the Chinese powerhouse.
Questions were raised, was this the end of Ma Lin's career? I'll admit I was one of the skeptics with my article: End of the Road for Ma Lin?
Not the End
As we saw, Ma Lin returned to reasonable form and came back to conquering his rivals from otuside of China.
This is not the end of Zhang Jike, the 2016 Olympics is too important for him to not find a resolution to his current form. Come the beginning of 2016 I believe we will see a refocused and driven athlete before us again as he continues his quest to become the first player to claim 2 Grand Slams.
No matter how he has played in minor events, losing to the likes of Chen Chien-An and Taku Takakiwa among other Asian players, he has still risen to the occasion when it has counted he most. Zhang Jike will need to prove himself to the Chinese National Team soon, or his Olympic dream may face jeopardy.
Watch this space!