BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s world number one Ma Long has set his sights on a maiden table tennis singles gold at the Rio Olympics next year after breaking through for his first world title on home courts in Suzhou.
The 26-year-old had long been overshadowed by champion compatriots Zhang Jike and Wang Hao in China’s lofty pecking order but stepped out of their shadows with a 4-2 win over Fang Bo on Sunday.
The win was just reward for hard graft, said Ma, who had been dumped from the semi-finals by the now retired Wang at his three previous world championships.
“It is like a dream come true. Having lost in the semi-finals at the three world championships previously, honestly I have a lot of pressure to earn this title,” said Ma, who partnered with Zhang and Wang to win the men’s team gold at the London Olympics.
“At the end of the day I think these were worth it.
“Glory is attained from hard work, step by step. I hope I can go up another level at Rio.”
Ma’s win helped China sweep all four of the men’s and women’s titles in singles and doubles. China’s Xu Xin teamed up with South Korea’s Yang Hae-un to win the mixed doubles.
Ma earned special praise from China’s men’s head coach Liu Guoliang.
“Ma’s always been criticized from outside for lacking an edge. I didn’t see it that way tonight,” Liu, a former Olympic and world singles champion, told Chinese media after the title-decider. “He set his emotions free.”
Though Ma took the prize, China can also celebrate the emergence of yet another table tennis force in Fang, who upset the reigning Olympic and world champion Zhang in the semi-finals.
Ma watched the match with interest and was left impressed by the aggression of the previously unsung 23-year-old from the heartland province of Hubei.
“I could feel his momentum was really fierce,” Ma said.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Nick Mulvenney