Ma Long ready for table tennis' revolution

Olympic champion says he's ready to contribute to new World Table Tennis structure

By ZK Goh

Triple Olympic gold medallist Ma Long says he is ready to play his part in table tennis' revolution in the coming years.

Starting in 2021, the International Table Tennis Federation will revamp its competition calendar under a new World Table Tennis banner, aimed at changing the way global table tennis is organised.

Ma's long-time national coach and former head of China's table tennis association, Liu Guoliang, has been tapped to lead the new WTT Council.

"The idea of setting up WTT is creative and ambitious," Ma told Chinese broadcaster CGTN in an interview.

"I believe in the future, table tennis will only grow and be better with everyone's hard work and I hope to contribute and shoulder my responsibility in that process."

New structure

As part of the new WTT events structure, the sport will introduce up to four new "Grand Smash" events – similar to tennis' Grand Slams and golf's majors. Of the four Grand Smash events, two are expected to be in Asia due to the sport's popularity on that continent, with one in Europe and one in Oceania or the Americas.

"It will be a brand new experience," Ma said. "The promotion of players and events will definitely attract new athletes and audiences outside the Chinese market."

There will also be different tiers of tours – the WTT Champions, WTT Star Contenders, and WTT Contenders Series – for the players, all under the WTT banner.

"I hope there will be more professionalised events in the future, to enhance players' value and influence, and the sport's influence worldwide," Ma added.

"Table tennis is our national sport. I think it is most effective for China to lead the sport's development around the world. We have the best training, best players, best coaches, and best market (for the sport's promotion)."

Missing family

During the coronavirus lockdown in China, Ma and the rest of the national team have been training in isolation.

'The Dictator' has struggled with injuries in the last few years, and says the time away from competition has proved fruitful for him.

"This provided me some time to recover from injuries and increase my fitness training in Macau," he told CGTN. "Table tennis is more than just a physical or technical game, it is more often psychological and mental during competition. It's important for me to keep a positive mindset at all times."

However, he said his family, including his young son who was born in December 2017, was going through a tougher time than he was as they have not been able to see each other.

"I have to thank my family for their support during this time. They understand the situation - it's not just me, my teammates and coaches have also not been able to see their family during this. So I'm grateful to them."

Asked to say something in English to his fans, 'the Dragon' said: "I miss everybody very much. I hope to see you soon, take care!"