(by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor)
Two years ago when we met in the Chinese city of Suzhou for the Qoros 2015 World Championships, Zhang Jike was not only the reigning World champion; also, he was the Olympic champion.
Now at forthcoming Liebherr 2017 World Championships which commence in the German city of Düsseldorf on Monday 29th May, no longer is Zhang Jike, the owner of those precious titles
Perhaps disappointing by his standards but we must put that fact into perspective.
Zhang Jike is the big time player. He is the one who responds on the greatest stage of all, it is home. Judge Zhang Jike in the events that are at the pinnacle of sport.
Was the legendary Swede, Jan-Ove Waldner not the same? He experienced losses on the international scene but then put him in the spotlight at the most major of major events and, even in his twilight years, something clicked that produced a level of play fit for the occasion.
In Suzhou, Zhang Jike was a Men’s Singles bronze medallist, beaten by colleague Fang Bo at the semi-final stage; later at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he was the silver medallist, losing to Ma Long.
The only player with a definitely better record is that of Ma Long; the record in the past two years possessed by Zhang Jike is better than any other player on planet earth and for most mortals it would be achievement beyond dreams.
There is no question on the ability either technically or mentally of Zhang Jike; the question is his fitness.
Following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he was side-lined through injury. Notably for whatever reason he did not play in the China Super League; he was forced to withdraw from the Marvellous 12 in Shenzhen, the Chinese selection tournament for the Liebherr 2017 World Championships. Also earlier this year, he had to withdraw from the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Qatar Open.
Disappointment but although beaten by Fan Zhendong at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF Asian Championships in April; the quarter-final win against Lin Gaoyuan sent a clear message.
It was a determined, single minded Zhang Jike who emerged successful; repeat that spirit in Düsseldorf and who knows. Perhaps we await another Zhang Jike special celebration?