Ma Long on song in Doha

Dominant world no. 1 wraps up a record-breaking fifth Tour ITTF World Tour Grand Final title to complete a sensational season

Ma Long concluded what has been a glorious 2016 for the Chinese star with victory in the ITTF World Tour Grand Final in Qatar, beating teenage compatriot Fan Zhendong to crown what has been the most successful 12 months of his glittering career.

The 28-year-old’s remarkable year began with his triumph at the German Open in January. He subsequently claimed gold at the World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur before taking the Olympic men’s singles title in Rio in the summer and he signed off in Doha in typically irrepressible style with a record-extending fifth Grand Final success.

A repeat of the 2015 final which had been dramatically settled 4-3 in Long’s favour, the 2016 rematch proved a more straightforward encounter for the defending champion who raced into a 3-0 lead against his young rival. Although Zhendong rallied to take the fourth and fifth sets, Long closed out the match in the sixth to take the title once again.

“I’m very happy to win my fifth title,” he said. “I made it through the challenge. I played well at the start but I did not deal with crucial points well enough when I was leading at the middle of the match. But I think it’s good enough to be able to win the match.”

In the women’s singles, a new name was etched on the trophy after Zhu Yuling demolished Germany’s Han Ying in the final to become the 11th Chinese player to claim the title. Yuling had failed to win any of the six Super Series events on the Tour in 2016, finishing fourth in the final standings, but found her best form when it mattered in Doha to sweep aside Ying 4-0 in a dominant display in the final.

“For me, this match is the accumulation of experience,” said the former world junior champion. “I have gained a lot in 2016. Winning this tournament at the end of this year is a small step for me. I hope I can play well in the next year. I will spare no effort to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.”

Chinese dominance in the singles, however, was not replicated in the doubles as South Korean pair Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu staged a tenacious fightback in the men’s final, recovering from losing the first two sets against Japan’s Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima to win the next four and complete a 4-2 triumph.

In the women’s event Japan did emerge victorious as Hina Hayata and Yui Hamamoto proved too strong for Hong Kong duo Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching, powering to an impressive 4-2 win to take the honours.