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Is Ma Long forced to retire

Many players asked me to explain “Why did Ma Long decide to withdraw from the 2021 Houston WTTC?”. Is it his own decision? Or he is forced to do that?

Ma Long’s surprise decision

Here is the lineup for the WTTC 2021 Houston, we can see Ma Long and Xu Xin.

the line up for WTTC 2021 is changed
the line up for WTTC 2021 is changed

Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Liu Shiwen will not compete in WTTC 2021. As Team China unveils the line-up for the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships Finals in Houston, an exciting men’s match is in store.

Following the recent announcement by the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) on their line-up for the historic tournament in the United States, the Men’s competition at next month’s World Table Tennis Championships Finals is set to be a fascinating affair.

As stalwarts Ma Long and Xu Xin chose to relax and make room for younger compatriots, a new generation of Chinese table tennis competitors aims to demonstrate the sport’s enduring dominance from the middle kingdom.

Ma Long’s decision or the political decision?

On Oct 25, Team China announced the lineup for the 2021 World Championships.

  • Men’s singles: Fan Zhendong, Liang Jingkun, Wang Chuqin, Lin Gaoyuan, Zhou Qihao
  • Men’s doubles: Fan Zhendong / Wang Chuqin, Lin Gaoyuan / Liang Jingkun
  • Women’s singles: Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha, Wang Manyu, Chen Xingtong, Wang Yidi
  • Women’s doubles: Sun Yingsha / Wang Manyu, Chen Meng / Qian Tianyi
  • Mixed doubles: Wang Chuqin / Sun Yingsha, Lin Gaoyuan / Wang Manyu

Ma Long wrote a post explaining the situation. He said he enjoyed the crowds at China National Games and China Super League and wanted to keep playing. However, he needed a break and rehabilitation after so many tournaments. Therefore, he proactively requested not to attend the 2021 World Championships and the team agreed, which were also the cases of Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.

Just a few days ago, Ma Long said on his birthday,

“At 33 years old, I am eager to win and I am capable to win.”

Ma Long said in his Weibo after the lineup announcement
Ma Long said in his Weibo after the lineup announcement

Just a month ago, he got men’s doubles gold and men’s team silver (losing one match) at China National Games and he got runner-up of China Super League without losing a match. It’s really hard to understand the decision of not attending the upcoming World Championships as defending champion and World Ranking #2 (which means 2nd seed), no matter it was really made by Ma Long or not.

However, we still have faith in Ma Long and look forward to the next tournament, hopefully in 2022.

Fans are disappointed with the decision

I was really excited to see him claim the record of winning 4 consecutive WTTC single titles. Supporting you forever and watching you play is a kind of happiness. You have to keep playing until you are forty. You are the Jordan of this ball game. He has achieved everything. Getting one more championship is just repeating himself.

Ma Long 2 times Olympics Champion
Ma Long 2 times Olympics Champion

Good idea to rest and think about the future. No one can play forever. But the table tennis fans are really disappointed about this withdrawn.

A player said:

Everyone wants their refund it’s damn funny but at the same time congratulations to these players still ecstatic to see their performance. This is great. I think the other participants would be thrilled to know they don’t need to worry about facing Ma Long.

Another fan said that

“No Ma Long, No table tennis!”

No Ma Long - no table tennis
No Ma Long – “no table tennis”

China wants to give the chance for the younger generation

I player said that he didn’t trust the announcement.

I don’t believe him; it’s no coincidence that Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen were both dropped. WTTC is a famous competition, and Ma Long hopes to win it as part of the Olympics in Paris in 2024. Especially Xu Xin, he never received the WTTC medal, so why was he dropped? This is purely a regeneration problem. I was quite disappointed. You may also send four young players, so why is Ma Long absent?

It could be good news for the younger generation like Fan Zhendong, Wang Chuqin. But Ma Long is still the best player in the fan’s heart.

best player of all time
best player of all time

Is Ma Long forced to retire?

After hearing this news, I remember that many legends of China always retire before the age of 35 like Ma Lin (33), Wang Liqin (34), Wang Hao (31), and recently Ding Ning (31). Maybe that’s not coincident, there’s an unwritten rule in China professional table tennis community that the player even you are a legend must retire within a specified age to give the chance for young talented players to improve themselves to aim the next champion.

Their strategy is the effect of keeping their domination in the world (Olympic, WTTC) not only a few years but also 5 to 10 next years, always be able to create a new champion generation. Ma Long (33), Xu Xin (31), Liu Shiwen (30) skipped this WTTC concurrently. That’s the signal that shows us the end of their career is very near.

Explication about Ma Long's withdrawn from Houston 2021 WTTC
Explication about Ma Long’s withdrawn from Houston 2021 WTTC

There is no joking in the army, willing to make a military order! It’s so strange he will not attend the next event in the USA (2021 Houston WTTC) given his unbeatable performance during the last two Chinese toughest tournaments.

Special thanks to Huu Tan, who remind me about my miss typing:

Special thanks to Huu Tan
Special thanks to Huu Tan

Is it better for the younger generation?

He is making way for the younger generation. He’s proven himself as the GOAT. It is a lamentable but perhaps sensible decision for his health and long-term plan.

The absence of Ma and Xu will also make the Men’s draw one of the most open in recent memory, with the likes of Timo Boll of Germany, Hugo Calderano of Brazil, Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan, and Darko Jorgic of Slovenia all anticipated to stake their claim to become world champions.

Ma Long the GOAT in table tennis
Ma Long the GOAT in table tennis

With an eye on the future and the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Fan Zhendong, Liang Jingkun, Wang Chuqin, Lin Gaoyuan, and Zhou Qihao will lead the Chinese push in Houston, which is hosting the tournament for the first time in the Americas.

Is Ma Long giving the chance for Fan Zhendong?

I am so sad Ma Long, Xu Xin, Liu Shiwen and Ovtcharov are not attending WTTC this time. But what makes me feel really bad is some people claim Ma Long is GIVING the champion to Fan Zhendong. According to records. after Fan Zhendong turns 18, they have almost the same winning percentage when they meet in competitions. “Give” is such an insulting word for both of them. And for other players, they have a chance to chase for the champion, too. We really should simply appreciate their hard work and stop speculation.

It could be due to the injury problem of Ma Long.

Ma Long still suffer from his injury

Before knee and wrist surgeries in 2019, Ma Long said,

“If I got cured this time, I may play till Paris Olympic Games.” “Even as a coach or a training partner, I will go to Paris.”

After winning double Grand Slam, Ma Long said his current form was better than the previous two years, especially his leg.

Ma Long has a serious injury on his left knee
Ma Long has a serious injury on his left knee

Ma Long said in the interview in the WSJ China Oct issue, he wanted to win no matter how many titles he has got and no matter what level the tournament he attended.

“I want to win the champion, even a tournament in a residential community.”

Ma Long, please keep your words. We will wait for your next match. See you on the court!


I have a feeling that Ma Long has already everything. He is already the G.O.A.T in table tennis. At the same time, he still has the knee injury problem. He can play in the Houston 2021 WTTC, but he must fight against it at the age of 33. My conclusion is that he has played too much. The competition in China is too dense, the Chinese National Games, and now, it’s the Chinese Superleague. Ma Long is not forced to retire. His decision could be due to the long-term health issue.

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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

2 thoughts on “Is Ma Long forced to retire”

  1. I wonder if it had anything to do with besting Zhuang Zedong’s record in the World Championships. Zhuang Zedong won 3 World Championships in 1961, 1963, & 1965. That was the beginning of China’s dominance in table tennis and I know Zhuang Zedong is revered in China. I agree with others—I think this was a political decision by CTTA. After all, it is. cultural norm in that country to “respect your elders”.

  2. In my opinion It was definitely a political decision – and a very unfortunate and scandalous one…
    Ma Long is (no ifs and buts) the greatest Player of all time and this decision robbed him the unique opportunity to win 4 titles in a Row as the first player ever!!!! Nobody can tell me that such an ambitious and table tennis enthusiastic player like Ma Long give up a chance like this voluntarily. Absolutely no way!!!
    In addition it is NOT good for the younger players. Whoever becomes world champion has this stale aftertaste of only having become it in the absence of Ma Long… Fan Zhendong was deprived of the opportunity to succeed Ma Long in a dignified manner – or to succumb to the legend again.
    it is the decision of a totalitarian regime – all the innovations and western approaches do not hide this.


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