More commonly known as ping pong, table tennis is a popular indoor sport not only in China but in the whole world. The game, played between two players or two pairs involves hitting a lightweight ball back and forth a table divided by a net. As its name implies, it is like tennis but played on a table. The governing body of the sport is the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) established in 1926. The organisation currently includes 220 member countries with most players hailing from the Far East, mainly China.
China has produced a good number of best male table tennis players who have ranked well in the ITTF ranking. Many of these individuals have shown great strength, aggressiveness, and vigorous playing power on the table that makes them worthy to be included in our list of the world’s top table tennis players of all time.
Hailing from China, Xu Xin is the current ITTF world number one for men’s singles, is a pen hold champion. He is one of the few pen grip players in an era dominated by players using the shake hand. Xu Xin was most notable for beating Ma Long. He beat the former number one twice in 2016 to bring home the 2016 Korea Open title. To date, he has won 14 World Tour Singles titles, three World Championships in men’s doubles, two World Championships in mixed doubles, and five team event championships.
One of the best European table tennis players in the world is Zoran Primorac. The Croatian, along with Jorgen Persson and Jean-Michel Saive, is the only table tennis players to have competed in seven Olympic Games. The three said players started competing in 1988, the same time that table tennis was included in the roster of official sports in the Olympics.
Before playing in the Olympics, Primorac has already won silver in the World Championships double competition with Ilija Lupulesku. He had also won a bronze medal in the 1993 World Championships Singles. He successfully ranked number 2 in the ITTF rankings in 1988. Whilst Primorac never won any major event, his medal collection is quite notable.
This retired professional table tennis player is one of China’s greatest. He began playing the sport at the tender age of 6 years old. His perseverance earned him a slot in the Chinese Men’s National Squad in 1993 when he was only 15 years old. Before he retired, he was ranked number one by ITTF for 25 consecutive months. He boasts of three World Championships. He was a gold medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics Doubles and a bronze medallist in the Singles Competition during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Together with Wang Hao and Ma Lin, Wang also brought home the gold medal in the team competition.
With his height (6’1”), Wang is known for his speed and powerful shots. In fact, many claims that he has the most powerful forehand in the sport.
ITTF’s current number 3 in world rankings is Fan Zhendong. The Chinese player previously held the number one spot. Fan is a shakehand grip player with amazing footwork and powerful forehand loops that often finishes off an opponent. Many compare his attack style with that of Ma Long, another top male table tennis player.
Fan started playing professional table tennis at 16 years old. Even though he was still young, he has already shown great potential as he kept winning Junior Competitions. By 2012, during the World Junior Table Tennis Championships, Fan won gold medals in singles, mixed double, and men’s team competition. He also brought home a silver medal competing in the doubles. In the seniors, Fan has already won a gold medal in both the ITTF Asian Championships Singles and Doubles events. In the ITTF World Tour, he brought home four gold medals. He also placed second at the 2017 World Table Tennis Championships. In 2018, Fan also took home gold medals from World Team Table Tennis Championships, and Table Tenuis World Cup for Singles and Team Competitions.
This retired professional table tennis player has won 12 titles in his name during his active career in the sport. He had won the All Japan National Championship and even represented Japan in the World Championships. He was also a former ITTF number one ranked player.
After retiring from playing, Ogimura remained active in the sport acting as a coach for many players overseas including the US, China, and Sweden. Locally, he also remained active with the Japanese Olympic Committee and the Japanese Table Tennis Association. Ogimura died of lung cancer in 1994 and was subsequently inducted into the ITTF Hall of Fame in 1997.
Before his death, Ogimura served as the ITTF President. During his active years, he had won three English Open titles.
Probably one of the players that solidified table tennis is Kong LingHui. The Chinese player is regarded as the most complete table tennis player with his playing style reminiscent that of Jorgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner. In his playing career, Kong competed in three Olympic Games and has brought home a gold medal in the Doubles competition.
Another top male table tennis player from China is Liu Guoliang. The retired player is notable for winning all titles at major world tournaments namely Olympic Games, World Cup, and World Championships. He is the second player to accomplish a career grand slam in three majors. Liu became Kong Linghui in the doubles winning a gold medal.
Upon his retirement, Liu remained active in the table tennis world by serving as the coach of the Chinese Table Tennis team.
Zhang Jike is notable for being the fourth table tennis player to achieve a grand slam upon winning the men’s singles at the Olympic Games in 2012 held in London. He is the fastest player to achieve the distinction, attaining the grand slam in only 445 days.
Soon after winning a grand slam, Zhang took home the WTTC 2013 and World Cup 2014 titles, almost making him hit a second career grand slam. Zhang joins Ma Lin as the only two players to win all five major titles. The Chinese player is known on the table as a mentally tough competitor, able to withstand stress and pressure, and winning points at the most crucial moments.
Waldner’s popularity during the 1990s in China for his table tennis skills is something noteworthy. He is, in fact, the best non-Chinese male table tennis player in the world. Some even consider him the greatest player to ever grace the table. In fact, Waldner successfully won his 9th Swedish title in 2010 against someone way younger than he is. He has played at an elite level until 2016 and many Chinese table tennis enthusiast labels him as “Evergreen Tree,” for his longevity in the sport.
Waldner boasts of 11 World Championship titles, with two golds coming from a singles competition. He is also a triple gold medallist in the 1996 European championships. He is also among the seven players to have played in the first five Olympics since the sport became official.
Ma Long is a force to reckon with in the table tennis industry. Ask every enthusiast of the sport and they would almost recognize the name and his skill with the paddle. Ma currently ranks number 5 in the ITTF rankings but he is known for holding the number one spot the longest. He is the lone male table tennis player to win every singles title in table tennis and he is the fifth player to ever attain the grand slam title.
To date, Ma has won five ITTF World Tour Tournaments consecutively. He even had an unbeaten streak of 35 sets.
In 2004, Ma became the Asian and World Junior Champion. He took home the gold medal in the Rio Olympics and the World Championships in 2015 and 2017. Some of his titles include two- time World Cup winner, 24-time ITTF World Tour winner, five-time ITTF World Tour Grand Finals winner, and gold medallist in the 2010 Asian Games. His most recent win is the gold medal for the singles and doubles competition of the World Championship WTTC held in Budapest.
The shakehand grip player is probably the best two-winged looper in the history of the sport. His playing style involves close-range third ball play. He used to apply forehand loops most of the time but has learned to make use of his backhand more effectively over the years.