The 10 Best Ping Pong Players of All Time

We’re betting you have watched plenty of exciting table tennis matches in the Olympic Games, and also some games in the ITTF World Table Tennis Championship. You might know that China dominates the sport and the Chinese men’s team holds a record number of 20 world team championship titles.

Table tennis is the most popular sport in China. When Ma Long became the men’s singles World Champion in 2019, that made it three world titles in a row. In this article, we take a look at some of the greatest table tennis players of all time.

The list includes eight Chinese table tennis players. Ma Long, Jan-Ove Waldner, Kong Linghui, Liu Guoliang, and Zhang Jike are five of the players who have completed all the International Table Tennis Federation Grand Slams in their careers.

 

1. Ma Long

The table tennis player Long MA

Born on October 20, 1988, Ma Long won his first championship in 2006. He is now one of the best players in the history of table tennis. An effective forehand attacker, Ma uses a close-range third-ball technique to confuse his opponents in most matches. At the beginning of his career, his approach was mostly forehand-oriented.

Today he dominates the games with his sturdy forehand loops and uses his backhand only for controlled returns to set up forehand shots. Known affectionately as The Dictator or The Dragon, this right-handed player uses the shake-hand grip to great effect. He has won a wide variety of awards in the Olympic Games and other competitions, as can be seen in the table below. 

Awards

Games

Type

Gold Medal

Year

Olympic Games

Single

1

2016

Olympic Games

Team

2

2012, 2016

World Championships

Single

3

2015, 2017, 2019

World Championships

Double

2

2011, 2019

World Championships

Team

7

2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018

World Cup

Single

2

2012, 2015

World Cup

Team

6

2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018

Asian Games

Single

1

2010

Asian Games

Double

1

2014

Asian Games

Team

3

2006, 2010, 2014

Asian Championships

Single

3

2009, 2011, 2013

Asian Championships

Double

2

2007, 2009

Asian Championships

Mixed Double

1

2009

Asian Championships

Team

7

2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017

Asian Cup

Single

4

2008, 2009, 2011, 2014

ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

Single

5

2008, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016

ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

Double

1

2006

China National Games

Single

2

2013, 2017

China National Games

Mixed Double

1

2013

All China Table Tennis Championships

Single

1

2011

All China Table Tennis Championships

Double

2

2010, 2015

All China Table Tennis Championships

Mixed Double

1

2012

All China Table Tennis Championships

Team

3

2011, 2012, 2018

World Junior Championships

Single

1

2004

World Junior Championships

Team

2

2003, 2004

Asian Junior Championships

Single

1

2004

Asian Junior Championships

Mixed Double

1

2004

Asian Junior Championships

Team

1

2004

2. Jan-Ove Waldner

Jan-Ove Waldner

Waldner is one of the best table tennis players of all time, and his killer serves are part of the reason he is considered a legend in table tennis. Waldner did a lot to popularize the game of table tennis all around the world. He was born on October 3, 1965, in Stockholm, Sweden.

He played table tennis ever since the mid-1980s until his last match on February 11th, 2016, when he officially announced his retirement while playing in the Swedish first league for Ängby/Spårvägen. At the age of 7, Jan was already able to return 75 backhand shots in a row without making any mistakes.

At nine, he had already developed a good forehand loop. In a match, he could easily trick his opponents with many types of serves from a variety of different angles. Jan could find the perfect shot at an ideal angle in a thousandth of a second when the ball hit his paddle.

Awards

Games

Type

Gold Medal

Year

Olympic Games

Single

1

1992

World championships

Single

2

1989, 1997

World championships

Team

4

1989, 1991, 1993, 2000

World Cup

Single

1

1990

World Cup

Team

1

1990

European Championships

Single

1

1996

European Championships

Double

3

1986, 1998, 1996

European Championships

Team

7

1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2002

Swedish Championships

Single

8

1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2010

Swedish Championships

Double

6

1981, 1982, 1986, 1991, 1994, 1999

3. Kong Linghui

Kong Linghui

Kong is also considered one of the all-time greats of table tennis and he has now taken up the position as Head Coach of the Chinese National Women’s Team. Kong Linghui is famous for all of his titles in the men’s doubles competition when he played regularly with Liu Guoliang. A prolific sportsman, he was born on October 18, 1975, in Harbin, China. He often plays with a Butterfly Kong Linghui paddle and he uses the shake-hand grip the majority of the time.

Awards

Year

Games

Event

Medal

1995

World Table Tennis Championships

Singles, Men

Gold

1995

Table Tennis World Cup

Singles, Men

Gold

1996

Summer Olympics

Doubles, Men

Gold

2000

Summer Olympics

Singles, Men

Gold

2000

Summer Olympics

Doubles, Men

Gold

4. Liu Guoliang

As mentioned earlier, Liu was an excellent doubles partner when he held court with Kong Linghui. He was the second man ever to achieve a Grand Slam of three major tournaments. He was born on January 10, 1976, in Xinxiang, Henan, and he was already a very good table tennis player when he was a child. 

In 1991, at the age of 15, Liu was first chosen for the Chinese national team, which led him to professional table tennis. From 1991 until 2001, Liu was seen as one of the best table tennis players while he won many medals in this sport. He retired as a player after the 2001 season. Soon after his retirement, he became the youngest head coach of the Chinese men’s team at the age of 27.

His special playing style is based on the use of short pimped-out rubber. Liu uses a pen-hold grip and is the forerunner of the backhand reverse topspin. During his time of prominence, he won four medals in the Olympic Games, two of which are golds. With another gold and bronze medal in the World Cup, Liu became the most decorated male table tennis player in history. 

Awards

Year

Games

Event

Medal

1995

World Table Tennis Championships

Chinese Team

Gold

1996

Summer Olympics

Singles, Men

Gold

1996

Summer Olympics

Doubles, Men

Gold

1996

Table Tennis World Cup

Singles, Men

Gold

1997

World Doubles Championships

Doubles, Men

Gold

1997

World Table Tennis Championships

Chinese Team

Gold

1999

World Doubles Championships

Doubles, Men

Gold

1999

World Singles Championships

Singles, Men

Gold

2000

Summer Olympics

Singles, Men

Bronze

2000

Summer Olympics

Doubles, Men

Silver

5. Zhang Jike

Zhang Jike

Zhang Jike was born on February 16, 1988, in Qingdao, China. He is well known for his shake-hand grip and he has performed especially well in the Olympic Games. Zhang became the fourth male player in the history of the game of table tennis to achieve a career Grand Slam when he won gold in the men’s singles tournament at the Olympic Games in London, 2012.

Awards

Year

City

Event

Medal

2012

London

Singles

Gold

2012

London

Team

Gold

2016

Rio de Janeiro

Singles

Silver

2016

Rio de Janeiro

Team

Gold

 

World Championships

Year

City

Event

Medal

2009

Yokohama

Doubles

Bronze

2009

Yokohama

Mixed Doubles

Silver

2010

Moscow

Team

Gold

2011

Rotterdam

Singles

Gold

2011

Rotterdam

Doubles

Gold

2012

Dortmund

Team

Gold

2013

Paris

Singles

Gold

2014

Tokyo

Team

Gold

2015

Suzhou

Singles

Bronze

2015

Suzhou

Doubles

Gold

2016

Kuala Lumpur

Team

Gold

 

World Cup

Year

City

Event

Medal

2009

Linz

Team

Gold

2010

Dubai

Team

Gold

2010

Magdeburg

Singles

Silver

2011

Paris

Singles

Gold

2013

Guangzhou

Team

Gold

2014

Düsseldorf

Singles

Gold

2015

Dubai

Team

Gold

 

Asian Games

Year

City

Event

Medal

2010

Guangzhou

Doubles

Gold

2010

Guangzhou

Team

Gold

2014

Incheon

Doubles

Gold

2014

Incheon

Team

Gold

 

2009

Locknow

Singles

Silver

2009

Locknow

Team

Silver

2011

Macau

Singles

Silver

2011

Macau

Team

Gold

2013

Busan

Team

Gold

2015

Pattaya

Team

Gold

6. Timo Boll

timo ball

Boll is a German player born on March 8 in 1981, who spent much of his career playing for Borussia Düsseldorf. He is a left-handed player whose best weapon is his forehand topspin drive but he is also known for his rapid backhand loop. Boll’s technique was ahead of its time because he was one of the first two-winged loopers. He creates a spin-block instead of a passive block to put more pressure on his opponents. 

He is seen as a hard-working, enthusiastic player who spends much of his time practicing and improving his skills. As a result, he has won many medals in a variety of international competitions such as the World Cup, European Champion, and World Championship Singles. With such achievements, Timo Boll is known for being one of the leading players when it comes to generating high amounts of spin, especially in his opening topspin serves. 

Awards

Games

Event

Winner

Year

World Cup

Single

2-times

2002, 2005

European Champion

Single

7-times

2002, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2018

European Champion

Team

7-times

2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2017, 2019

Europe Top-16

Single

7-times

2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2018, 2020

European Super Cup

Single

3-times

2007, 2008 and 2009

German Championship

Single

11-times

1998, 2001–2007, 2009, 2015, 2017

 

7. Xu Xin

Xu Xin

Born on January 8, 1990, Xin is a professional player from China. In 2013, he first reached the No. 1 position in the World Rankings after he won the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in December 2012. Since then, he has won many medals in international competitions, becoming one of the best ping pong players of all time. 

Xu Xin is a pen-hold grip player like Wang Hao and Ma Lin. His long arms and frame let him to move quickly and reach widely around the table. His arms allow him to execute graceful, unique forehand loop shots. He has also adopted the reverse pen-hold backhand grip (RPB), a recent development for many of China’s pen-holders, and this allows a two-winged attack. He still uses a traditional pen-hold (Chinese) backhand to lob and push the ball with the forehand side of his paddle. 

Awards

Games

Event

Winner

Year

World Cup

Single

1

2013

World Team Cup

Team

6

2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018

World Championships

Double

3

2011, 2015, 2017

World Championships

Mixed Double

2

2015, 2019

World Championships

Team

5

2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018

ITTF World Tour

Single

18

2010 – 2020

ITTF World Tour

Double

28

2009 – 2019

ITTF World Tour

Mixed Double

6

2018 – 2019

ITTF World Tour Grand Finals Champion

Single

2

2012, 2013

Olympic Games

Team

1

2016

Asian Games

Single

1

2014

Asian Games

Mixed Double

1

2010

Asian Games

Team

2

2010, 2014

Asian Championships

Single

1

2019

Asian Championships

Double

2

2009, 2015

Asian Championships

Mixed Double

2

2012, 2019

Asian Championships

Team

6

2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019

Asian Cup

Single

4

2012, 2013, 2015, 2016

8. Wang Liqin

Wang Liqin

Liqin was born in Shanghai on June 18, 1978, and he started his career in the 1990s. During his time, he won three majors and was ranked number one by the ITTF for 25 consecutive months, from September 2000 to September 2002. Liqin retired from professional table tennis in 2013. 

Wang Liqin uses the shake hand grip. He plays a forehand-dominant style with the occasional backhand loop to open a topspin rally. Because he is quite tall, this gives him additional leverage for acceleration and momentum and creates more powerful shots. Liqin was known to frequently change his paddles. He used more than ten different paddles, some of them for a long period of time. 

Wang won the gold medal in doubles at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and the bronze medal in singles at the 2004 Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece, as well as at the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing, China. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Wang won a gold medal in the team competition with Ma Lin and Wang Hao. For most of 2004–2006, he ranked as the world’s best table tennis player.

Awards

Games

Type

Gold Medal

Year

Olympic Games

Double

1

2000

Olympic Games

Team

1

2008

World Championships

Single

3

2001, 2005, 2007

World Championships

Double

2

2001, 2003

World Championships

Mixed Double

2

2005, 2007

World Championships

Team

4

2001, 2004, 2006, 2008

World Cup

Team

3

2007, 2011, 2013

Asian Games

Single

1

1998

Asian Games

Mixed Double

1

1998

Asian Games

Team

2

1998, 2002

9. Ma Lin

ma lin

He was born on February 19, 1980, in Shenyang, China. Ma Lin has the distinction of being the only male player ever to win Olympic gold medals in Singles, Doubles, and Team events. Additionally, he holds a professional era record of five major titles (4 World Cups and 1 Olympic Gold), having won more World Cups than any other male table tennis player in the history of the game.

Awards

Games

Type

Winner

Year

Olympic Games

Single

1

2008

Olympic Games

Double

1

2004

Olympic Games

Team

1

2008

World Championships

Double

1

2007

World Championships

Mixed Double

2

1999, 2003

World Championships

Team

6

2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012

World Cup

Single

4

2000, 2003, 2004, 2006

World Cup

Team

2

2007, 2011

Asian Games

Mixed Double

1

2006

Asian Games

Team

3

2002, 2006, 2010

Asian Championships

Double

1

1998

Asian Championships

Mixed Double

1

1996

Asian Championships

Team

3

1998, 2000, 2007

10. Wang Hao

Wang Hao

Hao was born on December 15, 1983, in Jilin Province, China. He was ranked #1 on the official ITTF world rankings for 27 consecutive months: from October 2007 to December 2009. He was known to use the Reverse Pen-hold Backhand (RPB) with exceptional skill.

During his career, he appeared twelve times in major world competition finals, which remains a record. In men’s singles, he won the Asian Championship, Asian Cup, Asian Games, and Chinese National Games at least once. Wang Hao retired from the national team by the end of 2014.

Awards

Games

Type

Gold Medal

Year

Olympic Games

Team

2

2008, 2012

World Championships

Single

1

2009

World Championships

Double

2

2005, 2009

World Championships

Team

5

2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014

World Cup

Single

3

2007, 2008, 2010

World Cup

Team

4

2007, 2010, 2011, 2013

Asian Championships

Single

2

2003, 2007

Asian Championships

Team

3

2003, 2005, 2007

Asian Cup

Single

2

2005, 2006

 

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 2 Average: 5]
Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.