Published on May 27, 2021 Last Updated on May 28, 2021 by Sorin Petroj
In this article, we will talk about the 10 best table tennis players who have marked the history of this beautiful sport in the last 30 years.
What sets the top 5 apart from the others is that they are the only ones who have completed the table tennis “Grand Slam” until today. This happens when a player has to win at least one World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic Games in singles during his career.
Table tennis was first included in 1988 as an Olympic sport in Seoul. The only players who have all three trophies in their rich collection of awards are Jan – Ove Waldner, Liu Guoliang, Kong Linghui, Zhang Jike, and Ma Long.
In addition to the 5 greats, we must single out 5 other players who marked this era of table tennis, and they are Timo Boll, Wang Hao, Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, and Jorgen Persson.
1.JAN – OVE WALDNER
Former Swedish table tennis player, born on October 3, 1965, in Stockholm, Sweden. His nicknames are “Evergreen Three” and “Mozart Of Table Tennis.”
The way the racket is held, shakehand style. His service is of the highest quality, one of the best of all time. Apart from the service, an important part of the game was his block, which he could drive the opponent crazy. The sense of the game as well as the perfect prediction of points.
He played for table tennis clubs: Spårvägens Golf (Sweden), ATSV Saarbrücken (Germany), Ängby SK (Sweden), Kalmar BTK (Sweden), TTC Röhn-Sprudel Fulda Maberzell (Germany), Spårvägens BTK (Sweden).
He is the first out of the five listed to win the “Grand Slam.” Waldner managed to do that in 1992 in Barcelona. In the same year, he was named Swedish Athlete of the Year. He is the only non-Chinese player to have completed these three tournaments.
Firstly, Jan – Ove Waldner is not only considered one of the best table tennis players in the world who played this game, but he is also the best European player of all time.
Secondly, he has ten titles of national champion of Sweden. During the ’90s of the last century, he showed a relationship with Persson, Apelgren, and Carlsson. In the team, he ruled the European world table tennis team.
Waldner’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; 1992 in Barcelona.
Single: 1. place; 1989 in Dortmund and 1997 in Manchester;
Team: 1. place; 1989 in Dortmund, 1991 in Chiba, 1993 in Gothenburg, and 2000 in Kuala Lumpur.
Single: 1. place; 1990 in Chiba;
Team: 1. place; 1990 in Chiba.
Single: 1. place; 1996 in Bratislava;
Double: 1. place; 1986 in Prague, 1988 in Paris and 1996 in Bratislava;
Team: 1. place; 1986 in Prague, 1988 in Paris, 1990 in Gothenburg, 1992 in Stuttgart, and 1996 in Bratislava.
The other player who succeeded in the “Grand Slam” was Liu Guoliang. He is a former Chinese national team player, born on January 10, 1976, in Xinjiang, China. His nickname is “Legend Liu.”
His racket style is Penhold. He had a very offensive style of play that was based near the table. In addition to the fantastic movement, his strongest weapons were service (which, along with Waldner’s best ever in the world), a strong forehand shot, and a backhand block.
He liked to use STIGA and TSP equipment the most. Racket: Played with the STIGA Clipper blade. On the forehand side, he used TSP Spinpips rubber, which had short fringes, making it very awkward. On the backhand side, he used a Yasaka Mark V rubber.
He played in the doubles with another “Grand Slam” winner, Kong Linghui. In 2003, he finished his playing career at the age of only 27 and dedicated himself to a coaching career.
In 2018, he became the president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association.
Liu Guoliang’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Atlanta 1996;
Double: 1. place; Atlanta 1996.
Single: 1. place; Eindhoven 1999;
Double: 1. place; Manchester 1997; Eindhoven 1999;
Team: 1. place; Tianjin 1995; Manchester 1997 and Osaka 2001.
Single: 1. place; Nimes 1996.
The third winner of the famous “Grand Slam” is called Kong Linghui. He is also a former member of the Chinese national team, born on October 18, 1975, in Harbin, China. He is currently the coach of the women’s senior national team of China.
Kong Linghui used the shakehand way of holding the racket. An attacking style of playing table tennis. He used strong topspins from both the forehand and backhand sides. His most vital strength in the game was that “he knew all the elements equally well.”
He mostly played with equipment from the manufacturer Butterfly. Apart from winning the most important tournaments in singles and team competitions, Kong Linghui was an insurmountable obstacle in doubles. Together with Liu Guoliang, they were the World’s best doubles during the 1990s and early 2000s.
From the beginning of 1993 to December 1995, he spent the time at number one position on the world ranking list. Like Liu Guoliang, except that his showcases are full of trophies during his playing career, he continued to do so in coaching. Also, he won all possible medals with the Chinese women’s national team at the Olympic Games, the World Championship, and the World Cup.
Kong Linghui’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Sydney 2000;
Double: 1. place; Atlanta 1996.
Single: 1. place; Tianjin 1995;
Double: 1. place; Manchester 1997, Eindhoven 1999 and Shanghai 2005;
Team: 1. place; Tianjin 1995, Manchester 1997, Osaka 2001, and Doha 2004.
Single: 1. place; Nimes 1995.
Zhang Jike was born on February 16, 1988, in Qingdao, China. He started playing table tennis when he was only four years old. He was named after the Brazilian football player Zika.
His holding the racket is a shakehand grip. Zhang Jike was a very offensive player. He gained an advantage over his opponents with an excellent “banana” flip, a devastating backhand spin, and an excellent reverse serve. In some situations, he was adorned with calmness and coolness.
He is known for winning the Grand Slam in just 445 days. World Championship and World Cup in 2011 and Olympic Games in 2012. He won five consecutive major tournaments in a row, from the 2011 World Cup to the 2013 World Cup.
From 2010 to 2017, he won everything in the team competition with Ma Long and Xu Xin. From their era begins the great era of Chinese table tennis, where they rule without equality.
Zhang Jike greatest successes
Single: 1. place; London 2012;
Team: 1. place; London 2012 and Rio 2016;
Single: 1. place; Rotterdam 2011 and Paris 2013;
Double: 1. place; Suzhou 2015;
Team: 1. place; Dortmund 2012, Tokyo 2014 and Kuala Lumpur 2016;
Single: 1. place; Paris 2011 and Dusseldorf 2014;
Team: 1. place; Linz 2009, Dubai 2010, Guangzhou 2013, and Dubai 2015.
Ma Long is a Chinese player born on October 20, 1988, in Anshan, China. He is the last winner of the famous “Grand Slam.” He managed to achieve after Rio 2016. His nicknames are “The Dragon,” “Captain Long,” and “The Dictator.”
At the age of 15, he played in the Chinese Super League for the first time. He uses the shakehand way of holding the racket. Ma Long is best known for his devastating forehand and fantastic movement. However, many players told him the opening of the game after his serve was the strongest weapon.
Behind Ma Long is DHS equipment. Racket: Hurricane Long 5 blade, Hurricane 3 National rubbers at forehand and backhand sides. He is currently playing for Shandong Weiqiao. Many people even consider him the best player of all time.
Firstly, Ma Long is the youngest winner of the world team championship at only 17 years old. That happened in Bremen in 2006. He is the only player to have won 3 consecutive World Singles Championships (2015, 2017, and 2019).
Secondly, in January 2001, when the ITTF introduced the official ranking, Ma Long was the longest-time player in the number one position, even 64 months. From March 2015 to December 2017, he held the 1. place of the best table tennis players in the world (33 months in a row).
Ma Long’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Rio 2016;
Team: 1. place; London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Single: 1. place; Suzhou 2015, Dusseldorf 2017 and Budapest 2019;
Double: 1. place; Rotterdam 2011 and Budapest 2019;
Team: 1. place; Bremen 2006, Gwangju 2008, Moscow 2010, Dortmund 2012, Tokyo 2014, Kuala Lumpur 2016, and Kalmstad 2018.
Single: 1. place; Liverpool 2012, Halmstad 2015;
Team: 1. place; Linz 2009, Dubai 2010, Magdeburg 2011, Gwangju 2013, Dubai 2015, London 2018, and Tokyo 2019.
The German national team player was born on March 8, 1981, in Erbach, Germany. He started playing table tennis at the age of 4. His first coach was his father.
Timo Boll uses the shakehand way of holding the racket. His spins have a large rotation, and because of that, he is a very awkward opponent. Its biggest stack is the backhand spin, as well as a good variation of service.
For many years, he has been defending the colors of Borussia Düsseldorf, which is a multiple winner of the German League and the European Champions League. He is considered the best German table tennis player of all time. Boll is the most trophy-winning German player, as he is a seven-time winner of the European Singles Championship.
Apart from singles, he was the team champion of Europe 6 times and five times in the doubles competition. His biggest success in singles was winning two gold medals in the World Cup. He reached third place at the World Championships in Rotterdam in 2011.
Best hand switch shots ever – Timo Boll
In 2008, he won second place in the team part in Beijing. This is the greatest success of Germany in this century at the Olympic Games. The team consisted of Boll, Ovtcharov, and Suss.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the German national team took over the importance of European table tennis from the then powerful Swedes. Rosskopf and Suss initially formed a team with Boll, and later Ovtcharov and Franziska joined. He spent ten months at the number 1 on the world rankings.
Although 40 years old, he is still in the top 10 players in the world. He currently occupies the tenth position of the best table tennis players in the world according to ITTF ranking.
Timo Boll’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Jinan 2002 and Liege 2005.
Single: 1. place; Zagreb 2002, Belgrade 2007, St. Petersburg 2008, Ostrava 2010, Gdansk – Sopot 2011, Herning 2012 and Alicante 2018;
Double: 1. place; Zagreb 2002, Belgrade 2007, St. Petersburg 2008, Stuttgart 2009 and Ostrava 2010;
Team: 1. place; Belgrade 2007, St. Petersburg 2008, Stuttgart 2009, Ostrava 2010, Gdansk – Sopot 2011, Luxembourg 2017 and Nantes 2019.
Wang Hao was born on December 15, 1983, in Changchun, China. The former member of the Chinese national team is the head coach of the Bayi team, which competes in the Chinese Superleague and is currently one of the assistants of this selection.
He used the Penhold style holding of the racket. In 1998, he joined the Chinese senior national team. Since his appearance at major world tournaments, the world public has been intrigued by the fact that both sides of the racket share both in attack and defense against opponents. So, this was not typical for the Penholders (previously, they only played with the forehand side).
His backhand is considered the best of all the Penholders who have played table tennis. He liked to use DHS equipment the most. Racket: DHS Wang Hao Blade N656 wood, and DHS Skyline III Blue Sponge rubbers on the forehand and Butterfly Sriver Topsheet on the backhand side.
The backbone of the team since the beginning of 2000 for Wang Hao consisted of Wang Liqin and Ma Lin. Although he is considered one of the best table tennis players in the 21st century, he still failed to complete the “Grand Slam.”
Wang Hao’s insurmountable obstacle was the Olympics. In all three tournaments in which he participated, he won second place in singles. Better than he was Ryu Seung Min in Athens in 2004, Ma Lin in 2008 in Beijing, and Zhang Jike in London in 2012.
Wang Hao’s greatest successes
Team: 1. place; Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
Single: 1. place; Yokohama 2009;
Double: 1. place; Shanghai 2005 and Yokohama 2009;
Team: 1. place; Doha 2012, Bremen 2006, Gwangju 2008, Moscow 2010, and Dortmund 2012.
Single: 1. place; Barcelona 2007, Liege 2008 and Magdeburg 2010;
Team: 1. place; Madgeburg 2007, Dubai 2010, Magdeburg 2011 and Gwangzhou 2013
Wang Liqin is a former table tennis player, born on June 18, 1978, in Shanghai, China. He is currently the coach of the Shanghai team that competes in the Chinese Super League. He is included in the ITTF Hall of Fame.
Wang Liqin started playing table tennis when he was only five years old. The former Chinese national team player is known for being included in the Chinese national team at the age of only 15, more precisely in 1993.
He uses the shakehand way of holding the racket. His style of play is recognizable by his exceptionally good movement and especially by his destructive forehand. He had one of the strongest forehands in the history of table tennis.
Wang Liqin played shakehand style. Throughout his career, he liked to constantly combine and change rubbers and blades from various table tennis companies.
From blades, he used Butterfly Timo Boll Spirit, Stiga Clipper CR, Offensive CR, Rosewood V, DHS Hurricane King II, III. From rubbers, he used DHS Hurricane II, III, TG III on the forehand. He had Nittaku Hammond on the backhand, also rubbers from the Tenergy series, etc.
During his career, he played for Shanghai Shengxurong. Since establishing the official ITTF rankings in January 2001 and the new way of scoring, Wang Liqin is the first player to be first in the world rankings.
Incredible Forehand – Wang Liqin
Wang Liqin almost completed the “Grand Slam.” An insurmountable obstacle for him was the Olympic Games and the World Cup in singles. In 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing, he managed to reach the semifinals, more precisely to win third place. He took 2nd place at the 2001 World Cup. He is saying goodbye to the national team at the end of 2013.
Wang Liqin’s greatest successes
Double: 1. place; Sydney 2000;
Team: 1. place; Beijing 2008.
Single: 1. place; Osaka 2001, Shanghai 2005 and Zagreb 2007;
Double / Mix Double: 1. place, Osaka 2001, Paris 2003, Shanghai 2005 and Zagreb 2007;
Team: 1. place; Osaka 2001, Doha 2004, Bremen 2006 and Gwangju 2008;
Team: 1. place; Magdeburg 2007, Magdeburg 2011, Gwangzhou 2013.
Ma Lin is one of the best table tennis players on our list, born on February 19, 1980, in Shenyang, China. Nicknames: “Maestro” and “Defense Killer.” However, he currently works as a coach in the Guangdong main team and is one of the assistant coaches in the Chinese national team.
He used the Penhold style of holding the racket. Ma Lin is known for his service with a high ball throw, where he uses different rotation variations when hitting. In addition, he has excellent movement, an aggressive attack of the first ball, a fantastic reception of service, a return of short balls, and a backhand block with a forehand side.
He played for Baya Gongshang, Shandong Luneng, Guangdong Gotone, Shaanxi Yinhe, and Ningbo Haitian during his career.
In 1994, he joined the work of the Chinese senior national team at the age of only 14. He is the only player who owns gold medals from the Olympic Games in singles, doubles, and team competitions.
During his career, he managed to stay for 11 months in the first position of the best table tennis players on the world ranking list. At the end of 2013, he said goodbye to the national team and actively played table tennis.
Ma Lin’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Beijing 2008;
Double: 1. place; Athens 2004;
Team: 1. place; Beijing 2008.
Double / Mix double: 1. place; Eindhoven 1999, Paris 2003 and Zagreb 2007;
Team: 1. place; Osaka 2001, Doha 2004, Bremen 2006, Gwangju 2008, Moscow 2010, and Dortmund 2012.
Single: 1. place: Yangzhou 2000, Tianjin 2003, Hangzhou 2004 and Paris 2006;
Team: 1. place: Magdeburg 2007 and Magdeburg 2011.
As one of the top 10 table tennis players of all time, Persson is a former Swedish national team player. He was born on April 22, 1966, in Halmstad, Sweden. He is currently the selector of the Swedish national team.
The way the racket is held is shakehand style. He was a striker who played at half distance with strong topspins breaking the opponent’s game. Also, he had a great backhand block.
Jorgen Persson uses DONIC equipment. Racket: Power Senzo Blade and Coppa 2.1 rubbers on both sides of the racket. Clubs, where he played, were Borussia Dusseldorf and Halmstad BTK performed.
He could have become the second European player after Waldner to complete the “Grand Slam.” After winning the World Championship and the World Cup in singles in 1991, only the Olympic Games remained. Unfortunately, he never managed to win them over.
He won the best result at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 2000 and Beijing in 2008, where he reached the semifinals and where he had to settle for 4th place. Since table tennis became an Olympic sport, Persson has competed in the Olympics 7 times (from 1988 to 2012). Therefore, together with Zoran Primorac and Jean – Michael Saive, he holds the record with the most appearances at the Olympic Games.
Jorgen Persson’s greatest successes
Single: 1. place; Chiba 1991;
Team: 1. place; Dortmund 1990, Chiba 1991, Gothenburg 1993, and Kuala Lumpur 2000.
Single: 1. place; Kuala Lumpur 1991;
Team: 1. place; Chiba 1990.
Single: 1. place; Prague 1986;
Double: 1. place; Stuttgart 1992 and Bratislava 1996.
Team: 1. place; Prague 1986; Paris 1988; Gothenburg 1990; Stuttgart 1992 ,; Bratislava 1996 and Bremen 2000.