Best Table Tennis Player of All Time

The 12 Best Table Tennis Players Of All Time

With an estimated 300 million players, table tennis is one of the world’s most popular sports. Given that a good number of these players are competing to be the best, over time, tactics and techniques have been perfected, and more modern training methods have been discovered. Whenever a leading player comes up with a technical advancement, the other players incorporate it into their games and the overall standard keeps improving.

The playing level has improved so much since then that a good club player today can perform attacks on both wings, and plays with a high amount of spin. A regular club player today could probably beat the player with the most world championship titles, Viktor Barna. He won all of his titles back in the 1930s!

Combining equal parts hard work and talent, legends have since been born. This list contains the 12 most dominant players ever, both male and female (in our humble opinion). So let’s begin!

12) Ding Ning

Ding Ning
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Left-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: 20 June 1990
  • Height: 1.71 m (5 ft 7 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (3x gold, 2016 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 10 (10x gold, 3x Singles Champion)

We’ll start off the top 12 with the ‘Queen’, Ding Ning. Having retired in 2021 to pursue a master’s degree in physical education, she’s the most recent player to achieve the “Table Tennis Grand Slam” (she has won the Olympics in 2016, the World cup 3 times, and the World Table Tennis Championship 3 times as well).

All her success was due to her proactive playing style. Ding Ning hates to block. You’ll always see her trying to attack before her opponents, and if she loses the initiative, she’ll try to counter every attack thrown at her. She’s incredibly reactive and light on her feet, but also remarkably powerful, possessing a potent forehand loop and a snappy backhand stroke that she uses to pressure her opponents.

The only non-gold Olympic medal she has is her 2012 Singles silver medal. She lost a very controversial match against Li Xiaoxia, in which the referee called her serves for faults 3 times, even though all the other referees approved of them. The third time her serve was called for a fault, she grabbed her towel to calm herself down, and the referee showed her a red card for using it outside of the 6 points window. losing her yet another crucial point. However, she was able to get her revenge on Li and accomplish her dream of becoming an Olympic champion 4 years later, on the 2016 Rio Olympics stage.

11) Qiao Hong

Qiao Hong
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Born: November 21, 1968
  • Height: 1,62m (5 ft 4 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (2x gold, 2x doubles winner)
  • World Cup Medals: 4 (1992 Doubles Champion, alongside Deng Yaping)

At number 11, we have a very skilled offensive player. She was inducted into the ITTF hall of fame in 2005, and it’s easy to understand why. She boasts a total of 6 gold medals across the Olympics and the World cup, and when paired with Deng Yaping as a doubles couple, they were virtually unbeatable, possibly the best female doubles partnership of all time. 

Her playstyle was versatile and feel-based, she had an excellent touch on the ball and great shot IQ. She could open with spin, then pressure with strong drives on both wings. When attacked, she would try to block, then counter the next ball, as her game was based mostly on consistency, this way, she minimized unforced errors. She thrived at high-speed exchanges and was more of a rally player than a 3rd ball attacker.

10) Kong Linghui

Kong Linghui
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Born: October 18, 1975 
  • Height: 1,74m (5 ft 8 in)
  • Olympic Games: 3 (2x gold)
  • World Cup Medals: 3 (1995 Singles Champion)

Now working as the Female Chinese National Team coach, Kong Linghui is one of the best players in the history of the male Chinese team. 

Armed with a very powerful forehand shot and second to none footwork, Kong’s tactic was to put pressure on the opponent by pivoting on his backhand side. This way, he was able to turn regular backhand exchanges into advantageous positions for himself, using his agility to set up hard forehand loops. 

In addition, Kong possessed a solid backhand drive, and when paired with strong serves, it’s not difficult to see why he’s left behind such a legacy. He has 3 Olympic medals and 3 World Cup medals to his name, his reward for executing such a high-intensity approach.

9) Xu Xin

Xu Xin
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Left-handed, penhold grip
  • Born: January 8, 1990
  • Height: 1,81m (5 ft 11 in)
  • Olympic Games: 2 (2x gold, team event)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (7x gold, 2013 Singles Champion)

Known as the Cloud-Walking Penholder (for good reason), our 9th best player of all time is a crowd favourite, Xu Xin. You bet the spectators will be oohing and aahing every point he plays!

Xu Xin is arguably the most complete player in recent years, there’s no stroke he can’t perform at a high level. While an offensive player by nature, Xu Xin can adapt to any situation, and it’s not rare to see him 10 metres off the table lobbing, chopping, or counterattacking with loads of sidespin. His primary weapon is his overall feel for the game. Albeit tall, he’s incredibly quick on his feet and can get to every ball with ease. 

When Xu Xin gets to the ball, he’ll look to apply the most spin possible, be it a cracking full commitment forehand, a backhand reverse penhold backhand loop, or even a sidespin chop away from the table. Every so often, he’ll even use his trademark “snake” from beneath the table. His tactics revolve around playing mid-distance and looping on both wings. He also has arguably the most spinny serves out of any player. Because of all this, he has already won 7 world cup medals and 2 Olympic golds at the age of 31.

8) Wang Nan

Wang Nan
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Left-handed, shake hand grip
  • Born: October 23, 1978
  • Height: 1.62 m (5 ft 4 in)
  • Olympic Games: 5 (4x gold, 2008 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (5x gold, 4x Singles Champion)

A very clear backhand dominant player, Wang Nan liked to take her shots just off the bounce before they reached their maximum height.

Her game plan was to get into the rally and pressure her opponent with blistering fast backhand punches and explosive loops, with amazing control and placement. She would stand near the middle of the table, where she would dominate and send bullets to every part of the opponent’s half, giving them very little time to react and forcing them on the back foot. 

This intelligent and effective way of playing the game led to her success, over her 11-year playing career, she achieved the Grand Slam, the second female player to do so.

7) Ma Lin

Ma Lin
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, penhold grip
  • Born: February 19, 1980
  • Height: 171 cm (5 ft 7 in)
  • Olympic Games: 3 (3x gold, 2008 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (6x gold, 4x Singles Champion)

An offensive player, Ma Lin is highly regarded in the world of table tennis. He has one of the best forehand loops of all time, powerful, yet consistent and well placed, with lots of variations. 

Ma Lin could graze the ball with tons of spin or take it over the bounce for a direct hit to the opponent’s corner. Combined with his world-class serves (he’s regarded as the master of the ghost serve), and precise footwork, he excelled at third ball attacks and dynamic play. He was also one of the first players to develop a strong reverse penhold backhand. 

Ma Lin is admired for his participation at the Olympic games, as he’s considered the true Olympiad of Table Tennis; he won gold in every event: team, singles, and doubles (alongside Chen Qi).

6) Zhang Jike

Zhang Jike
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: February 16, 1988
  • Height: 178 cm (5 ft 10 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (3x gold, 2012 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (6x gold, 2x Singles Champion)

A personal favourite of mine, Zhang Jike takes the number 6 spot on our list. 

He’s a two-winged looper, regarded as a backhand dominant player. He could generate tremendous power on both wings, and his backhand was particularly special given that he had an amazing flick and a very hard loop. This meant he could attack his opponent at any given time, even if they played short. He’s one of few players that can 3rd ball attack with his backhand effectively, given his explosiveness and dominance with the stroke. 

To set up his tactics, he had a great reverse pendulum serve. Against strong forehand loopers like Ma Long, Zhang Jike was able to play a dynamic backhand to backhand game, often gaining the upper hand, playing hard to their elbow or wide backhand, then finishing the point with a shot down the line, or pivoting for a forehand, given that his footwork was immaculate. He was also praised for his mental fortitude, intelligence, and overall leadership

5) Deng Yaping

Deng Yaping
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: February 6, 1973
  • Height: 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (4x gold, 2x Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (6x gold, 2x Singles Champion)

The only long pimples player in this list and (in my opinion) the best female table tennis player ever is Deng Yaping. 

Standing at 1.50 metres tall, she was initially deemed too short to play in the national team. Eventually, the coaches promoted her and just a few years later she became the GOAT female player. She was excellent on both wings, executing a variety of different strokes effortlessly. She preferred to take her shots just off the bounce, be it powerful hits on her forehand, or a mixture of chop-blocks, blocks, and hits, with her long pimples. She would dominate with her pips, creating opportunities for attacks, and then she pivoted and hit with her forehand, and almost never missed

This oppressive playstyle led to her becoming a two-times Olympic singles champion.

4) Wang Liqin

Wang Liqin
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: June 18, 1978
  • Height: 185 cm (6 ft 1 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (2x gold, 2000 Doubles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 8 (3x gold)

An uncompromising attacker, Wang Liqin wanted to finish the point with every loop he played. 

His combination of long strokes, physical power, and acceleration rendered him incredibly difficult to play against. If you played to his forehand, you’d be met by the hardest-hitting, player in the world at that time, and if you played to his backhand, you’d be met by short, fast punch-style shots. He often aimed these punches down the line to look for his opponent’s forehand and set up a forehand-to-forehand rally, in which he was unmatched, and he never backed down. 

This brute force approach to the game earned him a combined 12 World Cup and Olympic medals.

3) Liu Guoliang

Liu Guoliang
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, penhold grip
  • Born: January 10, 1976
  • Height: 168 cm (5 ft 6 in)
  • Olympic Games: 4 (2x gold, 1996 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 2 (1x gold, 1996 Singles Champion)

At number 3, we have the current president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association. He’s earned his spot by giving his all for the team, with unparalleled success as a player and coach. 

As a player, he was a relentless short pimple penhold attacker. He liked to hit at the top of the bounce with equal parts hard hits and topspin shots. He played with a very low centre of gravity, which allowed him to change the direction of his shots effortlessly. He could effortlessly play angles that other players struggled with. Guoliang was also very solid at blocking, and he placed his shots to the open spaces, creating opportunities for forehand kill shots. Liu Guoliang is the second player ever to achieve a men’s Grand Slam, having won the World Table Tennis Championship Singles event twice.

2) Jan-Ove Waldner

Jan Ove Waldner
  • Nationality: Swedish
  • Playing style: Right-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: 3 October 1965
  • Height: 179 cm (5 ft 10 in)
  • Olympic Games: 2 (1x gold, 1992 Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 7 (2x gold, 1990 Singles Champion)

The “Mozart” of table tennis, and probably the most technical player of all time, Jan Ove Waldner is our number 2 pick. 

He did what very few thought possible, he was the last player ever to defeat the Chinese National Team players consistently. During his career, he led the Swedish National Team to 4 World Championship wins and 1 World Cup. He’s also the only non-Chinese player to achieve the Grand Slam, ensuring he’s changed the history of the sport forever. In addition to all this, Jan Ove retired from the Bundesliga at the age of 46. This is the reason for his nickname among Chinese fans; Cháng Qīng Shù (“Evergreen Tree”).

Waldner was able to beat the physically stronger and faster Chinese players because of his incredible feel for the game, high level of tactics, and seemingly endless variations to his game. He was very hard to play against because of his blocks, he had an incomparable combination of reflexes and touch that rendered him very difficult to overpower. But Waldner wasn’t a blocker, he was a smart player who could execute a 3rd ball attack with good quality on the ball and strong backhand punches or loops, then finishing the point with sidespin loops that kicked away from the table or going for a down the line winner. Waldner had an exceptional attack, but he was also comfortable when defending and blocking and he’d win lots of points on the backfoot, a unique quality to see at the highest level of play.

1) Ma Long

Ma Long
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Playing Style: Right-handed, shakehand grip
  • Born: 20 October 1988
  • Height: 175 cm (5 ft 9 in)
  • Olympic Games: 5 (5x gold, 2x Singles Champion)
  • World Cup Medals: 14 (9x gold, 2x Singles Champion)

And our pick for the table tennis GOAT, it’s ‘The Dragon’, Ma Long. One of the most driven sportsmen the world has ever seen, Ma Long will never accept defeat, so it would have been unfair to place him anywhere other than number 1, where he belongs.

He has probably the hardest forehand loop ever, second to none reflexes, immaculate footwork, serves loaded with spin, and an incredible will to win. His go-to tactic is choosing from a variety of heavy spin serves to get a long or half long receive, and start his ruthless attack. He’s also probably the most proficient counterlooper of all time, so when attacked, he’s not afraid to add his own power to the rally. While some initially thought he couldn’t handle pressure, he quickly adapted, and became one of the players with the strongest mental game ever

The Best Table Tennis player of All Time

Ma Long is the first and only player to become a double Grand Slam winner and the only ever to defend his Olympic singles championship. He also won the 2012 and 2016 World Table Tennis Championship singles event without dropping a single set, testament to his dominance above the other players. Because of all his incredible success, we believe Ma Long is the best table tennis player of all time!

This list is full of modern, stylish players. Do you think we got it right? Let us know if we missed anyone in the comments below.

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