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Mens Singles Event Guide

Men’s Singles – Table Tennis Olympic Event Guide (Updated for Paris 2024)

The men’s singles event competition is a make-or-break tournament for the best table tennis players in the circuit. 

Ma Long is considered the greatest player of all time, primarily because he’s the only player who has won two men’s singles events at the Olympics.

In contrast, Wang Hao will always be remembered as the player who lost 3 Olympic finals in a row. 

Such is the importance of the Olympics. Being an Olympic singles medallist is what separates great players from legends.

We’ll cover the structure, schedule, and stats of the men’s singles event, historically, and for the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics. Let’s begin!

Men’s Singles Event Structure

The men’s singles event’s structure is as follows:

Around 70 players will play in the Olympics, depending on qualification. We’ll go into how to qualify for the event in the following section.

Those 70 players will be narrowed down to 32 by playing a small preliminary set of matches.

Once that’s done, the round of 32 of the Olympics’ main draw starts. This is a single elimination bracket, and it’s the final instance of the tournament. 

Matches are played to the best of 7 games. Each game is played up to 11 points, with the winner needing to be ahead by 2 points.

The Olympics is quite a special event because every match is played to the best of 7 games. 

In the World Table Tennis circuit, most matches are played to the best of 5 games, and best of 7 matches are reserved only for the finals of some special events.

This speaks to the importance of the Olympics when it comes to table tennis. 

For some other sports, such as soccer, the Olympics don’t matter as much. For table tennis, every single match is at least as important as the biggest tournament finals.

Argentine Olympian Gastón Alto (right) showing off his Tokyo Olympics tattoo.
Argentine Olympian Gastón Alto (right) showing off his Tokyo Olympics tattoo.

For many players, representing their national team on the absolute biggest stage is the highlight of their whole careers.

Most of them have won countless tournaments, but what they’re most proud of, is that they were able to play even one single match at the Olympic Games.

How to Qualify

The rules for the men’s singles event state that each country can only register up to 2 players. This rule has an upside and a downside. 

The upside is that the Olympics are by far the most diverse event in world table tennis. Because of this qualification rule, we get to see players from at least 35 different countries.

The downside to this rule is that lots of top-class players aren’t able to participate in the event. A few countries dominate the individual world rankings, with many players falling out of the Olympic qualification spots.

As for how to qualify, thirty-two places will be allocated based on the men’s team event. Each of the 16 qualified countries will be able to select two male athletes to compete in the men’s singles event. 

Twenty-two more spots will be attributed to individuals through the continental meets organized by the ITTF (six each for Asia and Europe, five for the Americas, four for Africa, and one for Oceania).

A maximum of fifteen players will also qualify through the ITTF World Singles Ranking list as of June 18, 2024.

Finally, any remaining spots are entitled to nations under the Universality system. This is designed to allow under-represented countries access to different Olympic events and any places are decided by a central committee.

This unique qualifying method is one of many things that make the Olympics so special. 

Great players will miss out on qualification

The strongest nations in the sport are China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, and Sweden, among others. 

These countries have more than 2 world-class players, but they can only choose 2 to represent them in the Olympics. 

For example, China has 6 players in the world’s top 10, but only 2 of them will be able to play. This means that we won’t be able to see 4 of the world’s top 10 players on the biggest stage.

If the event selected the top 70 players in the ITTF rankings, 10 would be Chinese, 7 would be German, 7 would be Korean, 6 would be Japanese, etc.

The Olympic system makes it possible for athletes from more than 35 countries to compete, and it makes it easier for non-Chinese players to win the event (or at least get 2nd-3rd place). 

China has historically been the strongest country in table tennis. If all the Chinese athletes within the top 70 could compete, the event would be nearly guaranteed to be won by China.

Given that only two Chinese players can compete, it is a lot easier for athletes from other countries to upset them. There is very little room for error.

This qualification system is also why the Men’s Singles at the Olympics is one of the only major global events in which there have been non-Chinese winners.

In contrast, in the most important World Table Tennis (WTT) events, the 4-5 best Chinese players get to play which results in lots of semi final stages consisting of 4 Chinese players.

At the Olympics, we’re guaranteed to have at least 2 non-Chinese athletes in the semi-finals, making it possible for other countries to get to the latter stages and achieve Olympic bronze at the very least.

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Paris 2024 Top Seeds

The official seeding for Paris 2024 hasn’t been announced yet. 

However, judging from the top players in the ranking and how they’ve been faring in the last important competitions such as the WTT Finals and the WTT Star Contenders, we know who the strongest men’s players are.

Wang Chuqin – China

Wang Chuqin
Source: CGTN

World #2 Wang Chuqin is winning tournaments left and right, and he isn’t showing signs of stopping anytime soon.

Wang has been dominating the scene these past months, as he’s won the WTT Finals Doha in January, and the WTT Star Contender Doha a week later. 

The WTT Finals is one of the most important tournaments in the whole WTT circuit. It’s the last tournament of the year, in which the top 16 players of the year compete head-to-head in the grand finale. 

In this tournament, Wang Chuqin crushed the best players in the circuit one by one. In fact, he only dropped a single game in the whole competition against Felix Lebrun.

After beating Felix Lebrun 3-1, he bested Harimoto 3-0 to reach the semifinals.

The semifinals and final were played to the best of 7, the same format as the Olympics. 

Wang only needed the minimum 8 games to win the event, as he overpowered Dang Qiu 4-0 before defeating world #1 Fan Zhendong in the final match, also 4-0.

A week later, he repeated this feat by winning the WTT Star Contender Doha, beating compatriot Lin Shidong in the final 4 games to 2.

As you can see, Wang Chuqin is looking virtually unstoppable right now. 

He’s one of the most agile players in the circuit, and he uses that agility to step around and hit forehand winners left and right. It’s incredible to watch.

It’s not like he needs to step around to his forehand, though, as he’s very consistent and dangerous in backhand-to-backhand rallies. 

Another way he wins easy points is to play explosive backhands cross court. As he’s a left-handed player, he can play aggressively towards his opponent’s wide forehands with ease.

Wang’s also a master of the serve and receive game. His tricky serves allow for easy 3rd ball attack chances, and he possesses a very fast backhand flick, which he prioritizes when receiving to get on the offense from the get-go.

This thrilling playstyle is what’s getting Wang titles left and right. Will the 23-year-old add an Olympic world medal to his cabinet? We’ll have to wait and see.

Fan Zhendong – China

Fan Zhendong
Source: CGTN

Fan Zhendong is the world #1 player, and for good reason. He has been at the top of world table tennis for years.

In fact, Fan Zhendong won 2 of the 3 most important tournaments this past year: The Singapore Smash in March 2023 and the World Table Tennis Championships, in May 2023.

Fan also won the WTT Champions Xinxiang in April 2023 and the WTT Star Contender Ljubljana in July 2023, where he beat Wang Chuqin 4-3.

After that, however, his playing level dipped slightly, and Wang Chuqin took his spot as the player to beat in the whole circuit. 

Fan lost against Ma Long in the final of the Asian Table Tennis Championships, he lost 4-0 against Wang Chuqin in the WTT Finals in January 2024, and he had to retire against Lin Shidong due to injury in the WTT Star Contender Doha the following week.

Even though Fan Zhendong hasn’t been having the best results lately, we know what he’s capable of. 

Fan Zhendong is probably the player with the best shot quality on the circuit. The amount of speed and spin he can generate on his shots is unmatched.

He loves to play close to the table, but he can also drop back a few steps to give himself more time to unleash all of his power. 

Another of his strengths is the backhand-to-backhand rally. I don’t think there are many players, if any, that can stand toe to toe with Fan Zhendong in this respect, as he can generate tons of power and he seemingly never misses.

In addition, he’s one of the best servers in the sport, and he has probably the best reverse pendulum serve in the circuit, with which he loves to set up his mighty attacks.

Fan Zhendong has already reached an Olympic men’s singles final in Tokyo 2020, where he lost against Ma Long. Will he be able to win the event this time?

Tomokazu Harimoto – Japan

Tomokazu Harimoto
Source: Olympics.com

Tomokazu Harimoto has been one of the best, if not the best, non-Chinese players in the sport for more than 5 years now. 

Tomokazu rose to international superstardom in 2018, when he shocked the world by beating Olympic champions Ma Long and Zhang Jike in the semi-final and final of the Japan Open. At the time, he was just 14 years old.

After that, he defeated Lin Gaoyuan in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals by 4-1.

Harimoto is a very stable player and he loves to stay close to the table. He’s one of the few players in the circuit that very rarely drops back to engage in counterloop rallies.

Instead, he prefers to stay close to the table at all times. He’d rather block or counterloop shots over the bounce than step back to counterloop them, as this takes more time away from his opponents.

Harimoto has a very versatile style, as he loops, counterloops, blocks, pushes, or flicks, depending on the situation.

His biggest strengths are his stability and his reflexes. He’s incredibly good at not committing unforced mistakes, and he’s great at returning the ball close to the table. 

He loops with very high effectiveness, and he blocks the ball incredibly well when he’s attacked. 

It’ll be interesting to see whether we’ll see the best version of Harimoto, as he’s shown us he’s capable of beating Olympic champions time and time again.

Lin Yun-Ju – Chinese Taipei

Lin Yun-Ju
Source: Butterfly

It is not an overstatement to say that Lin Yun-Ju revolutionized table tennis. The current form of table tennis that we know of today, is very influenced by Lin Yun-Ju.

When Lin came into prominence in 2019, he beat virtually every top player in the circuit, including Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, and Timo Boll, among others.

How did he do it? He had the best serve receive in the world by a very wide margin, at that time.

Lin Yun-Ju is an absolute master of the backhand banana flick, and he’s not afraid to use it every single point.

This is how he achieved all of his success. He showed the world that you can attack every single serve with the backhand flick, regardless of where his opponent served. 

Lin isn’t afraid to backhand flick, even if you serve short to his forehand.

The other main strength Lin has, apart from his explosive and consistent forehand and backhand loops, is his footwork and agility.

Lin is a very fast player, and he uses that speed to move laterally and in and out of the table to flick every serve and follow up his flick with an explosive loop. 

It is very rare to see Lin out of position, and he’s almost always on the offense because he takes the initiative straight from the receive.

Lin Yun-Ju came in fourth in the men’s singles event in Tokyo 2020, and he won a bronze Olympic medal in the Mixed Doubles event. In 2024, he’ll look to add an Olympic Gold medal to his collection, and he has every weapon in his arsenal to make it happen.

Paris 2024 Match Schedule

The schedule of the men’s team event is as follows:

Olympics-Schedule-Mens-Singles

The first rounds will be played from Saturday 27th all the way until Wednesday the 31st. This will include all of the rounds before the quarter-finals matches.

The quarter-final matches are to be played on Thursday the 1st, the semi-finals will be played on Friday the 2nd, and the grand final will be played 2 days later on Sunday the 4th.

Men’s Singles History

Men's-Singles-Olympic-Table-Tennis

The history of the men’s singles event in the Olympics greatly favors Chinese athletes. 

28 Olympic medals have been awarded in this event. Of those 28 medals, 16 were awarded to Chinese athletes (57%).

However, Chinese athletes haven’t been able to win the event on 3 occasions: Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Athens 2004.

In fact, in the Seoul Olympics there were no Chinese athletes even on the podium.

The Seoul Olympics were very special in that two players from the host country competed in the final: Yoo Nam-Kyu and Kim Ki-Taik. 

Yoo won and Kim took second place in a very special match. It was the first and only time where two Japanese penhold players clashed in an Olympic final. 

The next Olympic final (Barcelona 1992) also featured no Chinese athletes in the final. The final match was played between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jean-Philippe Gatien.

It was this match that solidified Jan-Ove Waldner’s status as an all-time great, and he’s widely regarded as the second-best player of all time.

Jan-Ove Waldner
Source: Olympics.com

After that, the Chinese athletes began dominating the men’s singles event, and they won 6/7 gold medals from 1996 until 2020.

Liu Guoliang won in ‘96, Kong Linghui won the ‘00 edition, Ma Lin won in ‘08, Zhang Jike won in 2012 and Ma Long won back-to-back Olympic golds in 2016 and 2020.

This is why Ma Long is regarded as the best player of all time. He’s the only person to have won back-to-back Olympic singles events.

Ma Long

In fact, he has stated that he wants a shot at a three-peat, and he’s currently ranked #3 in the world. However, we believe it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to participate in the men’s singles event because only 2 Chinese players can play and his results recently have been poorer than Wang Chuqin and Fan Zhendong.

As for the 2004 edition, Ryu Seung Min won what is by far my favorite Olympic final, and I highly suggest you watch it.

In this match, Ryu beat Wang Hao in an absolute thriller. The two penholders went toe toe-to-toe in an incredible match full of forehand-to-forehand rallies.

Men’s Singles Stats

The Men’s Singles event has been played in all 9 Olympics where Table Tennis has been a sport.
On average, the Men’s Singles receives 67 individual entries. The most entries to a single tournament was the 77 participants at Beijing 2008.
On average, 40 different National Olympic Committees are represented. Brazil 2016 saw the most varied entries with 46 different flags represented.
333 individual players have played in an Olympics Men’s Singles event.
The average match winning margin (in total points) is 12.88.
Total Points Played
Total Games Played
Total Matches Played

Player Statistics

Most Improbable Win – Tibor Klampár bt Chen Longcan 3-2 (21-19, 7-21, 11-21, 21-19, 21-19) despite winning 18 fewer points. Seoul, 1988.
Most Comprehensive Win – Ding Yi bt Alain Choo Choy 3-0 (21-11, 21-3, 21-4) a 45-point winning margin. Seoul, 1988.
Most Points in a Single Match – Jean-Philippe Gatien bt Yu Nam-Gyu 3-2 (22-24, 25-23, 21-19, 17-21, 21-19) playing an incredible 212 points. Barcelona, 1992.
PlayerNOCMatches Won
Jan-Ove WaldnerSWE25
Jörgen PerssonSWE24
Jörg RoßkopfGER20
Yu Nam-GyuKOR17
Zoran PrimoracCRO15
Ding YiAUT13
Jean-Michel SaiveBEL12
Vladimir SamsanovBLR12
Andrzej GrubbaPOL12
Wang HaoCHN12

Country Records

Most Points Won

0

China

Most Games Won

0

China

Most Matches Won

0

China

%
Chinese Men have won 88.4% (107 out of 121) of their matches against non-Chinese opponents
CountryMatches Won
China107
Sweden66
Korea62
Japan48
Germany43
Hong Kong, China34
Poland31
Great Britain30
Chinese Taipei (Taiwan)28
Austria26

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The Controller

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Butterfly Fan Zhendong ALC | Forehand: Butterfly Dignics 09c | Backhand: Butterfly Rozena
Playstyle: The Controller

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