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All-Time Top 5 Penhold Players

I often heard people said that if you are a penhold ping pong player, then you will play very good for your forehand but your backhand will be weak. Which means you are good at playing the offensive game and not defensive.

But the truth is actually not like that. We all know that penhold and shakehand are the two most common gripping methods in ping pong. Although each has its own advantages and disadvantages, in general, there is not much difference between them.

Nevertheless, penhold gripping methods seem to be only used by Asian players. We rarely see any Western players using the penhold grip.

But we can see there are many famous penhold ping pong players who won a lot of world titles in the tournaments. Therefore, I can foresee the penhold grip will continue to be used by Asian players in the future.

As of now, I would like to share with you my all-time favorite top 5 penhold ping pong players.

1. Xu Xin

Xu Xin

Xu Xin is a China table tennis player who was born in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, on January 8, 1990.

He can be said to be the world’s No. 1. in Doubles in the world. With his lefthanded advantage and playing style, as well as his own personal ability, no matter who he partners with, the results are always very impressive.

Very high entertaining. There are many magical shots been played by Xu Xin like backhand catch, high ball, fast push, and twist, they are extremely high in entertaining the audiences.

Xu Xin can say to be one of the best penhold ping pong players in the world. In fact, table tennis technology is constantly developing. Look at the era of Liu Guoliang and the era of Xu Xin now. Both rubber and technology have changed a lot. What we can see is that Xu Xin is the leader in the latest technology.

How Xu Xin Start Playing Ping Pong

As a child, Xu Xin was picked by the teacher of Shaohua Street Elementary School in Xuzhou City because Xu Xin was the fastest runner and response very fast in most of the games.

In his fifth grade, Xu Xin went to Nanjing and was recommended to the Jiangsu team by the sports school. He then started practice ping pong.

He has a long arm that helps him to generate a lot of spins when hitting the ball. He is extremely strong to spin in mid-distance and powerful forehand sidespin.

He is a player who always self review himself. He often reflects on his various shortcomings and correcting them in the next match.

If he experiencing failure and losing in his game, he will summarize and work hard to correct it, and he will become even better.

When he is playing in the game, you can see his strong psychological qualities. He never gives up easily even his score is left behind, he will chase point after point through the rally.

Most of the time, even when he lost in his singles, he will not get depressed but will still play well in the doubles. From here, we can see that the psychological quality of Xu Xin is really strong.

2. Wang Hao

Wang Hao is born in China in Changchun, Jilin Province on December 1, 1983. He began his professional training in table tennis in 1990.


Photo source: wikimedia

For Wang Hao, his technique characteristics are no longer the traditional Chinese penhold playing style. His penhold style has been an advanced technique in the world for his time.

It brought a glimmer of life to the sluggish penhold style in ping pong world. And I think that Wang Hao’s penhold playing style has reached the point where nobody has come across.

He can play against shakehand players and take advantage of his incredible backhand techniques. He often can score with a strong backhand arc.

Wang Hao’s backhand can be said to exceed the ordinary backhand shot of shakehand players, which is a very incredible thing. His contribution to the new penhold playing techniques is very significant.

Wang Hao participated 3 times in the Olympics Games. With the sport cycle of table tennis, playing 2 times in the Olympics is considered very rare, but Wang Hao even makes it 3 times. This record is really hard for others to break.

However, even 3 times he makes his way to the final, but 3 times also he loses in final and he only won the silver medals.

In the history of Chinese table tennis, Wang Hao has a very important position. In the team world table tennis tournament in May 2014, Wang Hao created a seven-time feat with his team.

His record also tied with another China veteran player, Ma Lin, with 18 world champions and tied for the male table tennis player with the most world championships.

Wang Hao has won 18 world champions, and make himself to the Olympic singles finals for 3 times. The team world competition was undefeated. While Wang Hao set a brilliant record, he left a regret that he failed to win an Olympic singles gold medal, this makes him missed the Grand Slam.

Wang Hao’s biggest disadvantages are:

  1. The backhand is too strong. The backhand can even fight against others’ forehand, which leads to his stable play and making lesser side attacks.
  2. He has a very strong playing style. The excitement for Wang Hao to play in the tournament seems to be low, therefore, he can’t always get to play with his true level. He sometimes has difficulty to enter the tournament’s state at the critical moment.

3. Ma Lin

Ma Lin, another China table tennis penhold player who was born on February 19, 1980, in Shenhe District, Shenyang City, Liaoning Province.

Ma lin

The core of Ma Lin’s technical skills is his forehand. In the more professional word, it is called return shot in close distance

Generally, in the professional field, the high power is not as good as to step forward and return the shot. Everyone has the ability to drive the ball in close and mid-distance, but the opponent will have sufficient time to do the defense or return back the shot.

However, with the return shot in the close distance that is played by Ma Lin, the opponent’s response becomes very passive. With such techniques, it creates opportunities and even make Ma Lin score directly, and eventually won the match.

Ma Lin can be said to be the master of traditional Chinese penhold player since the beginning of the 21st century. His playing style is quite weird and the ball placement is tricky.

Watching Ma Lin playing is quite enjoyable. It seems like ping pong ball is a toy in his hand, and he can control this toy whatever he wants.

Ma Lin’s feel has reached the point of being invincible. In many games, it feels like Ma Lin has killed his opponent alive. Ma Lin can be said to have integrated the characteristics of all traditional Chinese penhold players, and coupled with her own strong ability.

He always has a very good feel when playing in the tournament. He is especially good at playing the first three shots. Besides, he has a close to perfect footwork where he can move very quickly and hit the ball to the edge where the opponent is not able to return.

Ma Lin has won 4 World Cup championships and the gold medal in men’s singles in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also won 18 world championship titles in table tennis.

He can still maintain the highest level of play even a couple of rules changes being made by ITTF, this shows that Ma Lin’s techniques and strength are really incredible.

4. Liu Guo Liang

Liu Guo Liang, yet another China table tennis player who was born in Fengqiu County, Xinxiang City, Henan Province, on January 10, 1976. He has been the head coach of the Chinese table tennis team.

Liu Guo Liang

Liu Guo Liang is one of the very rare table tennis players who has won the Grand Slam. His career as a table tennis player was slightly short because of a series of ITTF rules reforms, but his achievements are obvious to all.

Let’s talk about skills and techniques. Although Liu Guo Liang’s playing techniques is not workable if use in today’s table tennis world since the penhold rubber to play for a single side only is definitely no room for survival under today’s vigorous arc ball.

But in that era, it was still very reliable to play with players all around the world. You must know that at that time players from many countries were having high skill levels, which reflect that Liu Guo Liang’s technique and skill level is also of a very high standard.

Doping Scandal

In the 1999 World Table Tennis Championships which was held in Eindhoven, Liu Guo Liang defeated teammate Ma Lin in the final and once again stood on the highest championship podium.

However, accompanying the joyful moment was the “doping” scandal. Liu Guo Liang was found to have exceeded the exogenous origin of epitestosterone. Nonetheless, Liu was found innocent after the investigation and there was no doping offense committed.

In 2002, after the ITTF changed the rules and announced the use of the new ping pong ball to have the size of 40mm instead of 38mm, Liu Guo Liang found he was no longer suitable to play in this arena, and so he ended his career as a table tennis player.

5. Ryu Seung Min

He is the only penhold player is this top 5 list who is not from China. Ryu Seung Min was born on August 5, 1982, in Seoul, South Korea.

He started to play table tennis at the age of 9 and grip the racket in penhold with his right hand. He is a traditional single-handed playing style in Korea.

Ryu Seung Min

Photo source: wikimedia

At the 2004 Athens Olympic, he defeated Chinese player Wang Hao in the final and won the men’s singles gold medal for South Korea.

This is a very valuable match for him and also for China players. From a spiritual level, his desperate spirit completely suppressed every opponent. From the propaganda point of view, his Olympic gold medal broke the myth of invincible Chinese table tennis and expanded the influence of table tennis.

He is a player with strength and explosiveness as his specialty. As an excellent representative of the Korean single-sided penhold player, his footwork and running ability are quite powerful.

Korean style single-sided play relies heavily on the forehand arc ball attack and requires a lot of running. He is even more outstanding. He has excellent physical fitness, very fast start-up speed, and superb footwork. His forehand arc ball is extremely lethal which is his vital killing weapon.

Read also: Table table quotes by world’s famous players

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