Top 10 Greatest Ping Pong Players until 2020

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Throughout this post, you will get to know the top 10 greatest ping pong players of all time. You also have specific information about their special techniques, achievements, and awards.

1. Jan-Ove Waldner

Jan-Ove Waldner is one of the greatest table tennis players of all time, not only did he make a name for himself but also the name of table tennis around the world. He was born on October 3, 1965, in Stockholm, Sweden. At a very young age, he was potentially fit for playing sports. In 1982, he became one of the finalists in the European League, and his opponent was his team member, a left-handed player, ‘Mikael Appelgren’. After this fateful night, his career in table tennis began.

Jan-Ove Waldner is playing in the International League

He played table tennis ever since the 1990s to his last match on February 11th, 2016 while playing in the Swedish first league for Ängby/Spårvägen and officially announced his retirement as a player.

What makes Jan so great at table tennis is his ability to serve properly. At the age of seven, he could quickly return 75 backhands without any mistakes. At nine, he possessed a good forehand loop. In a match, he could easily trick his opponents with many serves at different angles, types, or even force. Most pros said that he and the ball has a strong connection that no one else has. He can find the perfect shot, an ideal angle, the thousandth of a second when the ball hit the paddle, only in the next millisecond to leave the rubber with the speed of a catapult, heading towards his opponents’ side. His serves are the reasons why he is called a legend in table tennis.

During his 40 years of playing table tennis, he has earned himself a lot of medals and popularity. The followings are some of his typical accomplishments. 

  • Olympic Games
  • 1992 Gold medal in the single, first round in double
  • 2000 Silver medal in single, final 16 in double
  • World championships
  • 1989 Gold medal in the single, gold medal in the team competition
  • 1997 Gold medal in a single (21-0 in games), silver medal in double
  • 2000 Gold medal in the team competition

2. Liu Guoliang

Liu Guoliang is considered one of the greatest ping pong players of all time, the second man ever to achieve a grand slam of 3 major tournaments. He was born on January 10, 1976, in Xinxiang, Henan. He was very good at playing table tennis when he was a child. In 1991, Liu was first chosen for the Chinese national team, which led him to the professional table tennis. At that time, he was just 15. From 1991 to 2001, Liu was seen as one of the best table tennis players as he won many medals in this sport. However, he retired as a player after the 2001 season. Soon after his retirement, he became the youngest head coach of the Chinese men team when being appointed as the head coach of China National Men’s Team at the age of 27.

Liu Guoliang was appointed as the head coach of China National Men’s Team

His special playing style is based on the use of short pimped-out rubber. Liu favors a penholder grip and is the forerunner of the backhand reverse topspin. His blade is Stiga Clipper, his forehand rubber is Stiga Clippa, and his reverse backhand rubber is Stiga Mendo Energy. During his time, he won over four medals in the Olympic, 2 of which are golds. Another gold and bronze in the World Cup, Liu has made himself the most decorated male table tennis in history.

3. Deng Yaping

Deng Yaping is born on February 6, 1973, in Zhengzhou, Henan. She is a legendary female table tennis player, who herself won 18 world championships, including 4 Olympics between 1989 and 1997.

Deng Yaping in her prime time

Her playstyle depends on agility and quickness, and once she serves the ball, there is a minimal chance you can return it. A quick attacker, both backhand and forehand, she is flexible in her playstyle too, she can play both offensive and defensive and switch along all the time.

In her time, she has won a lot of medals:

  • 40th World Table Tennis Championship (1989) Women’s Double Gold.
  • 1st Table Tennis World Cup (1990) Women’s Team Gold.
  • 41st World Table Tennis Championship (1991) Women’s Singles Gold, Women’s Team Silver, Women’s Double Silver.
  • 2nd Table Tennis World Cup (1991–1992) Women’s Team Gold, Women’s Double Gold.
  • 25th Olympic Games (1992) Table Tennis Women’s Single Gold, Women’s Double Gold.
  • 42nd World Table Tennis Championship (1993) Women’s Team Gold, Women’s Double Silver.
  • 43rd World Table Tennis Championship (1995) Women’s Team Gold, Women’s Singles Gold, Women’s Double Gold, Mixed Double Silver.
  • 4th Table Tennis World Cup (1995) Women’s Team Gold
  • 26th Olympic Games (1996) Table Tennis Women’s Single Gold, Women’s Double Gold.
  • 5th Table Tennis World Cup (1996) Women’s Single Gold
  • 44th World Table Tennis Championship (1997) Women’s Team Gold, Women’s Singles Gold, Women’s Double Gold, Mixed Double Silver.

4. Qiao Hong

Qiao Hong was born on November 21, 1968, in Hubei, China. She has become one of the most well-known players around the world because of her talent and efforts.

Though popular, Hong was not chosen for the Seoul Olympic in 1988, which is a pity because her teammates all triumphed. In 1991, Hong won the singles and doubles World Championships. With that result, she was ready to compete in her first Olympic Games the following year in Barcelona.

In the singles competition, Hong Qiao was beaten in the semi-final by Jing Chen, the 1988 Olympic champion. Overcame the defeat, the Wuhan girl made it a point of honor to win the bronze medal. In the end, only her training partner compatriots managed to beat her at the Olympic Games.

Throughout her career, Hong had a bond by heart with her teammate, Deng, who understand each other’s playstyle and together became the most feared double on International Competition.

Qiao Hong at her young age

She has won a total of 4 medals including two gold; her ten world championship medals have 5 gold medals. She was ranked second by ITTF for a long time. Qiao Hong and the world No. 1 Deng Yaping formed one of the strongest double combos. She joined the ITTF Hall of Fame in 2005. 

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5. Guo Yue

Guo Yue in her National Team uniform

Guo Yue was born in Anshan, China on July 17, 1988. She started her career as a professional table tennis player in the 90s when she was young. However, in 2005, Guo Yue was made to leave the National Team after a lot of conflicts with China’s head coach. She is a left-handed shake and attack player, making her serve even more unpredictable and hard to return. Guo Yue is also famous for her amazing speed. She is very quick and agile, enabling her to switch from a defensive position to an offensive position quickly. Her achievements throughout her professional career:

  • 1999 – Japan East Asian Junior Championship Women’s Singles Champion
  • 2000 – Asian Cup Women’s Singles Runner-up
  • 2002 – International Table Tennis Federation, ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals Women’s Singles Runner-up
  • 2003 – Asian Championship Women’s Team Champion, Women’s Singles Second Runner-up, Runner-up of Women’s Doubles at the 47 World Table Tennis Championship
  • 2004 – Women’s Doubles Bronze at the Athens Olympic, Women’s Team Champion of World Table Tennis Championship, ITTF Pro Tour Events Final Women’s Singles Champion and Women’s Doubles Runner-up
  • 2005 – Mixed Doubles (with Wang Liqin) at the 48th World Table Tennis Championship, bronze medal in Women’s Singles
  • 2006 – World Table Tennis Championship Women’s Team Champion; Champion of Team, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles Champion (with Li Xiaoxia) at Asian Games
  • 2007 – World Table Tennis Championship Women’s singles Champion, Mixed Doubles Champion (with Wang Liqin)
  • 2008 – World Table Tennis Championship Women’s Team Champion; Asian Cup Champion; Women’s Singles Bronze at the Beijing Olympic

6. Xu Xin

Xu Xin playing in a professional match

Xu Xin, born January 8, 1990, is a professional player from China. In 2013, he first reached the No. 1 position in the World Ranking after becoming the winner in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in December 2012. Since then, he has achieved many medals in many international competitions, making himself one of the greatest ping pong players of all time.

Xu Xin is a penhold grip player, following the footsteps of former champions such as Wang Hao and Ma Lin. His long arms and frame enable him to move quickly and reach his ball widely. His arms give him the ability to execute a graceful, unique forehand loop. He has also adopted the reverse penhold backhand grip (RPB), a recent development for China’s penholders, allowing a two-winged attack. He still uses a traditional penhold (Chinese) backhand to lob and push the ball with the forehand side of his racket.

Though just begins for a very short time, Xu Xin has won many medals in many tournaments:

  • World Championships: SF (2013, 2017).
  • World Cup appearances: 3. Record: winner (2013), runner up (2016), 4th (2012).
  • World Tour Grand Finals appearances: 6. Record: winner (2012, 2013), runner up (2009, 2010), SF (2015, 16), QF (2017, 2018).
  • Asian Games: winner (2014).
  • Asian Championships: winner (2019); runner-up (2015); SF (2009, 12).
  • Asian Cup: winner (2012, 13, 15, 16); 2nd (2011); 3rd (2010).

7. Wang Liqin

Wang at 2013 World Table Tennis Championship

Wang Liqin was born in Shanghai, June 18, 1978. He is considered one of the greatest ping pong players in the world. He started his career in the 90s. During his time, he won 3 majors and ranked #1 by ITTF for 25 consecutive months., from September 2000 to September 2002. However, Liquin retired from 2013 from professional table tennis in 2013.

Wang Liqin uses the shake hand grip. He plays a forehand dominated style with the occasional backhand loop to open a topspin rally, combining with his above-average height allows additional leverage for acceleration and momentum, creating more powerful shots.

What makes him so special is not just his playstyle but how frequently he changed his paddles. He had used more than 10 different models of rackets, 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.

8. Ma Long

Ma Long at the 2013 World Championships

Born on October 20 in 1988, Ma Long is one of the five players to complete a career ‘Grand Slam’. His first championship in 2006 inspired him to become one of the most famous players in the history of table tennis. Arguably the best forehand attacker in table tennis history, Ma uses a close-range third-ball play to maneuver his opponents in most matches. At the dawn of his career, his approach was mostly forehand-oriented, dominating playstyle with sturdy forehand loops, with him using his backhand only for controlled returns to set up the forehand.

Below are his achievements from 2012 to the current time:

  • Olympic Games: winner (2016).
  • World Championships: winner (2015, 2017, 2019); SF (2009, 2011, 2013); round of 16 (2007).
  • World Cup: winner (2012, 2015); runner-up (2014); third place (2008, 2009, 2017).
  • ITTF World Tour Grand Finals: winner (2008, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016); runner-up (2013, 2019); SF (2007).
  • Asian Games: winner (2010).
  • Asian Championships: winner (2009, 2011, 2013); runner-up (2007).
  • Asian Cup: winner (2008, 2009, 2011, 2014), runner-up (2019).
  • China National Games: winner (2013, 2017), runner-up (2009), SF (2005).
  • Chinese National Championships: winner (2011); runner-up (2004, 2007, 2014); SF (2008).
  • World Junior Championships: winner (2004); QF (2003).
  • Asian Junior Championships: winner (2004)

9. Timo Boll

Timo Boll in competition with Ma Lin in 2004

Timo Boll is a German player born on March 8 in 1981, who is currently playing for Borussia Düsseldorf. He is a left-handed player whose best weapon is his forehand topspin drive but is also noted for his rapid backhand loop. Boll’s technique was ahead of its time as he was one of the first two-winged loopers. He creates the spin-block instead of a passive block to put more pressure on his opponents. He is seen as a hard-working and enthusiastic player who always spends time practicing and improving his skills. As a result, he won many medals in a variety of international competitions such as the World Cup, European Champion, and World Championship Single. With such achievements, Timo Boll is known for being one of the top players when it comes to generating elevate amounts of spin, especially in his opening topspin.

Below are his achievements throughout his active time :

  • World Cup 2002 and 2005, silver 2008, 2012 and 2017, bronze 2010 and 2014
  • Single European Champion 2002, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2018
  • Team European Champion 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2017 and 2019
  • Europe Top-16 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2018 and 2020
  • European Super Cup 2007, 2008, and 2009.
  • Champions League: Winner 2005 and 2006 with TTV RE-BAU Gönnern, 2009, 2010 and 2011 with Borussia Düsseldorf
  • 3rd position Qatar and Kuwait Open Single 2007
  • 3rd position World Championship Single 2011

10. Tomokazu Harimoto

Tomokazu Harimoto

Tomokazu was born on June 27, 2003. When he was a child, he showed a favorable attitude towards table tennis and the extraordinary talent for this sport. He started his career as a professional ping pong player when he was really young. Despite being young, he is dedicated to his job as he spends most of his time practicing table tennis with his coach or team members. As a result, he has set out to achieve many titles in the latter years although he is one of the youngest players in Japan:

  • June 2016: Youngest ever winner of an ITTF World Tour under-21 men’s singles title (12 years, 355 days)
  • December 2016: Youngest ever winner of the boys’ singles title at the World Junior Championships (13 years, 163 days).
  • August 2017: Youngest ever winner of an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title (14 years, 61 days). January 2018: Youngest ever winner of the men’s singles title at the Japanese National Championships (14 years, 207 days).
  • December 2018: Youngest ever winner of an ITTF World Tour Grand Finals men’s singles title (15 years, 172 days).

With such achievements, he is considered as one of the best ping pong players in the world. 

In summary, each person described upon made a name for not only themselves but also a name for ping-pong as an international sport. Each of them has unique abilities and mindset that can outplay his or her opponent, and gain advantages in just the first seconds. They have so much to learn from and even more respected deserved.

Don’t forget, if you need to buy a set of table tennis equipment, take a look at the best ping pong table and see my reviews of other products in the “product reviews” category.

Brixton Johansson