'The Dragon' is back.
Olympic champion Ma Long has marked his comeback international tournament after seven months out injured by winning the competition, triumphing at the Qatar Open ITTF World Tour Platinum.
The 30-year-old, currently ranked 12th in the world, defeated compatriot and world number three Lin Gaoyuan 4–2 in the final in Doha.
The 30-year-old opened his campaign against Frenchman Tristan Flore, but went down early in the opening game and looked rusty.
Flore held the Rio 2016 singles champion at bay before Ma finally pulled clear at 2–2, going on to win 4–2 in a hard-fought contest.
Then came the surprising whitewash victories over Boll, the European champion, and Mizutani, who Ma beat in the Rio semi-final.
Memorable table tennis rally from China star Ma Long
Memorable table tennis rally from China star Ma LongMa Long shows great defensive skills and then decides to seize control of the rally in the semi-finals against Jun Mizutani.
The semi-final was an all-Chinese affair against top seed and world number two Xu Xin, and the pair did not disappoint, as Xu took a 2–1 lead before Ma reeled off three straight games to book his spot in the final.
Ma then found himself 0–2 down to Lin in the deciding match, before proving his injury was no longer bothering him by staging another come-from-behind win, taking four straight games for his first title since winning the China Open in June 2018.
"After all the hard work, I'm glad I could come back and find the winning feeling," Ma said in an on-court interview after.
Ma struggled with injuries in 2018, and before his appearance in Qatar had not competed internationally since the Bulgarian Open in August 2018.
After losing in the round of 32 to Liam Pitchford at that event, the 30-year-old took time off with a knee problem.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel exclusively at the start of March 2019, Ma explained: "This was the result of a long-term build up. I had a long period of discomfort and then it kind of blew up."
The injury forced him to miss the 2018 Men’s World Cup, the Swedish and Austrian Opens, the World Tour Finals, the 2019 Hungarian Open in January, and February's Chinese national Marvellous 12 competition.
Next big test
Up next for 'Captain Long' is the Asian Cup in Japan, a tournament featuring a mix of the continent's top players and representatives from smaller table tennis nations.
All eyes will be on Ma as he continues his rehab, building up to the big one: the World Table Tennis Championships in Budapest, Hungary, at the end of April.
While wins will be welcome, the three-time Olympic gold medallist — he was also part of the Chinese champion team in London and Rio — will remain focussed on his fitness.
"If I want to continue playing, I need to keep myself healthy," Ma told the Olympic Channel earlier in March.
"I need to find some competitive form... once I've found it, I'll take it bit by bit."