​Who is the Greatest Table Tennis Player of all Time? JO- Waldner or Ma Long?
Pic courtesy of Roger Hance

​Who is the Greatest Table Tennis Player of all Time? JO- Waldner or Ma Long?

Ma Long

Ma Long has reached a level never seeing before in table tennis. He looks technically perfect and at times he seems to be unbeatable.
Ma Long has won every major title, has the longest unbeaten streak in history and is the only player in history to have a winning ratio against every player he has ever competed against. Including his arch-rival Zhang Jike with a head to head ratio of 31-10.
Ma Long was unfortunate not to have been granted a place 2012 Olympics and lost in the Semi-finals of the world champions to his teammate (wang Hao) on numerous occasions. If those titles were on his CV, it would have been tough for me to argue that Ma deserves the GOAT trophy.

The Greatest Table Tennis of all Time

But on this occasion, I believe as of now, Waldner is still the greatest of all time!

Waldner like Ma Long has won the grand slam title in TT. So if both have won all titles and Ma has reached the highest TT level ever seen, why is Waldner still ahead for me?


Jan-Ove Waldner
Table Tennis GOAT


Time plays a huge factor here and I grew up watching both these Table tennis icons.
Waldner currently edges this contest for me, because:

  1. Waldner sustained a world-class level for 3 decades. Facing 3-4 breeds of new and world-class players from China plus the rest of the world and defeating them all.
  2. Waldner faced massive game-changing factors including; Speed glue, change of ball size, new high tech rubbers, new scoring system and adapted to all with great success.
  3. Waldner also reached the highest-level TT had ever seen in his prime and raised the level a few times.
  4. Waldner was far more creative and constantly developing his game by reinventing himself. This gave him the ability to beat world class players and compete for major titles up until he was 45 years old.
  5. Waldner did not come from a nation of 200 million TT players. He did not have the best infrastructure such as China and yet from a small TT community in Sweden he enabled himself to become the greatest player anyone had ever seen back in the ’80s-’90s and early ’00s.

Taking all these factors into account, currently, Waldner is the greatest TT player in history (in my opinion). Now looking at the facts you can decide whether you agree with me or not!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Colin Wilson

    Really good facts and argument Eli. I go for Waldner too and your first point (longevity over 3 decades) plus your last point (came from a small country without the Chinese machine behind him, yet beat them all) do it for me. But while J-O is the GOAT Ma Long is now the BPOAT (best player of all time) as the game has moved on. Ma plays with consistency at a higher speed. If Waldner and Ma were born at the same time?…..I want to see this match!

    1. Eli Baraty

      Thank you Colin,
      I’d also like to point out that getting to the top can often be easier than staying at the top (for those who reach those positions), often admit how hard it is to keep motivated once you’ve achieved it all.

    2. David

      Come on, if you count accomplishment and dominance, Ma Long is way better than Waldner. All those vote Waldner is subjective. They like him to be the best. Not he is best objectively.

      1. Eli Baraty

        Hi David,

        This was written a long time ago if you read my latest blog about the best player of all time, you’ll see how it changed from Waldner to Ma Long.

  2. Colin Wilson

    Yes, longevity is a requirement for GOAT (except for rock stars maybe!) – winning over different eras and systems like you say. How long with Ma Long last? Is the game too physical now at top level to last 20+ years anymore?

  3. Jason Sugrue

    The great debate. In all honesty for me it is a easy answer and has to be Ma Long.
    Waldner changed our sport and went through the modernizing period. His first major title in 1989 and his last in 1997, his longevity in staying around is not in question but it was 8 years as the best player in the world.
    Ma has taken our sport to another level during a period of other Grand Slam champions and possible other GOAT. He has done this during a time in the sport when the rule changes have done it’s best to level the playing field as much as possible. Service, ball and shorter games that help the underdog. He performs and wins week in week out winning hundreds and hundreds of matches under the most severe national pressure. His mental strength is on another level and he has developed this over the years. Waldner was great and a real artist but the greatest not for me, that title goes to Ma Long and the best bit is he is not finished yet….. To be continued

    1. Eli Baraty

      A debate is always great,
      I spotted Ma, when he was 16 and knew he was going to be something special. I told Filip Szymanski there and then watch this kid, he will be world no.1. For a few years he was over shadowed by Zhang (although I still felt he was better at the time). Sportsmen like Waldner and Ma have something extra, like (Michael Jordan, Federer, Mohammed Ali etc.). It’s a gift rarely seen and that something extra can’t be riveled.
      In regards to who’s the greatest, I stand by my original view but 100% accept your views and opinions.

  4. Colin Wilson

    Really fair points too Jason! The logic beats the romance, eh? :). Keep well. Colin

  5. RidTheKid

    Longevity in Waldners case is mostly thanks to mediocre national competition. There were not enough good players to challenge his position in Sweden, which is exactly opposite the situation in China. This coming from a Swede.

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