12 Best Table Tennis Players Of All Time

12 Best Table Tennis Players Of All Time

Table tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world and boasts a mind-blowing 300 million players worldwide.

After its inclusion in the Olympics and multiple world championship competitions, more people than ever are improving their skills and the standards of table tennis continue to improve. But who is the best table tennis player of all time? Read on to find out!

1. Ma Long

  • Date of Birth: October 20th, 1988
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 3x gold medals

Due to his accomplishments and dedication, Ma Long is regarded as China’s top table tennis player and has earned the top spot on our list. In his early years, Ma Long was the captain of the Chinese squad, and he has since been considered as the top player, with the finest forehand grip and a solid backhand.

Between 2006 and 2013, he earned an impressive 16 medals while playing in the world championships. Ma Long has achieved 9 World Cup gold medals in a row, from 2009 to 2019.

He boasts the strongest forehand loop imaginable, second-to-none reactions, flawless footwork, spin-laden serves, and a great determination to succeed.

His go-to strategy is to use a range of hard spin serves to gain a long or half-long reception and then launch his merciless attack. He’s perhaps the most skilled counter-looper of all time, so when he’s struck, he’s not hesitant to contribute his own strength to the game.

Though some believed he couldn’t take pressure at first, he quickly adjusted and became one of the competitors with the most powerful mental ability ever.

Ma Long is the first and only player to achieve two Grand Slams and the first one to retain his Olympic singles title. He was also victorious at the World Table Tennis Championship singles event in 2012 and 2016 without losing a single game, demonstrating his superiority over the other competitors.

We feel Ma Long is the greatest table tennis player of all time due to his remarkable achievement!

2. Jan-Ove Waldner

  • Date of Birth: October 3rd, 1965
  • Nationality: Swedish
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 1x gold medal, 1x singles champion

Jan-Ove Waldner is often dubbed the “Mozart” of table tennis and arguably the most technically gifted player in history. This is what makes him our runner-up. He performed what few believed was plausible: he would be the last player to routinely beat Chinese National Team members.

Throughout his tenure, he guided the Swedish National Team to four World Championships and one World Cup victory. He is still the only non-Chinese athlete to complete the Grand Slam, guaranteeing that he has irrevocably altered the history of the sport.

Waldner was able to defeat the physically larger and more powerful Chinese players due to his remarkable understanding of the game, good standard of strategies, and nearly unending game variants.

He was tough to play against thanks to his blocking, and he had an unrivaled mix of agility and touch that made him impossible to dominate.

His incredible eye-to-hand coordination elevated him to the status of the best player in the world. At one point, Waldner was more well-known in China than Bill Clinton during the 90s.

His endurance is another cause for his great appreciation. He was a professional table tennis player from the 1990s until his final game back in 2016. Throughout those decades, he won six world championship singles titles.

However, the table tennis world has recently witnessed newer players exceed Jan Ove’s medal count. Waldner’s legacy, on the other hand, will undoubtedly live on.

3. Wang Liqin

  • Date of Birth: June 18th, 1978
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 2x gold medals, 2x doubles champion

According to the ITTF standings, Liqin was the top-ranked table tennis player for 25 months in a row between 2004 and 2006. That’s only next to Ma Longs’ current standing record of more than 30 months.

Furthermore, he is a 3-time world champion, a bronze medallist in the singles matches at the 2004 Olympics, and a gold medal winner in the pairs tournament at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He subsequently won gold in the team events with Wang Hao and Ma Lin.

His blend of long swings, physical prowess, and speed made him a nightmare to play with. You’d be confronted by the toughest player in the world if you served to his forehand, and shorter, rapid punch-style strokes if you went to his backhand.

He frequently directed these smashes down the line in order to find his opponent’s forehand and established a forehand-to-forehand battle in which he was unrivaled, and he never gave up.

His height (6ft 1″) is also a significant advantage for speed and more forceful shots, matching his legendary shakehand grip so well that he is regarded as having the most powerful strike in table tennis. Wang Liqin is now retired but in his prime, he managed to bag 12 world cups and Olympic medals.

4. Guo Yue

  • Date of Birth: July 17th, 1988
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Left-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 2x gold medals, 2x bronze medals

Guo Yue, who was born in 1988, was at her peak between 2007 and 2008. She went on to achieve the world championships in women’s singles, mixed doubles, teams, and the Asian Cup at that period.

As a reward, the ITTF ranked her first in 2008. Guo Yue is a phenomenally gifted female table tennis competitor whose left-handed shake hand assault is still praised today in the profession.

She won 1st place in the women’s singles, doubles, and groups events at the 2006 Asian Games held in Doha. Then, from January to July of 2007, she competed in 6 International Opens, winning 4 gold medals for her outstanding performance.

Guo Yue previously won the World Championship in Zagreb, back in 2007. She was transferred to a regional squad following her success in the London 2012 Olympics, however, officials removed her name from the National Team in 2015.

She has now decided to take a break from her athletic career to study finance at Tsinghua University.

Unfortunately, Guo Yue’s career is littered with controversies. Back in 2010, the star was cited for “poor behavior” and officials believed that she had little interest in the sport, which is pretty hard to believe. Nevertheless, she will still be regarded as one of the best players the world has ever seen.

5. Zhang Jike

  • Date of Birth: February 16th, 1988
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 3x gold medals, 1x silver medal

After walking away with gold in the men’s singles at the London 2012 Olympic games, Zhang Jike became the 4th male player in ping pong history to accomplish a Grand Slam record.

He won the Grand Slam in a mere 445 days, which is extremely rare when contrasted to other competitors. Back in 2013 and 2014, he claimed the WTTC and World Cup, putting him the one and only player to come within a whisker of completing his 2nd Grand Slam.

He’s a two-winged looper known for his backhand dominance. He demonstrated considerable strength across both wings, yet his backhand was especially spectacular, with a fantastic flick and a powerful loop. That allowed him to strike his rival at any time, especially if they were playing a short game.

Considering his quickness and authority with the swing, he’s one of the very few competitors that can efficiently assault 3rd ball with his backhand.

He possessed a terrific reverse swing to serve to set up his approach. Zhang Jike seemed to be capable of playing a lively backhand to backhand match against powerful forehand loopers like Ma Long, frequently getting the upper hand by trying harder to their forearm or wide backhand, then completing the mark with a shot down the line or changing direction for a forehand, thanks to his impeccable foot movement.

He was also commended for his mental toughness, knowledge, and general leadership.

6. Deng Yaping

  • Date of Birth: February 6th, 1973
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 4x gold medals, 2x singles champion

This Chinese table tennis player was born in 1973 and began her table tennis career when she was just 5 years old. She then went on to cement her name as one of the best female table tennis players in history, winning four Olympic gold medals during her incredible career.

She was originally declared too short to participate in the national squad due to her height of 1.50 meters. She was ultimately recruited by the coaches, and she went on to become the GOAT female player a few years down the line.

She was fantastic on both wings, smoothly performing a number of varied strokes. She opted to take her strokes directly off the bounce, whether they were strong forehand hits or a combination of chop-blocks, blocking, and strikes with her lengthy pimples.

She could overpower with her pips, opening up possibilities for assaults, and then she would rotate and smash with her forehand, nearly never missing. Because of her punishing playing style, she became a two-time Olympic singles winner.

In 1992, she won gold medals in both the doubles and singles competitions at the Olympics in Spain. Deng Yiping retired at the age of 24 but had won more trophies than any other table tennis player. She was the top-ranked female player for 8 years, beginning in 1990.

She was named the greatest Chinese sportswoman of the twentieth century. She was inducted into the International Table Tennis Federation Hall of Fame back in 2003, and will always be regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.

7. Kong Linghui

Kong Linghui
  • Date of Birth: October 18th, 1975
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 2x gold medals, 1x silver medal

Former world champion Kong Linghui was born in the Harbin province in China back in 1975. He is best known for being the third person in table tennis history to complete a career grand slam. When he was just 17, head coach Cai Zhenhua agreed to send Kong to Sweden for five months of specialized training.

This was an effort by China to offset the prominence of European men in the sport in the early 1990s. After 3 years of intense training, Kong returned from Sweden and he had swiftly risen to the top of the world rankings with no single rating.

Kong’s strategy was to exert pressure on the opposition by rotating on his backhand, equipped with a far more forceful forehand stroke and second-to-none technique. He was able to use his quickness to build up strong forehand loops by converting frequent backhand passes into beneficial positions for himself.

Furthermore, Kong has a tremendous backhand swing, and when combined with good serves, it’s easy to see why he’s created such a reputation. He has three Olympic medals and three World Cup titles to show for his high-intensity style.

Following his retirement, Kong went on to coach the female Chinese national team and is still regarded as one of the best table tennis players of all time. He hit the headlines again a few years ago after getting swept into some controversy. A hotel chain sued the player for failing to pay back a 1 million dollar loan.

8. Liu Guoliang

  • Date of Birth: January 10th, 1976
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Pen hold grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 2x gold medals, 1x silver medal, 1x bronze medal

Liu Guoliang is only the second player ever in the table tennis record to complete a career grand slam. The athlete was born in the Chinese province of Henan in 1976. After sweeping all of the major world championship titles, he retired at the end of the 2001 period.

He was chosen to be the coach of the Chinese national men’s table tennis team at the age of 27. The gifted player did not fail in this role either.

He was a tenacious short pimple pen hold opponent as a player. He preferred to hit towards the peak of the bounce, alternating between strong strokes and topspin strokes. He had a small center of gravity, which enabled him to shift the trajectory of his strokes with ease.

He was able to play positions that other athletes struggled with, with ease. Guoliang was also very good at shielding, and he positioned his strikes in open areas, allowing for forehand death shots.

Even though his own table tennis career has ended, is largely regarded as the most accomplished table tennis instructor in existence. He has trained several of the best players in the world, including Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Wang Liqin.

Asian men have claimed every men’s singles team title in the global table tennis tournaments since Liu took over as coach. Amazingly, his older brother, Liu Gudong, is also a fantastic table tennis star. He went on to serve as the head trainer of Singapore’s women’s table tennis squad and is now the head coach of the Indonesian squad.

9. Wang Nan

  • Date of Birth: October 23rd, 1978
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Left-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 4x gold medals, 1x singles champion

Wang Nan is a fantastic table tennis player whose strengths reside in her ball distribution and general hitting technique. Her debut major victory came in 1994 when she won the tough Swedish Open.

Between 1997 to 1998, she claimed the women’s global table tennis cup, as well as the American and Chinese Opens. However, she slipped from world number one to world number two from January 1999 to November 2002.

Wang Nan, a powerful backhand player, preferred to strike her shots right off the jump before they achieved their full height. Her overall strategy was to enter the rally and put pressure on her rival with blazing swift backhand smashes and powerful loops, all while maintaining incredible control and position.

She would take a position near the center of the table, in which she could overpower and fire shots to every section of her opponent’s side, leaving them no chance to respond and driving them to play on the defensive.

This sophisticated and precise style of play contributed to her triumph; during her 11-year playing career, she earned the Grand Slam, becoming only the second woman competitor to do so.

In the Summer Olympic games of 2000, she won 2 gold medals once more. She reached the finals of the 2008 Summer Olympics however succumbed to Zhang Yining. Nevertheless, she still managed to win team gold for the host nation.

Wang is a top player and among the most well-known women in ping pong. Irrespective of gender, she is regarded as being one of the best table tennis players we have ever seen!

10. Xu Xin

  • Date of Birth: January 8th, 1990
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Left-handed, pen hold grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 2x gold medals

Xu Xin, often dubbed the Cloud-Walking Penholder (with good reason), is our 10th best player of all time and is a firm fan favorite. Whatever point he performs, you can know the audience going wild and expressing their support.

Xu Xin is undoubtedly the most comprehensive player in recent times; there really is no technique he cannot master. Although Xu Xin is an offensive player by instinct, he can respond to any scenario, and it’s not uncommon to witness him flinging, hacking, or counter attacking with tonnes of sidespin from 10 feet out.

His weapon of choice is his general understanding of the game. Despite his height, he is super fast on his feet and can easily get to every shot.

Once Xu Xin reaches the ball, he’ll try to put as much spin on it as he can, whether it’s a shattering full effort forehand, a backhand reverse pen hold backhand loop, or maybe even a sidespin chop in the opposite direction.

He’ll even employ his famous “snake” from under the table now and then. His strategy consists of playing mid-distance and spinning on both sides. In addition, he boasts one of the most flippy serves of any professional. Despite this, he has so far won seven world cup titles and two Olympic gold medals, all before he turned 31.

After winning the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals back in the winter of 2012, he dominated the World Ranking for the first time in 2013. Xu Xin is among the top table tennis players of modern times.

He defeated the national champion, Ma Long, three times in 2014 and twice more back in 2016 to become world champion. In terms of career accomplishments, he has taken the win at the world tour 10 times, the world tour grand finales two times in 2013. He then went on to win at the Asian Cup in 2013 and 2016.

11. Ma Lin

  • Date of Birth: February 19th, 1980
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Right-handed, pen hold grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 3x gold medals

Ma Lin began playing table tennis when he was just five years old, armed with a lot of preparation and heaps of skill, he made the regional squad in 1990. Ma Ling made the Chinese national squad as a kid and played in several games to make China proud. Impressively,

He is the first male table tennis player to have won an Olympic gold medal in all single, double, and group disciplines. But Ma Lin’s achievements don’t end there.

Ma Lin is an explosive player noted for his forceful but unexpected serves, quick agility, and third-ball attacks. Ma Lin is a well-known offensive opponent in the league of table tennis. He boasts one of the finest forehand loops of all time, strong but regular and well-placed, with several variations.

Beyond his incredible success at the Olympics, Ma Lin has multiple other titles under his belt, including 9 wins in the men’s team and men’s doubles in the table tennis World Championships.

Throughout his international career, Ma Lin opted to play with a Yasaka blade and a Mark V rubber on his backhand and although he swears by this combination, he struggled a little as a younger player.

Before he made it big, Ma Lin lost his confidence when playing against foreign opponents, and was repeatedly defeated by Swedish champions. Nevertheless, Lin didn’t give up. Instead, he went away to work on his backhand then came back and went on to see unmatched success.

Ma Lin retired from the sport back in 2013, but he hasn’t left the table tennis scene entirely. He went on to work as the head coach for the Guangdong regional table tennis team and even helped sports brand Yasaka develop a new type of blade.

12. Ding Ning

  • Date of Birth: June 20th, 1990
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Style of Play: Left-handed, shake hand grip
  • Olympic Achievements: 3x gold medals

Taking 12th place on our list is Chinese Olympic champion Ding Ning, who is often regarded as one of the most successful female table tennis players in the world. Her victories have earned her the fitting nickname “Queen of Hearts” and took the world by storm when she burst onto the table tennis scene back in 2011.

Throughout her impressive career, Ning spent a lot of time ranked as the world’s number 1 female singles player, a whole 53 months to be exact.

Ding Ning is often praised for her proactive style of play and she notoriously resists blocking. Instead, she prefers to go in for the attack every time. Even when the ball is sent back at speed, rather than attempting to block, she will go in again for another attack, which quickly tires out her opponents.

Her reactive technique and pure stealth make her a powerful player who is still very light on her feet, elegantly darting across the court with ease and precision. Ning is renowned for her rapid backhand stroke and killer forehand loop that puts her opponents to the test.

Ning had a very successful table tennis career and was crowned World Champion on three separate occasions back in 2011, 2015, and once more in 2017 and took away three Word Cup wins in 2011, 2014, and 2018.

But Ning’s success skyrocketed when she began competing in the Olympic Games. Representing China, Ning took away a gold and silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics and grabbed the gold in Rio 2016, cementing her position as the best female table tennis player. She also had the honor of being a flag bearer at the closing ceremony.

After a lengthy 26 year career in table tennis, Ding Ning retired from the sport in 2021 when she was 30 years old. In her retirement announcement, Ding expressed her gratitude to her teammates, coach, and all of the fans that supported her along her journey and dazzling career.

In the same announcement, she also revealed her plans for her future. She bagged a spot in one of the most prestigious universities in China, Peking, and began studying Sports Education and Research.

Dave White