Table tennis "Grand Slam" winner Ma Long was shut out of the final battle for the ITTF men's World Cup title after losing 4-2 to Japanese teenager Harimoto Tomokazu here on Sunday morning.
The second seed, current Olympic and world champion, was beaten in all of the first three sets by the 16-year-old Japanese-born Chinese, managed to pull back two sets in a row, but failed to hold on to the end, losing 11-6, 11-9, 11-8, 8-11, 4-11, 11-5, reports Xinhua news agency.
Ma, who had been absent from competition due to a knee injury before the world No. 4 played two doubles matches in the Team World Cup in Tokyo earlier this month, admitted that he's not fully recovered yet.
His opponent Harimoto, the former world junior champion who made his name to the top-class world stage at just 13 three years ago, said he'd never expected a halfway lead as much as 3-0 to the three-time Cup titleholder.
"Ma is much stronger than I am as a player," said Harimoto, whose parents are both Sichuan natives where the 2019 World Cup is held. "I think I just played more firmly than my opponent, which helped me to win the game."
With the victory, Harimoto set up a final showdown later on Sunday evening with world No. 1 Fan Zhendong after the latter eased past Lin Yun-Ju of Taiwan in four straight sets.