World Championships | 25 Feb 2024

Silver and bronze medals for France at the ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Busan

After 10 action-packed days in Busan, the ITTF World Team Championships 2024 is finally complete, with China successfully defending its Men’s Team and Women’s Team titles. France clinched silver in the Men’s event and bronze in the Women’s event.

Table Tennis legend MA Long signed off on his final World Championships appearance in iconic fashion after leading China to a historic 23rd Swaythling Cup at the ITTF World Team Championships 2024 in Busan, adding the decisive touch to an imperious 3-0 win over France in Sunday’s Men’s Team final.

Facing off in a repeat of the 1997 World Championships final, France was back in the Men’s Team title match for the first time since that famous day 27 years ago. Returning with unsettled business, France set its sights on a huge upset against a team going for 11 titles in a row.

One of the standout players of the event, Felix LEBRUN, won all eight of his individual matches leading up to the final, and the 17-year-old superstar was ready to inspire the French team on its long-awaited return to the title showdown. However, LEBRUN was a little off the pace on this occasion, and showed visible signs of frustration after game one against WANG Chuqin, thrusting his racket down on the table in disappointment.

Returning with an improved showing in game two, LEBRUN had a chance to strike back immediately, moving 5-7 ahead, but WANG wasn’t prepared to let his young opponent back into the contest, dominating the fast exchanges to double his advantage to two games. Now very much in the ascendancy, WANG kept the pressure on, opening up a 5-1 lead in game three, and there was simply no way back for LEBRUN from that moment on (11-4, 11-8, 11-3) as China opened the scoring.

With China taking the opening point, France turned to Felix’s older brother, Alexis LEBRUN. The 20-year-old had a monstrous task ahead of him with World No.1 FAN Zhendong stepping forward for China, but Alexis knew he had the ability to unlock his opponent having beaten Fan in their only previous showdown at WTT Champions Macao 2023.

Looking to dent his opponent’s confidence with a strong opening game statement, FAN knew he had to be ruthless right from the start, and appeared to be well on track after opening up a healthy 9-6 lead in game one. But LEBRUN was only just getting warmed up, dispatching the next four points in a row before delivering a rocket backhand down the line at 9-10 to steal the early initiative.

The two showmen got the crowd up on its feet on numerous occasions as the match progressed, going toe-to-toe in breathtaking top spin rallies away from the table. FAN responded well in game two, but would find himself in deep trouble soon after as LEBRUN hit back in game three to inch closer to dreamland. Looking to rush his opponent by taking as little time as possible between serves, LEBRUN’S tactic paid off as FAN received a yellow card in game four as a consequence of taking too much time between points for the umpire’s liking, and that appeared to get under the World No.1’s skin. With momentum on his side, LEBRUN held a glorious match point opportunity at 9-10, but a fired-up FAN wasn’t done yet, hitting back with three points on the bounce to force a decider. Dejected after missing out at the business end of game four, LEBRUN tried his best to keep his head up in the final game, but the 20-year-old wouldn’t get an opportunity to make amends as FAN showed no mercy to close out a grueling affair (9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 12-10, 11-7).

Down but not out, France had one more opportunity to make an impact on the scoreboard, placing its faith in Simon GAUZY, and the 29-year-old made an excellent start to the third match, racing into a one-game lead against MA Long. However, the latter player took things up a gear after the early setback, draining French optimism with powerful responses in games two and three to move one game from the title. GAUZY kept MA honest right to the end, but it wasn’t to be for the Frenchman as the Dragon soared high above his counterpart (7-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-6) to guide Team China to yet another title.

Tightening its grip on the historic Swaythling Cup, China’s last defeat in a World Team Championships Men’s Team final came 24 years ago against Sweden at the 2000 event in Kuala Lumpur. The record-extending 23rd title sees China put more distance at the top of the all-time list of champions, pulling 11 clear of nearest challenger Hungary.

While admittedly not the final result France was dreaming of, the team’s silver medal will be celebrated back home as a long-awaited return to form, ending a 27-year wait for medals at the World Team Championships. With four of the five team members in the squad for Busan aged 23 and below, the future of French table tennis is looking very bright.

China clinched their 23rd title in the Women’s event, narrowly avoiding an upset in a fiercely contested Women's Team final. They clinched victory with a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over Japan, showing their enduring dominance on the global stage. Bronze medalists are France and Hong Kong.