DOHA, After a seven-month hiatus due to injury, Ma Long returned to action at the ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open on Thursday here, but the reigning Olympic and world champion almost survived a scare in the Round of 32 action.
The Chinese needed six games to overcome Frenchman Tristan Flore 6-11, 11-5, 12-10, 9-11, 11-5, 11-7 as his handful of fans at the Ali bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena (Al Sadd) endured some anxious moments.
In fact, the No.11 seed's experience pulled him through after his opponent stunned him with a first game win. Thereafter, Ma did regain some lost grounds but lack of activity in the last seventh months meant that he wasn't in top form.
The 30-year-old, three-time winner here, conceded the fourth game 9-11 as Flore looked to be in great touch against the superstar.
Qatar's Maha Faramarzi and Aia Mohamed Aia suffered a straight set defeat against Szu-Yu Chen and Hsien-Tzu Cheng of Chinses Taipei while Mohammed Abdudulwahab and Abdulrahman Al Najjar lost to Ovidiu Ionescu of Romania and Alvaro Robles of Spain.
Meanwhile, Croatia's Tomislav Pucar nearly pulled off another upset when he stretched China's No.2 seed Lin Gaoyuan to seven games. But lost by two points in the decider (7-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-6, 7-11, 11-3, 11-9).
But in a major upset of the evening, Listed at no.82 on the current men's world rankings, the Czech Republic's Pavel Sirucek, who is ranked 82, knocked out South Korea's world No.7 Lee Sangsu 11-9, 14-12, 11-7, 11-8.
In stark contrast, top seed Xu Xin (CHN) and Timo Boll (GER) progressed to the Round of 16 beating South Korea's Lim Jonghoon (9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7) and Benedek Duda (GER) 11-4, 11-8, 11-4, 11-2 respectively.
No.2 seed Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN) bowed out of the competition following a 7-11, 9-11, 12-14, 5-11 defeat against China's Sun Yingsha.
Others who won include Gu Yuting, who defeated Austria's No.15 seed Sofia Polcanova 11-7, 9-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-7); He Zhuojia knocked out South Korea's No.14 seed Jeon Jihee 11-5, 11-6, 10-12, 12-14, 11-6, 11-8 while Wang Yidi received a walk-over after South Korea's Su Hyo Won suffered an injury.
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee