Reigning Olympic and world champion Ma Long and fellow home favourites Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin have all been eliminated from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) China Open after mysteriously failing to arrive for their second round matches at the Sichuan Provincial Gymnasium in Chengdu today.
Ma was due to play Japan’s Yuya Oshima, while Fan and Xu were scheduled to go up against South Korea’s Kim Dongyhun and Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto respectively.
Their opponents have been awarded walkover victories.
The reasons behind the absence of Ma, Fan and Xu are not clear as of yet.
However, the ITTF noted on their website that the crowd consistently shouted the name of Liu Guoliang, who until recently was the head coach of the Chinese national team and has been named vice-president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA).
According to a reform plan revealed on Tuesday (June 20), the CTTA removed the positions of "chief coach" and "head coaches" in the Chinese team and intends to create two coaching teams for men's and women's players.
"These reforms will better prepare the Chinese team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo," a CTTA spokesperson said.
It has been reported that members of the Chinese men’s team and coaches have posted on Weibo words to the effect of "we have no desire to fight…all because we miss you Liu Guoliang!"
However, the ITTF says it is awaiting an official statement from the CTTA.
The world governing body adds that further developments will be advised when known.
China's two-time Olympic champion Kong Linghui was sent home from the ITTF World Championships in Düsseldorf last month after being sued by a Singapore hotel casino for allegedly failing to repay a gambling debt.
Kong, winner of the men's doubles gold medal at Atlanta 1996 and the singles title at Sydney 2000, was in the German city as head coach of the Chinese women's team.
According to a court case filed in Hong Kong, the 41-year-old signed an agreement in February 2015 to borrow S$1 million (£567,000/$721,000/€645,000) from the Marina Bay Sands hotel to establish him as a "premium player".
He had supposedly since repaid only S$545,625 (£309,000/$393,000/€352,000).
Gambling is officially illegal under Chinese law.
China's female players did have a successful day in Chengdu with all five of their representatives reaching the quarter-finals.
Four of those wins came at the expense of Japanese opposition with Ding Ning beating Mima Ito 11-5, 11-5, 11-5, 11-6, Chen Meng defeating Hitomi Sato 11-8, 11-9, 11-8, 11-5, Sun Yingsha overcoming Sakura Mori 11-4, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10, and Liu Shiwen registering a 9-11, 11-7, 13-11, 11-2, 12-10 win over Hina Hayata.
Zhu Yuling is the other Chinese player through to the last eight having beaten South Korea's Jeon Jihee 12-10, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6.
Action is due to continue tomorrow with the tournament concluding with finals on Sunday (June 25).