Chinese table tennis player Fan Zhendong lost narrowly at the men's semi-finals to eventual champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany at the ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open in a setback for the sport in China.
Fan's defeat on Sunday was a big blow as China is used to dominating the sport and had taken all four gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Ovtcharov claimed the title by beating his close friend and rival Timo Boll 4-3. It was the seventh trophy for the German star this year, including the Men's World Cup title.
Among the eight players in the Chinese men's team, former world No. 1 Zhang Jike was eliminated by Portuguese Tiago Apolonia in the first round, and Yan An lost in the second round to Ovtcharov.
World No. 4 Xu Xin managed to enter the top eight but was defeated by South Korea's rising star Lee-Sang-su. Meanwhile, Lin Gaoyuan was ousted 1-4 by Timo Boll, for a second time since the Men's World Cup.
It was not the first frustrating tournament for the Chinese since Rio. During the World Cup in October, China's Olympic champion Ma Long failed to reach the finals, securing third place only.
According to a report of the China News Service, Zhang Jike said he has been considering retirement. The 30-year-old had been reported to be beset by injuries even before the Rio Olympics. Ma Long, 29, was also reportedly suffering from injuries.
The Chinese team's setback at the German Open stirred debate on social media on Monday.
Many argued that the ITTF's replacement of plastic balls for the traditional celluloid balls might be one reason for the sudden fall of the Chinese team. Insiders believe the new materials have weakened the Chinese players' spinning balls, and at the same time favour the European players.
There are also voices questioning the management and training of the team, as the coaching team experienced a reshuffle earlier this year, with head coach Liu Guoliang removed from the post.
Kong Linghui, the head coach of the women's team, has also been suspended due to a debt scandal.
The Chinese Table Tennis Association announced in June that there will be no more head coach of the national team, following a reform of the administrative structure of the national sport.
At the same time, rising players from Germany, South Korea and Japan have also posed new challenges for the Chinese national team, as many insiders have observed. Whatever the reason is, the German Open defeat should be witnessed as a warning sign for the coming Tokyo Olympics in 2020, said a China News Service editorial.