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Timo Boll Talks About Chinese Table Tennis and More

Timo Boll recently did an interview with Chinese state media on Chinese table tennis and left the door open for a possible return to the Olympics in Paris 2024. A transcript of his responses is provided below.

I played against a log of generations. I played against Kong Linghui, Liu Guoliang, Ma Lin, Wang Liqin, Zhang Jike, Ma Long, now the young guys Wang Chuqin. It’s crazy to look back now most of them, they are coaches.

How do you play against top Chinese players?

You cannot play just one strategy against the Chinese players, because they are smart, they have perfect techniques, so somehow you have to surprise them with every single shot to get them out of balance. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult.

Ma Lin, he was a tough opponent, he played really smart and somehow “ugly”. His style was very unusual for us Europeans. He found always good strategy against me. I had only two or three wins against him.

Also Fan Zhendong now is difficult for me to play because he plays a little bit the same style like me, but just a bit better and everything, because he’s more powerful and more physically stronger.

What are the differences between Chinese and European table tennis?

European players start a bit later profesionally. In China, a lot of players they practice nearly three times a day when they are eight, nine years old. I think the Chinese stop a little bit earlier, because they develop physical problems earlier. On the one hand, there are not so many strong young players in Europe like in China, we have to admit that.

Why are the Chinese so strong?

Tee main reason I think it’s the perfect sport system for table tennis. It’s a technical sport and you need to start early. You need a technique from the beginning. All of that you can have in China. You can start early, they have good talent-scouting, and they have good coaches already for young players, and they can practice a lot when they are young, hours and hours. These are already a lot of reasons to become a good player.

When they are all good players, they practice often together, that’s also something that helps if you always practice against the best players in the world, you compete and you get better and better and better. And also the young players, they can profit from that.

Are you going to play in the Paris Olympics?

I see a lot of other sportsmen now like Roger Federer who is also 40 and he has a lot of problems, so it’s also hard for him to plan for Paris. He would be happy to go on playing. I did that for all my life, so it would be hard to stop like immediately because of one injury. I hope I will find the right time to stop table tennis, but it’s not now.

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If you are based in the United States, be sure to also check out our exclusive interview with Kanak Jha and celebrate Timo Boll and the rest of Germany with us at the $3K ASLT Oktoberfest in San Diego, California on October 22-24.

Germany and Japan To Face China In Olympic Table Tennis Team Finals

The Olympic table tennis team finals are now set: China will face Japan in the women’s team event and Germany in the men’s team event. China was the top seed in both events, and Japan and Germany were the second seed in their respective events.

China Ready for Japan in the Women’s Finals

Wang Manyu, Sun Yingsha, and Chen Meng

The women’s finals match-up is no surprise as China and Japan were heavy favorites to make the finals, and neither country dropped a single individual match en route to the finals. However, the gap between China and Japan may be just as big as the gap between Japan and the rest of the world.

Following her 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Sun Yingsha in the women’s singles semi-finals, Mima Ito said, “What I was doing was not bad, but the results showed that we are not even close.”

“There’s a gulf in class.”

China appears equally confident. Chen Meng dismissed concerns about line-up match-ups, stating that regardless of whichever two of Chen, Sun, and Wang Manyu face Ito, it’s fine either way. Sun added, “I think the competitive state and mental outlook of the three of us are good. The finals are united and we must be confident while preparing for difficulties.”

However, Japan may still steal a victory in the event of a mental collapse by China. Coach Li Sun cautioned, “The key is to see which of the two teams can fight, and who can do it.”

Ovtcharov Makes History As Germany Readies for China

Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska

Germany ran the same line-up they did against Taiwan to defeat Japan in the semi-finals. The strategy was clear: have the superior Boll/Franziska team win doubles, have Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat up on the other country’s two weaker players, and live with losses to Lin Yun-Ju or Harimoto. The strategy worked perfectly, as Germany is now in the finals despite losing all their matches to Lin and Harimoto.

Ovtcharov has now secured his record sixth Olympic table tennis medal (singles bronze in 2012 and 2020 and team medals in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020). Although Germany’s line-up strategy has been straightforward, the road to the finals has not been easy. Following the win against Japan, Ovtcharov said, “I’m feeling really empty right now, physically and emotionally. It was really, really tough days here.”

While the Japanese women have often been viewed as the biggest threat to Chinese supremacy, the German team believes they have a shot against China. Boll remarked, “If we can be on our peak, all three of us have the skills and the will to win the match. We will definitely go no limits to prove that this is our time.”

Ovtcharov reiterated his belief in the German team on Twitter.

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Olympic Table Tennis Team Quarterfinal Round-Up

Japan slides Harimoto into doubles, Korea’s young women can’t get it done, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov continues to break Taiwan’s heart. We take a look at the key results from the quarter-final team matchups at the Tokyo Olympics so far. Full bracket and results can be viewed here.

Japanese Men Defeat Sweden 3-1

Harimoto and Niwa celebrate in doubles.

Japan defeated Sweden 3-1 after making the interesting line-up decision to have Tomokazu Harimoto play doubles with Koki Niwa and have Jun Mizutani at the ace position that plays two singles. Normally, the strongest player, in this case Tomokazu Harimoto, plays the ace position.

Japan has been understandably tight-lipped about the reason for the line-up change. It appears to be somewhat related to lack of confidence in the Mizutani/Niwa double-lefty pairing and trust in Mizutani to take care of singles. It may be possible that Japan for some reason does not have confidence in Harimoto as the ace player or that Japan did not want Harimoto to play Falck, but Japan clearly would not be inclined to reveal such reasons.

Regarding his participation in the doubles, Harimoto gave a response that can be interpreted as vanilla or cryptic: “When I think about my current condition and the team, that is the best [for me to play doubles], so I did my best with the feeling that I would take two games together with the singles.”

The line-up change paid off for Japan as they won the doubles match, which in principle should have been bolstered by Harimoto’s presence. Japan then selected Harimoto to play the third match (i.e. Japan purposely chose Niwa and not Harimoto to play Falck) against Anton Kaellberg. Harimoto won 3-1, giving Japan the 2-1 lead in matches.

Niwa then defeated Falck 3-0 to give Japan the 3-1 victory. Mizutani, who played Falck in the second match, told Niwa that Falck’s forehand was not in good condition, which Niwa said he exploited.

Going into the semi-finals, Niwa said, “I was able to beat the top-ten player in the world ranking. I’m confident.”

Japan will face Germany in the semi-finals in a rematch of the 2016 semi-finals.

Korean Women’s Youth Falter In 3-2 Loss to Germany

Shin Yubin takes a forehand against Han Ying.

Germany defeated Korea 3-2 in the quarter-finals of the women’s team event. Korea opted to place their weakest player, Choi Hyojoo, at the ace position, due to the strength of the Shin Yubin/Jeon Jihee pairing. Korea, like the Japanese men, opted to have their strongest player, Jeon Jihee, avoid the ace position.

After Korea won the doubles 3-2 and Han Ying defeated Choi Hyojoo 3-0, Jeon defeated Petrissa Solja 3-0 to give Korea the 2-1 lead. Han Ying defeated Shin 3-1 to level it at 2-2, and then Shan Xiaona defeated Choi 3-0 to give Germany the 3-2 victory.

Afterwards, a disappointed Shin said, “I should have won the 4th singles team event, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry that I couldn’t finish the game that my sisters had all caught up with.” 

“I played a difficult game with difficult players. I will use the Tokyo Olympics as an experience and train to compete better in the future.”

Korean leadership, while surely disappointed, was also optimistic about the future of their young squad. Korean table tennis secretary general (don’t ask what that position means) stated, “Han Ying is a very strong player. She did very well, adapting quickly against an experienced player. We will grow even more with this tournament as an opportunity.”

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Continues to Break Taiwan’s Heart

The Germany vs Taiwan doubles match-up

Germany opened the team match against Taiwan with a good start after winning the first doubles game 11-0 before going on to win 3-1. While Lin Yun-Ju was able to get his revenge against Dimtrij Ovtcharov and win both his singles matches as the ace player, Germany was ultimately able to pull out a win with Ovtcharov defeating Chuang Chih-Yuan 3-0 in the deciding fifth match.

Ovtcharov continues to be a thorn in the side for Taiwanese table tennis. After Ovtcharov sent defeated in the London 2012 bronze-medal match and Lin in this years bronze-medal match, Ovtcharov again denied Taiwan a chance at a medal with a 3-0 victory over Chuang in the deciding fifth match.

After losing to Japan in the semi-finals at the Rio Olympics, Germany is hungry for revenge in their semi-final match-up this year.

“We lost to Japan five years ago in Rio, and we want to make it better this time,” Ovtcharov said.

“For Japan, it’s the most important match in their home Olympics. We’re also a little bit happy that the hall is not completely full,” Boll joked.

“But yeah, we will prepare like we always did, we give it our best and try everything.”

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

If you are based in the United States, be sure to also check out our exclusive interview with Kanak Jha and a tournament that Edges and Nets will participate in hosting in San Diego in mid-August.

Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov Withdraw From Internal Olympic Scrimmage Due To Injuries

Dima Ovtcharov and Timo Boll are injured two weeks ahead of Tokyo

German media has reported injuries to both Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov two weeks ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. This news follows shortly after Vladimir Samsonov withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics and then shortly after announced his retirement due to medical issues. England’s Paul Drinkhall will replace Samsonov at the Tokyo Olympics. A translation of the key information of Boll and Ovtcharov’s injuries is provided below.

European table tennis champion Timo Boll injured his hip two weeks before the start of the Olympic Games. The 40-year-old had to break off the internal test tournament “Tokyo Challenge” of the German team in Düsseldorf at the weekend.

“When I stepped forward, it hit my right hip,” said Boll. It is currently unclear whether his start in the Olympics in the individual and in the team will be impaired or even endangered. “We have to wait until the next week and hope that we can go to Tokyo with four healthy players,” said national coach Jörg Roßkopf.

For reasons of caution, the former world number one Dimitrij Ovtcharov also decided not to participate in the “Tokyo Challenge” final. “Yesterday against Dang [Qiu] there was a pinch in the knee, now my left foot is a bit swollen. I’m still healthy, but after the European Championships I increased my training schedule even further and am now at the limit,” said the 32-year-old.

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Timo Boll Defeats Dimitrij Ovtcharov To Win Eighth European Championship

Dimitrij Ovtcharov serves to Timo Boll

Dimitrij Ovtcharov smashed a forehand into the net at match point and Timo Boll threw his hands into the air as he defeated Ovtcharov 4-1 (9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-8, 11-8) to win his record-setting eighth European Championships. Vladimir Samsonov and Gábor Gergely are tied for second-to-most men’s singles European championships, with three titles each.

It’s a well-deserved title for 40-year-old Boll as he beat every European player ranked top-10 in the world (other than himself) en route to his title. In addition to beating Ovtcharov in the finals, Boll also beat Mattias Falck 4-2 earlier in the day in the semi-finals.

After the match, Boll said, “The last few days were really tough, but I treated myself really hard, and in the end I played fantastic table tennis, and I’m happy. What should I say? I didn’t expect it…I wasn’t sure if I could handle three, four days of such a championship. Physically, I’m tired now, but I could manage it, and therefore I am really happy.”

Cognizant of his age, Boll further added, “The first [championship] is always special, but this can be my last, so it was also emotional, and I had a tough last year. I was close to stopping maybe my career. Exactly one year ago, I was close to down at the bottom, and I’m back again, so I feel really glad.”

The full match can be watched on the ETTU TV webpage.

Game 1

Boll got off to a slow start as he missed two serve returns to go down 2-0. Boll was able to get two lucky balls early on to keep himself in the game, but solid play from Ovtcharov allowed him to extend his lead to 8-5. Ovtcharov whiffed a forehand loop, and then Boll further narrowed the lead to 8-7 with a pretty point in which he spun the ball from below table height that Ovtcharov was unable to block. After the players exchanged two missed loops each, Ovtcharov held game point at 10-9, which he promptly converted with two strong backhand loops.

Game 2

Boll again got off to a slow start in game 2 as he missed several openings to go down into a 5-2 hole. However, Boll appeared to find his rhythm as his steady spinny loops and wide rallies combined with Ovtcharov’s problems executing his short flick well allowed Boll to reel off eight straight points and cruise to a 11-6 victory.

Game 3

Ovtcharov opened the third game with two lucky points to go up 2-0 and scored several more points by pinning Boll down with several wide counters. However, despite another net ball for Ovtcharov at 7-7 to give him the 3-0 edge in lucky balls over the course of the game, Boll was able to stick to the game plan of steady spinny loops and wide rallies and pressuring Ovtcharov to self-destruct on the short flick and frustrate himself as Boll eked out an 11-9 victory.

Game 4

Ovtcharov finally switched to his iconic backhand serve to start the fourth game, but he switched back to the forehand serve after he split his two backhand serves. After Ovtcharov gave a weak push and missed two flicks to lose three straight points and go down 5-4, Ovtcharov called time-out. However, after the time-out, Ovtcharov’s short-game woes continued as he popped up another push and missed another two flicks as Boll extended the lead to 10-8.

Ovtcharov got ready to serve his super simple straight serve, but received a service warning regarding the height of the toss. Ovtcharov switched back to his standard pendulum serve and then lost the game 11-8 on another missed short flick.

Game 5

Ovtcharov opened the fifth game quite sloppily to lose six straight points, including a missed serve and go down 6-1. However, Ovtcharov was able to claw his way back to 7-7 after winning all four of his service points off his signature backhand serve. However, Boll was able to win the next two points on his own serve to go up 9-7 and win a pretty counter-loop rally to break Ovtcharov’s serve and go up 10-7. Ovtcharov was able to save one match point with a tricky long fast backhand serve to Boll’s forehand. However, Ovtcharov smacked the ball into the net on the next point, delivering Boll the game, match, and his record-shattering eighth title.

Watch curated video hilights in the Instagram post below:

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Timo Boll Defeats Anton Kallberg 4-1 in ETTC Quarter-Finals

Timo Boll defeated his Bundesliga teammate Anton Kallberg 4-1 (12-10, 15-17, 11-8, 11-8, 16-14) in the quarter-finals of the European Table Tennis Championships.

In a post-game interview, Boll remarked that this was one of his best if not his best match in the last one or two years as he felt that he was agile and thinking well throughout the match. Boll pointed to the first game as a tone-setter for the match, as he came back from down 8-2 to win the game 12-10.

The fifth and final game was also heartbreaking for Kallberg as he was up 10-8 and blew a total of four game points, all with service, to lose the game 16-14. In particular, on Kallberg’s third game point at 12-11, Boll caught a lucky net-ball on the serve return that was virtually impossible to return. Kallberg was able to save two match points during the deuce, but Boll got an edge ball at 15-14 to close out the game and the match.

Boll will face top seed Mattias Falck in the semi-finals on Sunday at 12:10 Warsaw time (+2 GMT). The match can be watched on the ETTU homepage. In the other semi-final, Marcos Freitas will play against Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

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How Dimitrij Ovtcharov Solved The Lin Yun-Ju Problem At WTT Doha

A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov appeared to have a Lin Yun-Ju problem. Going into WTT Doha, Lin had won their previous four match-ups in international competition dating back to the 2018 Austrian Open and appeared to have virtually no problem attacking Ovtcharov’s famous serves or dominating Ovtcharov in the rallies.

However, with several key adjustments Ovtcharov actually came quite close to beating Lin in the ITTF Grand Finals in November 2020, but he fell just short, losing deuce in the sixth game. After adding in a few extra wrinkles to his game, Ovtcharov was finally able to snap his losing streak against Lin in the WTT Contender finals at WTT Doha witha 4-1 victory. We take a look at what adjustments Ovtcharov made to finally solve the Lin Yun-Ju problem on his fifth try.

Unfortunately, the video of the full match appears to have been removed from Youtube and to the best of our knowledge is currently publicly unavailable.

The Lin Yun-Ju Problem

We note two key reasons for Lin’s dominance over Ovtcharov in their previous matches. First is that although Ovtcharov’s serves are typically seen as one of his strengths, Lin has virtually no problem receiving Ovtcharov’s serves with very aggressive chiquitas that allow Lin to take the initiative on the attack. Second, Lin appears to be physically faster than Ovtcharov by a comfortable margin, allowing him to dominate in fast-paced counter-attack rallies as shown in the point below from their match in 2020.

Thus, Ovtcharov will almost certainly lose to Lin if he plays the traditional approach that most young kids are taught of trying to land the first opening attack and using the advantage gained from taking the initiative to dominate the ensuing rally. Ovtcharov cannot compete with Lin’s chiquita to open up more often than Lin. Even if Ovtcharov were able to open up first more often than Lin, Lin’s physical speed advantage could effectively neutralize the advantage Ovtcharov may gain in the rally from being the first to open.

The Solution: Ceding the Opening Attack

After losing quite handily in the 2019 Czech Open, one of Ovtcharov’s central and incredibly daring and innovative adjustments both in the 2020 ITTF Grand Finals and in WTT Doha was to almost completely cede the opening attack to Lin.

To get an idea of how willing Ovtcharov was to allow Lin to attack first, consider the following numbers. In their 2019 match-up, Ovtcharov attempted 36% of the opening attacks (whether make or miss) from either player. While Lin attempted a healthy majority of the opening attacks, this is still quite a reasonable number given his dominance in the chiquita.

In the 2020 Grand Finals, Ovtcharov attempted only 20% of the opening attacks, allowing Lin to open up a staggering four times more often than Ovtcharov did. Ovtcharov returned over half of Lin’s long or half-long serves with a push or defensive shot, a decision that would earn most young children a healthy punishment from their coach. For comparison, in their 2019 match-up, in which Ovtcharov played a more conventional approach, Ovtcharov attacked nine of Lin’s eleven long serves.

Ovtcharov continued this approach of pushing long serves in their match at WTT Doha, even doing so at game point and deuce as shown below.

Overall, in Ovtcharov’s victory at WTT Doha, he attempted a more reasonable 30% of the opening attacks. The uptick in attempted opening attacks can be explained by several factors. First is the statistical noise present in any sample size of roughly 100. Second, as we will see later, Ovtcharov appeared to intentionally mix in more attacks to catch Lin off guard more often.

Third is that Lin also made the observation that Ovtcharov was perfectly happy to let him attack first and adjusted his game accordingly. This could most clearly be seen in that he pushed several of Ovtcharov’s serves as opposed to rushing in for the chiquita. Lin virtually never made such a move in their matches in the 2019 Czech Open and the 2020 Grand Finals. This adjustment in turn allowed Ovtcharov to reveal just how happy he was to let Lin attack first; Ovtcharov simply pushed back Lin’s pushes and did not seem to mind if his own push ended up being long or even slightly high.

Why Cede the Opening Attack?

What does Ovtcharov gain from ceding the opening attack? After all, it often ends up with Lin immediately winning the point with a clean third-ball kill.

First is the obvious advantage that pushing is less error prone than attacking. In their two match-ups at the 2020 Grand Finals and WTT Doha 2021, Lin totaled 22 opening errors, while Ovtcharov only had 7. Over the course of 11 games, this comes out to just over one extra error a game for Lin. However, as Ovtcharov won two games in deuce in his 4-1 victory in Doha, this small advantage ends up mattering greatly.

However, Ovtcharov cannot just hope for Lin to miss 11 openings a game. The central advantage of ceding the attack appears to be that it counter-intuitively allows Ovtcharov to better dictate the pace and rhythm of the game. We can see this in a couple of Ovtcharov’s favorite go-to plays against Lin.

Go-To Play #1: Backhand or Elbow Pin-down Against the Chiquita

As shown in the two points in the video below, one of Ovtcharov’s favorite plays is to either serve or push short or half-long to Lin’s forehand and allow Lin to take a chiquita from the forehand. Ovtcharov then blocks down the line to Lin’s backhand or elbow, and Lin either misses the backhand or returns an extremely weak shot that gives Ovtcharov a massive advantage in the ensuing rally.

From this play, we see one big advantage of letting Lin attack first. Provided that Ovtcharov can to a certain degree anticipate the location of Lin’s first attack and avoid immediately getting killed, he is often firmly waiting in the position he wants to be at while Lin has to move his body further out both in the left-right direction and the shallow-deep direction in order to initiate the attack.

Thus, even if Lin knows that the ball is likely to go deep to his backhand on the next shot (which is not a guarantee if Ovtcharov plays with enough variation and keeps Lin guessing), he has a significant distance to cover and not much time (recall Ovtcharov is typically blocking down the line) to recover from his opening chiquita, neutralizing his physical speed advantage over Ovtcharov.

While Ovtcharov most clearly leveraged this positional advantage in the backhand pin-down against Lin’s chiquita from the forehand corner, it can also be seen in other points in the match, such as in the point below where Lin steps around for the hard forehand kill, but Ovtcharov correctly anticipates the location of the kill and blocks it wide to Lin’s forehand.

Go-To Play #2: Change In Pace

While Ovtcharov may have difficulty keeping up with Lin in terms of raw speed, he is able to throw Lin off rhythm by either going from a slow block to a fast counter or sometimes even a fast counter to a slower block as seen in the point below.

If Ovtcharov’s goal is to maximize change of pace, Ovtcharov may thus prefer to start from a position of blocking instead of a moderately fast opening attack as it allows him to switch gears more drastically. We can also see more clearly how Ovtcharov’s defensive approach actually makes his attacks more effective in several points where Ovtcharov performs a standard opening but appears to catch Lin off guard and win the point immediately.

Ovtcharov faces the standard trade-off where if he attacks too much, then his attacks are no longer surprising and he is unnecessarily playing into Lin’s game. This appears to have been the case in the 2019 Czech Open. However, attack too little and he is failing to exploit a quick and easy source of points. This appears to have been the case in the 2020 ITTF Grand Finals. Ovtcharov seems to have struck a nice balance of initiating the attack just under 30% of the time and pushing a little less than half of Lin’s long serves at WTT Doha. Of course, Lin may force a change in that number in their next match-up.

Extending The Bag of Tricks

One critical difference between Ovtcharov’s loss in the 2020 Grand Finals and his victory in WTT Doha is that in the 2020 Grand Finals, Ovtcharov lost a game 11-9 and a game in deuce, while in Doha, Ovtcharov won both the deuce games.

The change in results can arguably be attributed to luck or Lin playing slightly worse or Ovtcharov playing slightly better. However, Ovtcharov also helped himself in Doha by introducing new subtle tricks that allowed him to eke out the extra two games that he needed.

Perhaps the most clear addition to Ovtcharov’s bag of tricks was a new simple dead serve (Kong Linghui is another notable player to have used this serve) that was completely non-existent in his 2019 match with Lin. Ovtcharov was also hesitant to use this serve in their 2020 match until down 9-5 in the sixth game. The serve was effective enough for him to force the game to deuce.

In Doha, Ovtcharov was happy to use this serve much more frequently, even at deuce. It played well into his defensive approach to the game, and Lin was unable to do much against it as there was no spin or power to borrow. As mentioned earlier in this post, Lin chose to push the serve back in both the points shown below, but Ovtcharov felt comfortable pushing the ball back again to give the opening to Lin. The extra couple points won from this serve throughout the match helped give Ovtcharov the slight edge that he needed to take the two close games in the match.

What’s next?

Lin is now the front-runner over Hugo Calderano to take the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. If Lin holds on to the fourth seed, a Lin-Ovtcharov quarter-final draw has a 25% chance of happening, Of course, both players need to also avoid getting upset in order for the match to actually happen. There is also a decent chance that these two could meet in a bronze medal match if Ovtcharov can replicate his WTT Contender performance against Harimoto and China continues to dominate. It is hard to say who would be favored in a match-up in the Tokyo Olympics.

On the one hand, Lin is higher ranked, has a history of defeating Ovtcharov, and appears to have a raw physical advantage in the fast rallies. Moreover, if Ovtcharov is really so eager to let Lin attack first, nothing is stopping Lin from just pushing the ball back more often. At the end of the day, as the one who initiates the attack, Lin in principle should have more control over the pace and rhythm of the game. Moreover, Ovtcharov’s tricks will lose effectiveness as their novelty wears off, and Lin is almost certainly training against the simple dead serve.

On the other hand, Ovtcharov almost certainly has more tricks saved up just for the Olympics, and he is likely to innovate more tricks and tactics over the next few months. Moreover, playing in the round of 16 in the ITTF Grand Finals or the finals of WTT Contender is a completely different animal from playing in a bronze-medal match at the Olympics.

Liu Shiwen has mentioned how critical the mental aspect of table tennis is and how her previous World Championship finals experience gave her the edge over Chen Meng in 2019. Lin is only 19 and has never played in any match as nearly as high stakes as an Olympic bronze-medal match. He may be the “silent assassin” when playing in a T2 or world tour event that, despite the prize money, in the grand scheme of things is quite meaningless, but we have yet to see him in such a big spotlight. On the other hand, this will be Ovtcharov’s third Olympics and he has already won a bronze medal in 2012, which may give him just enough of a mental edge to eke out a tight win.

We apologize for the delay in releasing this post as it took longer than anticipated to write. The next post is scheduled for Wednesday, April 7.

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Confident Tomokazu Harimoto Defeats Ruwen Filus 4-2 To Take WTT Star Contender Title

Not the post you were looking for? A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

Check out our finals preview as well: 6 Ruwen Filus Shots to Watch Out For In the WTT Doha Finals.

After falling into an 8-1 hole in game 3, Tomokazu Harimoto won 9 consecutive points to take a 10-8 lead for a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the WTT Star Contender finals against Ruwen Filus before a couple of errors from Harimoto and smart play from Filus cost Harimoto the game. Nevertheless, an unfazed Harimoto came back and played the next several games extremely confidently and aggressively to win the match 11-9, 11-9, 13-15, 11-5, 7-11, 11-8.

With the win, Harimoto takes the WTT Star Contender title at WTT Doha and the 600 world ranking points that come along with it. Combined with his previous lead and disappointing performances by Lin Yun-Ju and Hugo Calderano, Harimoto now appears to be in complete control of the third seed at the Tokyo Olympics. It was a great day for Team Japan as Mima Ito also defeated Feng Tianwei 4-1 to win the WTT Star Contender women’s singles title and cap off an undefeated run at WTT Doha.

It is a disappointing end for Ruwen Filus, but the final result does not take away from his amazing run at this tournament that included upsets over Jang Woojin (WR 12), Jun Mizutani (WR 18), Lin Yun-Ju (WR 6), and Darko Jorgic (WR 31). Filus’ run gave many fans hope that a defensive player could finally win a major men’s singles event again, but he fell just short.

Final results for all World Table Tennis events are available on their website.

Game 1

Harimoto opened the match putting a lot of pressure on Filus as Filus was unable to get many offensive shots in to start the game. As a result, Harimoto jumped to a 9-4 lead. However, Filus then busted out all the tricks in his toolkit: a floater, a step around forehand, a shovel, and twiddle and backhand loop to narrow it to 9-8. Filus landed in a floater wide to Harimoto’s forehand when down 10-9, but Harimoto was able to reach it for a hard forehand winner to take game 1 11-9.

Game 2

Filus started with an early 4-2 lead, but Harimoto leveled it to 4-4 thanks to some help from the net. Filus responded with an edge ball of his own, which sparked a 4-0 run as he landed two amazing attacks and fooled Harimoto with a serve. Down 8-4, Harimoto was the able to stem the bleeding by catching Filus out of position at the elbow. This sparked a 6-0 run from Harimoto as Filus seemed to have no answers. Down 10-8, Filus was able to take one more point to close it to 10-9, but then missed a floater to lose the second game 11-9 as well.

Game 3

Filus seemed to rattle Harimoto’s confidence to read his shots to start game 3 as Harimoto opened the game very push-happy. Filus was able to take advantage and built up a large 8-1 lead. However, a beautiful rally at 8-2 by Harimoto helped spark a 4-0 run, prompting Filus to call time-out up 8-5. Harimoto then got a net ball immediately coming out of the time-out, and then Filus missed a pair of forehand loops to level it at 8-8. Harimoto was able to win a couple of chopping exchanges to put himself up 10-8, but then missed two of his own loops to make it deuce. A lucky ball, a floater, and two nice chopping exchanges were enough for Filus to take game 3 15-13.

Game 4

After three consecutive two-point games, an aggressive Harimoto was able to force Filus into three early lobbing rallies en route to an early 6-3 lead. Harimoto never looked back as he extended his lead and cruised to a comfortable 11-5 victory.

Game 5

Game 5 was Filus’ turn to win comfortably as errors from Harimoto allowed Filus to build a 7-2 lead. However, Harimoto never got as push-happy as he did in Game 3, and a confident Harimoto was able to land in some nice shots to close the gap to 8-6. However, a couple more looping errors from Harimoto gave Filus some breathing room as he took game 5 11-7.

Game 6

Despite his many errors in the previous game, a confident Harimoto opened game 6 aggressively to build a 6-3 lead in spite of a lucky net ball from Filus. However, Harimoto then made two critical looping errors to narrow it to 6-5 and then called time-out. Filus didn’t even need to attack to reclaim the lead as Harimoto made two more errors coming out of the time-out, making it 7-6 in favor of Filus. However, Harimoto then got a lucky net ball himself to level it to 7-7. After winning two out of three chopping exchanges to take a 9-8 lead, Harimoto appeared to have the momentum. Filus then looped another ball out to give Harimoto double match point at 10-8. Harimoto only needed one as he won the next chopping exchange to take the sixth game 11-8 and along with it the match and title.

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6 Ruwen Filus Shots To Watch Out For In The WTT Doha Finals

Not the post you were looking for? A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

World Rank 42 Ruwen Filus has made a surprise Cinderella run to the finals of WTT Star Contender after defeating Jang Woojin (WR 12) in the round of 32, Jun Mizutani (WR 18) in the round of 16, Lin Yun-Ju (WR 6) in the quarter-finals, and Darko Jorgic (WR 31) in the semi-finals.

He will face Tomokazu Harimoto (WR 5) in the finals, and a sizable number of fans are expecting/hoping for Filus to win. The finals can be viewed on WTT’s website and will be streamed live at 12:45 Greenwich time. Harimoto and Filus have gone 1-1 in their previous international match-ups, with Filus winning their most recent match in 2019.

Although Filus, at age 33, has been around for a while, some fans may be quite unfamiliar with Filus’ game other than the fact that he is a chopper. Most people’s minds immediately jump to Joo Se Hyuk when they think of a male chopper, but Filus is quite different and arguably more creative. We re-watched Filus’ round of 32 match against Jang Woojin and identified six shots to watch out for in a Ruwen Filus match.

Each of these six shots have at least two or three variations visible to the spectator, and when Filus is able to string them together in weird combinations, the possibilities are countless.

Another thing to note is that most of these shots are actually offensive shots. While Filus is known as a chopper, if we discount lucky points and missed serve returns from from the opponent, in Filus’ round of 32 victory over Jang Woojin, 72% of the points that Filus won were on offensive shots (i.e. shots where Filus is actively and quickly trying to throw his opponent out of position). With that in mind, let’s now take a non-exhaustive look at Filus’ toolkit.

1) Offensive Shot: The Floater

The floater is an aggressive shot popular among close-to-the-table long pips players (which Filus is not). To execute the floater, Filus quickly pushes an underspin ball with the long pips at a well-placed location to the elbow or wide corner. While the ball’s raw speed is lower than a regular chiquita, the ball still comes back fast and opponents will sometimes get a unique sensation that the ball is “floating” towards them, which can often mess up their timing. Moreover, Filus appears to have more control over the direction and magnitude of the sidespin he adds to the ball compared to a standard chiquita.

While some may dispute the classification of this shot as an offensive shot due to its slow speed, Filus often uses it with the intent to either win the point outright or set up an aggressive opening on the next shot.

2) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Block

It may seem paradoxical to classify a block as an offensive shot, but the keyword is surprise. When the opponent is expecting Filus to chop it back slowly and then he rushes in and twiddles the paddle for the fast backhand block, the opponent has to react arguably just as quickly as if it were a counterloop or punch that they were expecting.

Unlike the floater, which Filus frequently uses to either win the point or set up another shot, Filus doesn’t use this shot as often (hence the term “surprise” in the name). However, when he does it, the conversion rate is very high.

The surprise block is typically a backhand shot, but there is a forehand variation where it looks like Filus is about to push or shovel (see #5) the ball, and then rushes in for a quick forehand click.

3) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Backhand Loop

When the opponent sends a slow push to Filus’ backhand, he has time to twiddle paddle and pull off a surprise backhand loop. His loop looks like it’s in slow motion compared to some other offensive players with more offensive equipment, but again the key is the surprise. When the opponent is expecting a simple push or a floater back, a well-placed surprise backhand loop can be incredibly difficult to react to.

4) Offensive Shot: The Forehand Loop

The forehand loop both as an opening and a counter-lop is a standard offensive shot that all choppers have. However, it looks like Filus is able to use his forehand more efficiently and frequently than normal choppers because of his arsenal of other shots. For example, he does not really chop with the forehand but instead uses the shovel (see #5), which has a similar backstroke to a forehand loop. This makes him able to more easily switch to a forehand counter-loop when he sees the opportunity.

In the point shown below, he gets Jang out of position with a fast floater and then hits him with a hard down-the-line counter-loop.

5) Defensive Shot: The Shovel

While Filus usually wins the points off his offensive shots, the defensive shots give him the element of surprise that give his offensive shots the firepower that they have. On the forehand side, Filus essentially never chops. He instead prefers to “shovel” the ball along with his forehand. The drawback of this shot is that it perhaps becomes more difficult for him to sustain a defensive rally than a normal chopper.

However, there appear to be two key benefits. One is that the shovel is slightly faster and gives a sharper tempo contrast with his backhand chops. The second, as mentioned earlier, is that the shovel appears to allow him to more seamlessly integrate offensive forehand loops and even flicks due to their similar backstrokes with the shovel.

This can be seen in the point below, although Filus ends up losing. Another fun nugget in this point is that Filus twiddled to chop with the black inverted side at the beginning of the point.

6) Defensive Shot: The Chop

Last but not least is the shot that Filus is most famous for: the chop. He sometimes twiddles to chop with the black inverted rubber, but he mostly uses it the standard way: an underspin chop with the long pips.

As we mentioned earlier, the chop doesn’t directly win Filus that many points as 72% of his points won against Jang were off offensive shots. In fact, in his match with Jang, Filus lost a majority of the rallies where he was stuck chopping and couldn’t get an offensive shot off.

However, the chop is what unlocks his ability to patiently wait for the chance to unleash all the other shots in his toolkit, so although it doesn’t win him that many points directly, it is the most important shot of Filus’ game and also his signature shot.

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WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 4: Men’s Singles Seeds 5 Through 8

Jang Woojin WTT Macau

This post is the fourth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 5 through 8 in the women’s singles event: Jeon Jihee, Feng Tianwei, Miu Hirano, and Kasumi Ishikawa. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

The full list of players set to play at WTT Doha appears to now be set in stone. In today’s post we take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the men’s singles event (Jeoung Youngsik, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Jang Woojin, and Mattias Falck) at WTT Doha, how they’ve played since the ITTF restart after the pandemic, what is at stake for them at Qatar, and their potential quarterfinal match-ups. The players in the top 20 of the world rankings who will participate in the WTT Star Contender event (the second one scheduled from March 8-13) are:

SeedNameWorld Rank
1Xu Xin2
2Tomokazu Harimoto5
3Hugo Calderano6
4Lin Yun-Ju7
5Mattias Falck8
6Jang Woojin11
7Dimitrij Ovtcharov12
8Jeoung Youngsik13
9Liam Pitchford15
10Patrick Franziska16
11Koki Niwa17
12Jun Mizutani18
13Simon Gauzy20

Eight out of these thirteen players will also play WTT Contender. The five who will not play are Jang Woojin, Jeoung Youngsik, Patrick Franziska, Koki Niwa, and Jun Mizutani. Let us now take a closer look at seeds five through eight.

8th Seed Jeoung Youngsik

Feb 21 Update: Jeoung Youngsik has been selected for the Olympic Team event. This decision was made before the start of WTT Doha. Analysis in this section may be out of date.

Jeoung Youngsik played decently well in the post-pandemic World Cup last November. He upset Hugo Calderano before losing to national teammate Jang Woojin 4-2 in the quarterfinals. However, things have gone downhill since. He lost badly to Fan Zhendong at the ITTF Grand Finals. In the Korean Olympic Trials earlier this month, he went a winless 0-4 against Lee Sangsu and An Jaehyun, failing to qualify for the Olympic singles event.

However, at the time of this post, the Korean national team does not appear to have announced who will join Lee Sangsu and Jang Woojin in representing Korea in the Olympic team event, meaning Jeoung still has a chance to go to Tokyo. The coach’s selection appears to largely be a two-way race between Jeoung and An Jaehyun.

There are certain factors working in Jeoung’s favor despite his poor performance at the Korean Olympic Trials. First, Jeoung has a higher world rank. Second, he and Lee are a familiar doubles pair who won their doubles match against Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun at the 2019 World Team Cup.

Coaches may also be willing to show Jeoung some grace considering that WTT Doha will mark the end of Jeoung’s roughly year and a half long mandatory military service for Korea, during which he has had to do a non-trivial amount of duty and training. Between the conclusion of WTT Doha and Tokyo, Jeoung will be able to devote himself 100 percent to table tennis without worrying about military duties.

While more focus and hours at the table for the next few months does not necessarily translate directly to better success in the competition, there is reason to be optimistic. Jeoung’s game is not as explosive and does not rely on extremely fast footspeed as much as some of his younger Korean teammates like An or Jang do. He instead relies more on keeping a stable position and anticipating the position of his opponent and the ball (like in the point shown below). Intuitively speaking, one may expect that such a style would benefit more from increased training time compared to a style that relies more on raw physical athleticism.

Although it does not look like Jeoung has lightning-quick footspeed, his stability and anticipation allow him to get to where he needs to be.

That being said, An and Jeoung both get the chance to strengthen their cases to the coaches in Doha. For Jeoung, this means that at minimum he must avoid early upsets, especially to German rival Patrick Franziska and Japanese rivals Jun Mizutani and Koki Nowa.

After taking care of business in the earlier rounds, if Jeoung is able to pull off a big upset against Harimoto or Xu Xin, that may be enough to sway the coaches to pick Jeoung to represent Korea at the Olympic team event. In particular, one of An’s arguments for making the team may be that he has beaten Harimoto recently. Jeoung can neutralize that argument by defeating Harimoto himself. Hence, Edges and Nets would pick Harimoto to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Jeoung.

7th Seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Since the restart after the pandemic, Dimitrij Ovtcharov posted a 4-3 win against Liam Pitchford in the World Cup before losing in the quarterfinals of the World Cup to Ma Long and to Lin Yun-Ju in the first round of the ITTF Grand Finals.

Lin has now won the last four meetings between the two in international competition dating back to 2018. In their match-up at the 2020 Grand Finals, Lin was quite clearly faster than Ovtcharov and won virtually all the longer rallies. Lin and Ovtcharov are actually teammates (and will soon be joined by Hugo Calderano) at the Russian club Fakel Gazprom Orenburg and are thus deeply familiar with each other’s game. This familiarity may be why Lin seemed to have almost no problem handling Ovtcharov’s serves. He confidently landed chiquita after chiquita to Ovtcharov’s elbow to set up an ensuing fast rally even when the serve was wide to Lin’s forehand.

Although Ovtcharov is most well known for his spinny backhand and tomahawk serves, one serve that he has found quite useful even against Ma Long is a short dead serve with his backhand that looks like something any noob at the local club could serve. He doesn’t use the serve often, but it has its uses when his opponent is not in rhythm or may be emotionally tight. The sudden lack of spin doesn’t give the opponent anything to borrow, and the opponent may be hesitant or unable to land powerful shots as seen in these two match points that Ovtcharov saved against Lin last November (shown below).

Ovtcharov saves two match points with a short dead serve.

Although Ovtcharov and Lin most likely exchange wins against each other during training, the lopsided record in international competition towards Lin would give Lin a mental edge should these two meet in the quarterfinals in Tokyo. Ovtcharov can break this edge by scoring a victory, even if only in a three out of five, against his club teammate at WTT Doha. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Lin to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Ovtcharov.

If the Olympics were held today, Ovtcharov would be the ninth seed in the men’s singles event in the Tokyo Olympics behind the two Chinese players, Calderano, Lin, Mattias Falck, Jang Woojin, and Timo Boll. However, since Boll is not playing in Qatar at all and only leads Ovtcharov by a small margin, unless Ovtcharov suffers a pair of major upsets in both events, he has enough ranking points to comfortably pass Boll in the April world rankings and put himself in the position to be at least the eighth seed in Tokyo. Note that although Ovtcharov has been confirmed to play in the team event Tokyo Olympics, we have not been able to confirm whether he or Patrick Franziska will play in the singles event alongside Timo Boll.

Jang, who is ranked directly above Ovtcharov, will not be playing WTT Contender. Hence, if both players play to their seeding or even if Ovtcharov loses in the round of 16 in one event, Ovtcharov will pass Jang on the April world rankings. To maintain his lead over Ovtcharov in the world rankings, Jang must pull off more upsets than Ovtcharov does in the WTT Star Contender event. However, for the purposes of Olympic seeding there is minimal difference between being the eighth seed and the seventh seed.

6th Seed Jang Woojin

Jang Woojin arguably had the best post-pandemic performance out of all non-Chinese men. He split a pair of matches with Harimoto and upset Lin Gaoyuan. In both the Grand Finals and the World Cup, he lost to Fan Zhendong by a comfortable margin. However, visually the game felt closer than the score may have indicated. Jang lead in several games that he lost, and it would not be implausible for him to upset a player like Fan in the near future.

With Jang’s recent performances against Harimoto, Korea may now feel as comfortable as they are going to get about their chances of defeating Japan in the Tokyo Olympics. Although they may not dare to say it aloud, Korea may now be setting its eyes on slaying the giant that is China. There are glimpses of potential such as Jang’s win over Lin Gaoyuan and Lee Sangsu/Jeoung Youngsik’s win over Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun, and Jang could potentially add to that with a fresh upset over Xu in the quarterfinals in Qatar.

Stylistically, a match-up between Jang and a left-handed player like Xu is always interesting as it mixes up two of the key dynamics associated with their styles. First, Jang loves stepping around the corner for the forehand, even in situations where most other players would prefer to use the backhand (as shown below). Although Jang still steps around quite frequently even against left-handed players, the threat of a lefty’s cross-court backhand to his wide forehand may force him to adjust how he approaches his footwork.

Jang Woojin steps around very aggressively during rallies.

Second, the ease with which left-handed players can serve to the wide forehand often disrupts players from executing the chiquita smoothly. However, possibly in order to stay in position to use his forehand for the next shot, Jang uses the chiquita relatively infrequently compared to others. He instead prefers to use a short forehand push, even if it means allowing the opponent to open more often than if he used the chiquita (as shown below).

Jang Woojin prefers the short forehand push over the chiquita. Even if it means that the opponent opens first, he can get the counterloop back in.

Jang’s preference for the short forehand push over the chiquita thus mitigates one of the key adjustments players must make against left-handed players. These stylistic changes and a taste of a Korea vs China Olympic team match-up make Edges and Nets consider Xu to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Jang.

Jang has also been confirmed to represent Korea in the men’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics. Similar to Ovtcharov, barring a massive early round upset, Jang should be in a position to pass Timo Boll on the April world rankings and maintain his position to be a top-eight seed in Tokyo.

5th Seed Mattias Falck

Falck had decent results at the two major post-pandemic ITTF events last year. He took care of business against Simon Gauzy (WR 20) and Wong Chun Ting (WR 19) but lost 4-1 to Tomokazu Harimoto and 4-2 to Ma Long.

Edges and Nets has largely chosen to ignore the results at WTT Macau last Fall due to the weird rules (no deuce, three-out-of-five matches, brief coaching every six points, weird draws), the lack of stakes (WTT Macau did not appear to influence world rankings), and the lack of recorded full matches. However, Falck’s 3-1 upset over Xu Xin at WTT Macau (available on Youtube) was such big news that we had to mention it here. The 2019 World Championships finalist will be looking to extend his success to 2021 as he continues to entertain fans and frustrate opponents with his close-to-the-table flat hits from both the backhand and his infamous short pips on his forehand.

Mattias Falck gets wins the point with his signature forehand smash on his way to a 3-1 victory over Xu Xin.

There is currently a four-way race between Falck, Lin, Calderano, and Harimoto for the third and fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, which provide a guaranteed path to an Olympic medal without having to defeat either of the Chinese top two seeds. In order to pass Lin and Calderano on the April world rankings, Falck needs to outperform Calderano by 372 ranking points and Lin by 273 ranking points in Qatar.

Similar to the case of Kasumi Ishikawa in the women’s singles event, Falck will need to reach the finals in both events in order to pass Lin. This is an extremely difficult task as it means beating either Lin or Calderano (or a player who upset them) twice and then beating Harimoto or Xu Xin (or a player who upset them) twice. If Calderano plays to his seeding and reaches the semi-finals in both events, then Falck would still be unable to catch Calderano even with two finals appearances.

However, if Falck and Calderano meet in the quarterfinals, then Falck will completely control his own Olympic seeding destiny, because a finals appearance by Falck would entail that Calderano lost in the quarterfinals and did not play up to his seeding. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Calderano to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Falck.

The Most Interesting Quarterfinal Draw

Assuming everyone plays to their seeding up to the quarterfinals (which will likely not be the case), in summary here are Edges and Nets’ picks for what would be the most interesting draw:

  • Jeoung Youngsik vs Tomokazu Harimoto
  • Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs Lin Yun-Ju
  • Jang Woojin vs Xu Xin
  • Mattias Falck vs Hugo Calderano

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over seeds 3 and 4 in the women’s singles event. It will be posted on Monday, February 22 (North American timezone).

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.