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Should there be another Jan Ove Waldner to beat the Chinese in table tennis?

9.32K   //    02 Mar 2015, 10:58 IST

 In just less than two months from now, the world of table tennis is gearing up for another World Championships in the city of Suzhou China. Unlike the Olympics and the world Cup, the world chamionships allow a maximum of six players from the host nation. With the best players in their lineup, which includes 5 players in top 10 world ranking China definitely seems the most powerful and indomitable team. Going by the history and trends since the past decade, an upset seems very unlikely.

The records show that China has won all the Men’s Singles titles since the last 10 years. Will there be anyone who can overthrow the Chinese force of Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong ? 

Recently Ma Lin, a former Olympic Champion was quoted saying that “ Table tennis is a thrillingly beautiful sport, but because of the domination of one team, it has lost that suspense.” Table Tennis definately needs a force that can overthrow the dominance of the chinese players. This statement rings just one name in my mind, the one and only “Jan Ove Waldner”. 

Jan Ove Waldner

This name used to haunt the Chinese players for more than a decade from the late 1980’s to the the earlier years of this millenium. With his extremely calm and composed style of playing, dynamic shotmaking , unpredictable serves and flawless blocks, Waldner dominated the Chinese players like no other ever did. Ever since I started playing table tennis ,I have seen hundreds of videos of Waldner. I have been awe-struck by his creativity at the table, and followed his matches very closely .  

What made Waldner different from the rest of the players which helped him to beat top Chinese players ? This is a question I would like to answer based on my perception of watching this game for so long and imitating his game as a table tennis player myself. 

Waldner had visited China and trained there as a kid, he was defeated in most of the games he played , but gathered a lot of training skills and observed the Chinese tactics very presisely. Moreover, the numerous defeats gave rise to a strong urge in him to defeat all the Chinese players at a very young age. This strong urge was crucial in shaping up his table tennis game right from the start of his career.

Learning from the Chinese

Table Tennis is a very fast sport, and points are decided at a short interval of time. It demands very quick thinking abilities as well as strong reflexes and dexterity. Some describe table tennis as playing chess while running a 100 m sprint. The Chinese are very swift and aggressive players with a very firm technique developed through their rigorous training process. Waldner used this very style to his own advantage.

His first strength was the execution of the block shot with great precision and lucidity. He possessed the ability to be extremely calm and focused during his serve return. He provoked the opponent to attack on the third ball and make them off balance so that he can block the ball with extreme precision. This requires an extreme amount of hand eye coordination and reflexes which he possessed naturally and also kept improving through the years.

Secondly, Waldner serves were the most unpredictable and feared by Chinese opponents. He could deceive his opponents with his sheer creative serves which made them thinking “ How on earth did that happen ? ”. Such were his variety in serves that, none of the opponents playing Waldner for the first time could get comfortable playing against him. The video below shows some of his amazing serve and block shot skills.  Waldner also possessed a rare ability to create innovative shots in between rallies and change the direction and speed of the ball with great ease which helped him win long rallies. He was also a master of the dropshot which he used effortlessly with amazing elegance. 

Variations are the key

Also to improve in any game, especially table tennis you need a training partner who is as strong as yourself to improve your level beyond a certain limit. The Chinese players have the advantage of practising with many top world rank players within their own team. Waldner found that parter in Jorgen Persson. Along with Persson, Sweden dominated world table tennis for quite some time. Infact, the last time China was beaten in a World Team Championship was by Sweden in the year 2000. 

In short, Waldner was a magician,  a trickster and a true genius of table tennis, his playing style gained him fans all around the world. Though most feared in China, Waldner became a huge hit among fans in China and a well known celebrity know as “lao wa” – the evergreen tree. 

In a recent interview,Waldner mentioned that the “Chinese players had a hard time against me due to my variety and deception. I did stuff that was different, which I think players of today's generation do not do enough of this. You cannot play the Chinese way to defeat them. You need to be different.” This was the bottomline of his strategy against the Chinese.  The chinese players are systematic and rigourously trained, but to beat them you need to find innovative ways, that they cannot understand through mere training or practise.

Waldner was a genius and made a mark in the way of playing table tennis by creating his own shots, his own definitive style and panache, a player who could miraculously turn any game in his own favour. He left a void behind. Table Tennis needs another such genius. Will there ever be one ?

The videos below are some collections of Waldners best serves and amazing range of shots. Enjoy the videos and enjoy table tennis. 

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