There are four years between his last World Cup appearance and his World Cup comeback. During this time: a pandemic, an Olympic medal, an injury, a war. Now Dimitrij Ovtcharov is back.
Get out of here! That was Dimitrij Ovtcharov’s reaction to his last appearance at a table tennis world championship. In 2019 he lost in the third round to Croatian Tomislav Pucar and then rushed out of the Budapest exhibition hall in frustration.
It’s been four years since the German international and former world number one made his World Cup comeback this weekend at the World Championships in Durban/South Africa. Four years go by quickly in the life of a competitive athlete. But in 2019, no one could have imagined what happened in those four years and affected Ovtcharov’s career.
Leave the Russian Club
The Team World Championship 2020 was canceled because a pandemic had just broken out. Ovtcharov missed the 2021 World Cup because he had to be operated on twice after a serious ankle injury. He did not participate in the 2022 World Team Championships because of his lack of training. Above all, Russia had recently invaded Ukraine, which was probably the biggest turning point of all for the 34-year-old. His grandmother took the family out of Ovtcharov’s native city of Kiev. He left his Russian club Fakel Orenburg in protest against this war after almost twelve years.
“It was an intense time,” said Ovtcharov. His Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo and the Bundesliga withdrawal of his new club TTC Neu-Ulm also fell within these four years.
So now the World Cup comeback in Durban. And Ovtcharov explains: “I’m happy that I’ve found contact again and that I’ve beaten some top players after the long injury. That shows me that the level is there and that I can still be dangerous for everyone.” But, he added: A concrete goal – “that I have to get a medal” – he does not set himself at this World Cup from May 20th to 28th. Too much has happened for that.
National coach must brake
The German national coach Jörg Roßkopf likes to say something about his two top stars Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov: He hardly has to say anything to the one, Boll, because he knows exactly what is good for him. On the other hand, he had to slow down the other, Ovtcharov. Because he is so ambitious, perfectionist and training diligently.
That’s exactly what got him far: Ovtcharov was number one in the world and World Cup winner. He won the European title and Olympic bronze twice. But have the past four years perhaps changed him and his view of his career?
Ovtcharov’s answer is: no, but. “My father often tries to tell me that I should take things a little more relaxed. But somehow I don’t get it implemented,” he said. “My nature is that I still give everything, train a lot and just can’t take things calmly. That may not necessarily be right in my situation. But that’s how I am. And that’s how I am with myself somewhere also in the clean.”
It’s hard to say what’s possible for him at the World Cup. The current number 15 in the world has played too inconsistently in the past few months. At the WTT Finals, Ovtcharov beat world champion and world number one Fan Zhendong (China). At the first Grand Smash tournament this year in Singapore, he lost his first game. In the Champions League semi-final between Neu-Ulm and Borussia Düsseldorf, he defeated European champions Dang Qiu 3-1 on a Wednesday evening, only to lose to his national teammate just four days later with the same result.
What could help Ovtcharov in South Africa: All the other stars also suffered from the corona pandemic and a distorted tournament rhythm. “In the last 12 to 18 months we have noticed that there are more and more surprises, everything is getting a little closer together and everything is taking place at a slightly higher level,” said German sports director Richard Prause. “Anything can happen at this World Cup.”
I am Pierce Boyd, a driven and ambitious professional working in the news industry. I have been writing for 24 Hours Worlds for over five years, specializing in sports section coverage. During my tenure at the publication, I have built an impressive portfolio of articles that has earned me a reputation as an experienced journalist and content creator.