Table tennis: Olympic revenge perfect: Ovtcharov plays against Ma Long

Table tennis: Olympic revenge perfect: Ovtcharov plays against Ma Long

The WTT tournament in Frankfurt has so far been a complete success for the German table tennis star Dimitrij Ovtcharov. He hopes for the coronation on Friday.

Table tennis professionals and pop stars will also be welcomed in Frankfurt this week. The path to the table in the middle of the arena leads over a colorfully bordered catwalk. As soon as a player enters it, the hall lights go out and a bunch of wild spotlight effects come on. It is the show concept of the new tournament series “World Table Tennis” (WTT).

And no one is more inspired by this atmosphere at the first international competition in Germany in almost four years than the top German player and former world number one Dimitrij Ovtcharov. “When you haven’t played in Germany for so long and then you see: so many people, such enthusiasm for sport. It’s nice to be here again,” said the 35-year-old.

Ovtcharov started the “WTT Champions Frankfurt” with a win against his favorite opponent Marcos Freitas from Portugal and then defeated former vice world champion Mattias Falck from Sweden with a remarkable performance. On Friday in the quarterfinals there will be the big Olympic revenge: Ovtcharov against the three-time world champion and two-time Olympic champion Ma Long.

Review: Olympic semi-finals 2021

As a reminder: In 2021, both fought an epic semi-final duel in Tokyo, which the Chinese only won 11:9 in the decisive seventh set. No other match has brought more attention to the sport of table tennis in Germany this century than this one. “That was one of the best games ever,” said Ovtcharov. “It has never hurt as much after a game as it did after this semi-final.”

He has played against Ma Long 19 times at international tournaments – and lost 19 times. “I’m still looking forward to the 20th duel,” said Ovtcharov. “He is the best player of all time. There is no need to be ashamed of having lost to him so many times. There is no player who has a positive record against him.” He doesn’t think “I’ll play better on Friday than I did in Tokyo. But I still believe in myself!”

Injuries and lack of consistency

Hearing such sentences from Ovtcharov again is not a given. After winning the bronze medal in Tokyo, what was probably the hardest time of his career began. He had to undergo two operations due to a serious ankle injury. In protest against the war of aggression in Ukraine, he left his Russian club Fakel Orenburg after almost twelve years. Ovtcharov then had major problems showing consistent performances. At the World Championships in May he was eliminated in the third round.

Now he is back in form and has significantly better cards than his close friend and long-time teammate Timo Boll in the tough internal race for just two German individual places at the 2024 Olympic Games. “My goal is not to be there. My goal is to be successful in Paris,” said Ovtcharov. “Last week I was in the final in Antalya and now I’m in the quarter-finals here. I’m definitely two steps further ahead than I was two or three months ago.”

German national coach Jörg Roßkopf can rely on Ovtcharov’s great ambition and hard work in training. “It’s still the case that Dimitrij Ovtcharov has a lot of ideas and wants to implement a lot of things. He likes to take many steps forward, while Timo is still the calm, balancing part,” said the former double world champion about the internal relationship of his successful team .

Ovtcharov expresses criticism of new tournament series

It also fits that Ovtcharov is the only one of 32 world-class players in Frankfurt am Main to publicly express the growing criticism of the new WTT tournament series. The event subsidiary of the world association ITTF replaced the previous World Tour during the Corona pandemic and announced the ambitious goal of establishing a tournament calendar modeled on the global tennis tour: four Grand Slam competitions called Table Tennis Grand Smash. Significantly higher prize money. Better marketing.

In Frankfurt it is now easy to see what this could look like in detail in the long term. But Ovtcharov also told ARD clearly: “We are still a long way from the big system as a whole. There were four Grand Smash and six Champions tournaments in the room. Currently we can’t even manage half of it. Unfortunately, the prize money has also been reduced reduced again and again.” That’s why he hopes “that the overall package will get there as promised.” Until then, the big colorful show in Frankfurt will have to be enough as an incentive.

Source: Stern

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