Boll finally gets rolling
Updated: 2011-03-16 08:31
By Tang Yue (China Daily)
German table tennis player and new world No 1, Timo Boll, is in peak form and will continue to pose a threat to China's consistently dominant paddlers, Tang Yue reports.
Eight years ago, German Timo Boll, then 21, edged out a bunch of Chinese names and took the top spot in the men's world table tennis rankings.
However, he thought he "didn't deserve" it at that time despite the fact the foreign press expected the "golden boy" to be the next European player to upset the all-conquering Chinese and sweep the major titles; following the likes of Swedish legend Jan-Ove Waldner.
Creases have appeared on his forehead now and he has been regularly visited by injuries, but those major championships still haven't come along with them.
Still, a more confident Boll, who turned 30 on March 8, believes he is now approaching his "real peak". He has not only recaptured the No 1 ranking, ending China's 88-month monopoly, but claims he is a much better player than eight years ago and is looking forward to Olympic glory in London next year.
"At the time (when he first became world No 1), I felt the Chinese players were much better than me. I thought I didn't deserve to be No 1, although I won the World Cup and European Championship," Boll told China Daily. "It was so new. My opponents were also my idols in some ways.
"Now, I have a feeling I can be the best player. It's not like I just play more than others to win more points. I don't play too much now. But I can play consistently at a very high level.
"I think my chance (to win at the Olympics) is better than ever because I am a better player than ever and I have more experience than before. Also, there will be only two participants from each country, which means there will be only two Chinese to beat," he said.
Boll first shot to fame by winning the 2002 World Cup, defeating world and Olympic champion Kong Linghui of China in the final. He then went on to become the world No 1.
At that time, Waldner, who was the first player to boast the World Cup, World Championship and Olympics singles titles, was considered the best European player.
But the Swede was 37 and Boll was expected to take the European baton from the veteran.
However, at the ensuing World Championships, Boll was upset in the second round by then world No 38, China's Qiu Yike.
Then, in a highly symbolic quarterfinal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Boll fell to Waldner 4-1.
Boll, of course, has since had many victories. He has bagged more than 20 singles titles on the ITTF pro tour. He has won two World Cups (he also won in 2005). But the growing list of titles makes the absence of major titles - like the World Championships and Olympics - more conspicuous.
He has played at six worlds and three Olympics but has never won a singles title. China won seven of them while Austrian Werner Schlager and South Korean Ryu Seung-min also came away with the big prize.
If that is not so hard to swallow; what about the fact that Boll did not even win a medal at those nine events!
"It is not so easy. You have to be really fit at the right moment. I was a little unlucky with some injuries. Sometimes I just played too many tournaments and was not mentally fresh. The preparation was not perfect," the left-hander said.
"Sometimes the opponent was just in very good shape. There is no big gap between No 20 and me. Unfortunately, I never put together my shape, my body, my mind, but I'm working on that now.
"Also, I was a pessimistic person. It put pressure on me. During the game I was confident. But before the game I was always afraid of losing."
After so many years on the pro circuit, Boll said he needs a lot more rest nowadays.
"I haven't lost the passion for each game but I have lost a little bit passion for traveling and going to the training hall where there are so many players it's uncomfortable, overloaded, crowded," Boll said.
"I had some years in which I played more than 100 days. That is quite a lot. Now it is a little bit less. I try to cut some, not unimportant, but not helpful tournaments."
When he is not on tour, he lives in a two-story Bavarian-style countryhouse near Frankfurt with his wife, Rodelia Jacobi.
Normally, he gets up before 8 am He plays table tennis for about 2 1/2 hours in the morning and then exercises in the afternoon - riding his bicycle in the hills or forest or running or lifting weights.
Then he is "free". He watches movies, plays with his dog and cat and takes walks with his wife.
"Some friends of mine, they work in the office the whole day. Kind of boring. I think many people want to do their hobby as a profession. For me, it is already a dream come true," he said.
Now, the biggest dream, of course, is the title at the 2012 Olympics.
"If I stay healthy it is possible I can play until 2016, but I will be 35, so it will not be easy to stay at such a high level like I am at now. So it is my last real chance," he said. "If I win? I won't stop after that. But, of course, it will be my biggest dream come true."
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