Richard Prause, Butterfly Coach, Headcoach of the Werner Schlager Academy and former German national coach comments for us from Tokyo.

Review 7 | May 05, 2014

China remains the measure of all things

China – Germany

China against Germany, to my mind this was the final to dream of. A lot of thoughts had been made in advance about if the balance of power has been changing a bit.

The answer, clearly, is that China remains the measure of all things.

German team fought with all efforts, but first things first…

In first match Timo Boll was facing Ma Long. Timo started off well in each set, played well and variable. In each second half of the set Ma Long managed to equal Timo’s lead, returned Timo’s serves immediately with hard Topspins. Furthermore he moved amazing’s explosive and quickly. Timo tried to make things difficult for Ma Long again and again with long flicks into his backhand. Very often surprisingly the serving player was in disadvantage, particularly in second set. In the end Ma Long overcame Timo with 3:0 with all sets having been very close.

Ovtcharov –Zhang Yike was the next match to be played. Once more one could understand why Dimitrij besides Timo is the biggest challenger of the Chinese. The strength of strokes  is often considered same as the one of the Chinese. More than that he manages this time to cause troubles to Zhang Jike with many paralles strokes and ball into mid table. First six balls of first set belong to the best ones I have ever seen of him. This was the basis for Dima’s surprisingly clear 3:0 victory.

How would China react on this 1:1 intermediate score?

Both Youngsters of the team, Xu Xin and Patrick Franziska entered the box for the mostly key match of any team battle. Right from beginning Xu Xin made clear who is the favorite among them and controlled Patrick easily throughout the whole match. Patrick played a great Championship. What he showed in group stage and even more in the semifinals was highest level. And with only 21 years of age there is still a lot of potential for him.

Dima against Ma Long unfortunately then was the last one of the night for the German team. Who knows how this match would have ended if Dimitrij secured his set point in the first set.

From mid of second set Ma Long then became unstoppable. I think he produced his masterpiece today. Hard to imagine that anyone could play better than Ma Long did in the final set of this match. Athletics, service, return and playing forehand from deep backhand; simply said those elements have been the guarantee for Chinese success.

What remains?

China and Germany are still leading the Men’s table tennis. Japan has a young team capable to develop further on for sure. Behind that there is a group of teams which can perform well in good shape, such as Chinese Taipei and South Korea, but also Portugal and Austria. Always ready for an upset.

Germany will surely continue trying to further decrease the gap to China. In the same time the other teams such as Japan will try to come closer to Germany. Hard practice and a steady development of individual potential are key factors and of course believing in own strength …. Because at a certain time any series needs to end!!

China – Japan

The women’s final was very single-sided. China acted too dominant and very much put the bravely fighting Japanese in their place easily. But I think for the Japanese it was a nice success to have reached the final considering their star player Ai Fukuhara was absent.

Behind the lonely Chinese there were some good surprises to be noted, and the competition is tightening up. Romania’s victory over South Korea, the young German team, Britt Eerland, Sarah de Nutte and also Andrea Todorovic, just to recall on some of the positive appearances. Something starts to move in Europe… even though the Asian dominance is still more than visible.

I enjoyed very much keeping you updated from Tokyo. Tomorrow morning I will fly to Germany and then back to Werner Schlager Academy. Next training is ahead already!

Thank you once again and best regards from Tokyo, Sayonara

Richie

 

Review 6 | May 04, 2014

Today we start with the Men …

China – Chinese Taipei

China against Chinese Taipei was the first challenge of the day on Show Court of Yoyogi Gymnasium in Tokyo. Chinese Taipei, very much one of the major surprises of the event, reached the semifinal under the lead of Chuang Chih-Yuan and managed to rise to maturity those players which were called talented since many years already.

In a clash well to remember they overcame South Korea, but China was proved much too strong. Chuang Chih-Yuan kept the match against against Ma Long open for quite long time but without winning one set in the end. Zhang Jike defeated Huang Sheng-Sheng 3:1 but, same as during close victory against Robert Gardos, he could not control the match as much as one could have anticipated. Xu Xin so far showed excellent performance which also Chien Chen-An had to experience this time.

Germany – Japan

The crowd went crazy for second semifinal when Jun Mizutani & Co. challenged the German team. With enthusiastic crowd behind them the Japanese started with good hope to overcome the Germans and follow China into final. But things came different! Led by a highly concentrated Timo Boll Germany managed to secure a 3:1 victory. Two points by Timo Boll and one added by Patrick Franziska made Germany enter the final for third consecutive time.

I think that the Japanese men had some tactical ideas willing to surprise the German, but Jörg Rosskopf and his team always had the better reply.  Koki Niwa couple of times tried to surprise Timo with long serve into his backhand side which worked out only few times. Timo Boll in the opposite played with maximum focus and hit the ball extremely early at topspins. This was very much obvious in the match against Mizutani. To my opinion this game showed very much the difference between hard and fast playing style.

Hats off for this performance! Particularly considering the fact that Mizutani played very well against Ovtcharov in the match before. Both of them delivered great rallies at highest level but in the end Mizutani won a match which was on the edge all the time. Maybe one important reason was that the Japanese showed more precise placement of balls on the decisive time.

Patrick Franziska showed that even being the youngest member of the team he acts like having played more World Championship semifinals earlier in his life. The 3:2 victory against Kenta Matsudaira was a tough fight though. For sure he can improve his footwork a lot, but he plays with nice control on the game and has become very mature in service and return game …  Whoever knows Kenta’s service knows how difficult it is to catch good control on them.

Looking forward to the final : Germany – China

Germany against China, the often recited dream final. Even though I see China as the favorite they do not seem unbeatable here. Also because Zhang Jike as well as also Ma Long showed small weakness in one or the other matches. To find those and make use of them know is the main goal of German Team. I am sure a great final is in front of us!

Singapore’s ladies of course hoped for a chance to repeat the sensation from final in 2010. China’s trio of Li Xiaoxia, Liu Shiwen and Zhu Yiling however were far away from becoming part of this plan. One set won by Feng Tianwei in the very first match was all they could gather.

In the evening session the home team was challenged. The 3:1 against Hong Kong sounds more clear than it really was. Three out of four matches went to full distance with twice Ishikawa and once Hirano having the better finish on their side. The key match from my point of view was played by Sayaka Hirano who came back from trailing 0:2 against Ng Wing Nam to win the third set 12:10 and in the end make Japan take the 2:1 lead. Like this the home country is present in the final day of the event which should guarantee a full hall.

Best regards, Richie

Review 6 | May 03, 2014

The quarter finals usually are ones of the most fascinating rounds of any event …

Ladies: Germany – Hongkong

Ladies first – Germany against Hong Kong was the first quarter final. After having lost in the group stage German girls were hot for revenge; but the Asians did not agree on this plan at all. They safely secured 3:0 victory including a very nice match of Irene Ivancan against Jiang Huajan which saw Irene heading for victory when leading 2:1 and 3:0. The Hong Kong lady then managed to turn around the match and arise to a 10:5 lead in the final set. With big fighting spirit the German then point after point but in the ended up losing 10:12. And all of that happened within the expedite system which started in the end of fourth set.

No weakness shown by Team World Champion 2010 Singapore. The only point was secured by Romanian Bernadette Szocs against number three player and 2012 Youth Olympic silver medalist Isabelle Li.

China – North Korea

Chinese ladies took the short way out against North Koreans. Zhu Yuling was the only one to allow one set for Mixed World Champion 2013 Kim.

Netherlands – Japan

Most interesting battle of the women quarter finals was fought between the Netherlands and Japan. The Europeans gave their utmost efforts and Li Jiao even managed to beat Japanese star players Ishikawa though having faced two matches for balancing the score to 1:1. In a demanding match between two defenders Ishigaki could secure the win in extended system before Li Jiao evened the score once again. In the end it was Ishikawa who fought down a strongly performing Britt Eerland opening the semi final gate to the crowd’s great enjoyment.

Britt Eerland however remains with the positive experience of having achieved amazing performances and putting herself in the spotlight. In my point of view she is the surprise of the tournament and is able to achieve great results in case she does not suffer too much from injuries.

With China challenged by Singapore and Hong Kong against Japan the medals all go to the Asia this time.

Men’s event: China – Austria

In the Men’s event China won the re-match of the group stage smoothly 3:0 against Austria, but Robert Gardos was very close to cause a major upset when leading 2:1 and 11:10 against Zhang Jike. The Chinese managed to succeed with 14:12 in that set. Set 5 then was won by him easily.

Japanese – Greece

Better and better performances shown by the Japanese. Suffering surprising defeat in the very first group challenge against Greece, they improve from match to match with showing the greatest match so far in the quarter final against Portugal. With the exception of Joao Monteiro who could keep the match against Matsudaira open for a long time. The other matches went – even though we could enjoy a lot of great rallies – more or less clear victories.

China – Singapore

With regard to the statistics, Germany is the strongest challenger of China. They well controlled the Singapore Team winning 3:0. Timo Boll overcame Gao Ning easily, whereas Ovtcharov and Franziska were not challenged too much also because Singapore’s number two player Yang Zi was missing due to injury.

 

In the semi finals Japan awaits them with surely much stronger weapons. Rosskopf’s team needs to shift at least one gear higher now.

South Korea – Chinese Taipei

Nice fight between South Korea and Chinese Taipei. The last remaining of the great past South Korean contestors (Ryu, Oh, Joo) Joo Saehyuk and Chuang a duel which was one of the best that I have seen in my whole life. Leading 2:1 in the team score and having a match ball in the fourth set, Joo could have one glance at the medal already, before Chuang secured this set and then the whole match in the end. Chien Chian An was then the player to score the much celebrated final point for Chinese Taipei entering the semi finals.

The semifinals therefore are China against Chinese Taipei and Germany against Japan. Particularly the match of Germany against Japan makes me look forward to this round of best four teams in which Japan will show full efforts to prevent Germany reaching the final. Excitement is guaranteed and I already count down the hours before first service gets done.

Best regards from Tokyo

Richie

Review 5 | May 02, 2014

Austria
The Men’s round of last sixteen has shown quite straight wins of the favorites. Austria surely took advantage of the absence of injured Gionis; in the same time they have showed a great match. Particularly Robert Gardos pointed out the direction by beating Kreanga 3:1 in the first match and also secured the final point by overcoming Papageorgiou. He has clearly taken the lead position in the red&white team with great attitude.

Portugal
Just alike, Portugal and Chinese Taipei managed to conquer the round of last eight within four matches each. Just as Gardos for Austria, Marcos Freitas took over an important role for the Portuguese. The left hander meant a great part of the success when beating Poland 3:1, fulfilled by Joao Monteiro showing very solid performance here in Tokyo.

Taiwan
Taiwan trailed by 0:1 but turned the match around in the end, even though Chuang Chih-Yuan had to overcome some tough moments against Tomislav Kolarek. Leading 2:0 and 9:4 he faced the threat of still losing the match, but won the final set with 11:6 then.

Singapore
Last but not least the Singapore team successfully proved their role as favorite against Sweden in a game showing one or the other surprise. Kristian Karlsson could not fully secure the surprise of beating Gao Ning though leading 2:1 and 10:7 … From European point of view he is clearly one of the players with amazing potential and is able to deliver some more great performance in the coming days. I see good chances for him to make his way into Top 30! On the other hand, Singapore surprised by Clerence Chew – a player not yet ranked in the Top 200 – beating Pär Gerell and like this enabled the team to secure victory.

Like this not only all of the second placed teams from the Groups have entered the quarter finals, but also those teams whose performance has impressed me the most so far. With players occupying good chance for further development, they may hope for an even better future.

Women’s event: Germany
Some words on the Women’s event: Surprisingly, German team won easily with particularly Sabine Winter who beat Viktoria Pavlovich in promising manner. Irene Ivancan and Petrissa Solja completed the team for 3:0 victory enabling the team to take revenge for the defeat against Hong Kong in the group stage.

Women’s event: Romania
The major surprise of the quarter final round was caused by the Romanian ladies, overcoming the higher seeded South Korea by 3:2. While at the other table the Netherlands ended the hopes of Chinese Taipei with 3:0, North Korea overcame Ukraine with the same result. In total, the score of Asia against Europe ended 2:2.

With very young players such as Szocs, Eerland, Solja and Winter gathering important wins, there is hope for the female table tennis fans in Europe for decreasing the gap to Asia!

Tomorrow I will review on the quarter finals; the matches for medals always provide a very special taste. I am excited already…

 

With best regards

Richie

 

Review 3 | April 29, 2014

The World Championships has begun to run at full speed.

Having had a look onto the favorites yesterday, today I will focus on their potential challengers.

Chinese Taipei

Chinese Taipei has in recent years built up a very interesting and promising team, with their star player Chuang Chih-Yuan being the clear leader. Reigning World Champion in doubles Chen Chien-An in addition to Huang Sheng-Sheng and Chiang (who has been injured for a the long time injured but now recovered) allow a variable team formation. Victorious over the dangerous and likely to be underestimated North Koreans as well as Sweden they have so far well proved their challenging role, same as Portugal in Group C.

Portugal

The South Europeans, led by Marcos Freitas currently ranked no. 12 in the world, occupy a well balanced team which is able to perform on very high level if also Tiago Apolonia and Joao Monteiro manage to be in good shape. Such as during Olympic Games 2012 having been close to sensational win over South Korea. In Tokyo so far there was no reason to be worried for them, having secured easy victories against Hungary and France.

Austria

The same applies for Austria, the no. 2 seed in Group A. Robert Gardos so far has proved to be a stable and self-confident leader; also Stefan Fegerl has developed to become a stable and important member of the team. Furthermore, of course, Chen Weixing remains a dangerous Joker for any opponent. Austria managed well to confirm their favorite role against Serbia and Russia.

Hong Kong, Croatia

But not all of the challengers emerged successful yesterday. Hong Kong suffered surprising defeat against Croatia. Most important factors in my opinion: Having played in amazing form before World Championships, Wong Chun Ting lost to Tomislav Kolarek. Even stronger factor was Andrej Gacina, winning both singles in convincing manner.

Women’s competition

Having a look at the Women’s competition, the situation is quite obvious after first three rounds. With Germany, Chinese Taipei, North Korea and Singapore all second seeds of the groups so far managed to win their matches. This means that same as the top seeds of their groups they are almost qualified for the round of best twelve teams already.

Men’s competition: Greece

Unfortunately, the Greek Men’s Team only was hero for a day. Causing a major upset against the Japanese team on Monday, they got back in real life after suffering defeat against Hungary. The 2:3 loss showed the small gap between success and defeat.

 

Best regards,
Richie

 

 

Review 2 | April 28, 2014

Japan shocked

Day one in Tokyo has been played, let us check the performance of the four top seeded. Having started with high expectation in front of the home crowd, Japan suffered a shock caused by very positive minded Greeks, Vice European Champion 2013.

Jun Mizutani emerged to be the best player of the match, but Greece gave the more balanced and therefore this time more successful performance. In the decisive match Kreanga well proved that in a good day he can rise up to the occasion very much;  Kishikawa found himself without any chance. Of course the Japanese still have all the possibilities to win their group, but first they need to overcome this disappointment …

South Korea – Belarus

South Korea had to go to full distance as well, defeating Belarus whose One-Man-Show with two victories of Samsonov was not sufficient. Germany and China got bothered much less than that.

China – Brazil

3-0 victory of China against Brazil was everything else but surprising, even though the South Americans proved that it is always worth to fight for every ball. They could not catch a single victory, but at least Cazuo Matsumoto forced Zhang Jike to shift up one gear. Trailing 1:2 but then leading 7:1, he was close to balancing sets to 2:2. Gustavo Tsuboi could also win one set against Xu Xin.

Germany – Singapore

In Germany’s clash against Singapore, Gao Ning very much challenged Timo Boll. But Boll recovered from trailing 1:5 at 1:1 sets to win the match. Successful first appearance at Team World Championships for Steffen Mengel, securing the team’s victory with a 3:0 against Chew.

China – Poland (Women)

In the ladies event China (against Poland) and Hong Kong (against Czech Republic) managed to secure safe 3:0 victories. The Dutch Women were close to surprise by almost beating third seeded South Korea; but leading 2:1 Li Jiao could not make use of three match balls.

Russia disappointing

Meanwhile, there was disappointment for Russia in all aspects. The men’s team lost – particularly surprising in such clear manner – 0:3 against Poland. Same result for the women against France.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I wish to draw special attention on those nations that in my opinion have the capabilities to cause a major upset for the favorites, just as Greece managed to do today …

Best regards,
Richie

Review 1 | April 27, 2014

Konnichiwa!! After eleven hours flight time I stepped outside of the plane into sunny weather in Tokyo – Japan knows how to welcome its guests!

Perfect reception by friendly and helpful volunteers, busses with air condition and a huge official hotel for the players. A big “hello” from all corners, the large table tennis community knows each other very well of course. The big nations are already on spot since a couple of days in order to get used to the atmosphere and conditions, while smaller teams just arrive shortly before the start – also for reasons of costing of course.

Overall I have to express highest respect for the challenge in terms of organization and logistics that the Japanese federation is facing.
445 male und 352 female players coming from 125 nations in addition to 138 umpires and all the officials need to be accommodated. A task not to be underestimated, creating tough challenges even to the highly self-demanding Japanese.  Once again one meets the question whether one World Championships for all kind of levels is still up to date. Furthermore, it is more and more difficult to find suitable organizers. Even here in Japan there is the need to play in two halls. Saying this, it is interesting to mention that this smaller second hall is considered to become the location for the table tennis events in Olympic Games 2020.

The idea to split this event in level A and level B competition, same as it is already done in other sports since long time, really should be widely considered …

Traditionally, the Championships will be opened by the Butterfly Welcome Party, offering all – including myself – to breathe in the spirit of World Championships.

Almost all of the Butterfly contract players have made at least a short visit and allowed a nice exchange of thoughts. Besides Germany’s top star Timo Boll and Danish comeback star Michael Maze also World Champion Zhang Jike and local hero Jun Mizutani did not miss the chance to come and say hello to everybody. (Note: Get some impressions and short videos from the Butterfly Welcome Party in the Social Stream)

Now the 52nd World Championships are ready to get started! I look very much forward to following the exciting matches and one or the other surprise!

Best regards, Richie

 

Preview | April 27, 2014

Dear Table Tennis Fans

Tokyo is ahead, hosting this year’s World Team Championships. It is a great pleasure for me to keep you updated with my daily impressions from Japan. My expertise, my opinion, gazing into the crystal ball.

I am looking very much forward to those World Championships, having only positive remembrance on the individual World Championships in Yokohama 2009. This was a true happening and same is what I absolutely expect this time again. A fully crowded hall with astonishing atmosphere, similar as also experienced in 2012 at the World Team Championships in Dortmund.

Furthermore, Team Championships develop a very particular atmosphere. To perform on behalf of the team and for one’s host country – this is fascinating …

I am excited to follow the young Japanese Men and Women team, challenging the pressure of a Home World Championships. Will this demanding environment result in even higher motivation or does it create a pressure difficult to handle?

What about the Chinese? Will any team member show a surprising weakness or will they grab the gold medals without problems? Will we – same in 2012 – experience a final according to the seeding list, China awaiting Germany … and if yes: Has the gap increased? Or maybe decreased? Or … ?

What can we expect from China and Germany? Have the teams from Korea, Japan and maybe Portugal narrowed the distance to Germany, or not?

Who will become the surprise of the event, which nobody can yet foresee?

Too many questions … Results will follow and excitement is guaranteed.

Let me finish with a very personal note. Michael Mazeis back. He is a fixed member of Team Denmark and I am so glad for him and for the whole table tennis community to see him back after such a long period of injury, ready for being part of such big event. An entertainer such as him are great for our sport – Glad to see you back, Michael…

(Att.: Read our article on Michael Maze’s Come Back)

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Richard

He started playing table tennis at age 12, never letting go. He first became german national player, then switched over to high-level coaching. From 2000 to 2004 he was German national coach of the Womens’ team, then, from 2004 to 2010 coaching the Mens’ National Team. In that he was largely responsible for the success of Timo Boll and his team. In 2010 he started working for the renowned Werner Schlager Academy in Austria as Head coach and table tennis expert for the ITTF. He has been part of the Butterfly Family for many years and is looking forward to further improve the table tennis sport.

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