Steffen Mengel, quarter finalist at the German Open did have troubled waters to negotiate at the tournament. First up, the qualification stage was easily managed for the 26 year-old. In the round of 16 though, he faced the powerhouse of table tennis, world champion and three times Olympic-champion Wang Hao from China, and the Number 100 in the World was reduced to the role of underdog for this match.
From Qualification stage to semi finals
Playing a big tournament in front of a home crowd can be a source of inspiration for a player. Some players tend to crumble under the pressure of expectation from the audience, others give 100% in order to make things happen. Steffen Mengel belongs to the latter category.
The semi-finals stage of a World tour super series tournament is usually populated by the top Asian players, and Steffen Mengel, with his starting no 100, had to work extremely hard to be part of this elusive group. In his qualification matches, he beat Martin Heimberger (Austria, WR 301), Yu Ziyang (China, 180), Alexander Shibaev (Russia, 34), Zhou Kai (China, 178) before meeting Wang Hao in the Round of 16, and with that, his sure demise. But it was one of these rare moments in table tennis, where everything went different than expected. Steffen Mengel played the match of his life, holding his own against Wang Hao, defending 3 matchpoints in a fantastic match and had one of his own in the 7th. Game. And he used it.
And there it was, the sensational victory of the underdog Steffen Mengel over the giant Wang Hao. Mengel rode the wave of euphoria all through the following quarter finals match against Cho Eun Rae, whom he easily beat 4:0. In terms of upsets, it almost made no difference that he was finally beaten by Jun Mizutani in the semi-finals. The deed had been done.
And who would have counted Steffen Mengel among the Top 4 of a super Series tournament? Let’s be honest: Nobody would. Richard Prause, former headcoach of the German national team confirms:
“Steffen is sometimes able to cause upsets among the top players in the world. I distinctly remember his match against Chuang Chih-Yuan, where Steffen was already close to a victory, but there were some small details missing in his game.” And of course, everyone remembers the Steffen Mengel, who beat Timo Boll in the finals and subsequently becam German national Champion in 2013. He even managed to progress into the finals of the Hungary Open.
Prause is certain, that Steffens success and climb in the world ranking (from 100 to 49 in one month) can be attributed to his recent time of being uninjured. Are injuries a general problem for tall players (Steffen is 1,95m) in table tennis?
“I do not think that his physical build is a problem for Steffen.” Prause explains. He has had bad luck with different injuries in the past though. During the European Championships 2009, Mengel had tendinosis, and later a spinal disc herniation. Shortly after a painful comeback, he had to endure knee surgery, which completely set him back as he was unable to train for weeks. All the time that he spend injury-free recently has changed his potential immensely.
Prause adds: “We always knew that Steffen will make good progress once he was back. Of course, beating Wang Hao was a surprise, but Mengel playing well at the German Open and climbing in the ranking was not.”
The Will to win
If you watch Steffen Mengel play, you immediately see it, this special character, focused on the task at hand. “Steffen is a born winner, powered by the desire to win big tournaments”, Prause adds. “He always believes in his ability to win and uses every chance to do so. He does not care if he plays against No. 1 or 500 in the world, he only wants to win.” Mengel draws his energy at the table from the excitement of the spectators as well. “Playing in front of a home crowd was a big advantage for Steffen.” Adds Prause.
Victory against the Chinese
Aside from the powerhouse Wang Hao, Steffen Mengel was able to beat two more players from China, namely Yu Ziyang and Zhou Kai. These two are admittedly not top players yet, but still, beating 3 chinese players in one tournament was a feat that only Timo Boll accomplished at the World Cup 2005, when he overcame Wang Liqin, Ma Lin and Wang Hao.
Powerful and balanced
Analysing Steffen Mengels game comes rather easily to Richard Prause, who has been closely following his progress over the years. “Steffen has a very good serve, high quality and very unpredictable for the opponent. He anticipates very well and plays equally good on both sides. And for his height, Mengel is extremely flexible, so much that he can still vary his placement on the forehand topspin hit in front of his body. Against Wang Hao Steffen could hold his own and answer to the quality of the forehand topspin on an equal level.” Mengel plays Timo Boll ALC Blade and Tenergy 05.
Back to Düsseldorf
Playing for the German Bundesliga Club TTC Frickenhausen, Steffen Mengel now lives and trains in the city of Düsseldorf. He is part of the training group of the German national team and benefits from the excellent coaching of the renowned Helmut Hampl as well as Jörg Rosskopf, Zhu Xiaoyan and Qiu Jianxin.
Mengel was already playing at the World Championships 2013 in Paris and he just received a last minute call to replace the injured Bastian Steger on the German National Team in Tokyo 2014. Prause says: “Steffen surely needs more experience on this top international level.” Accompanying Timo Boll, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Patrick Baum to Tokyo, he will have the opportunity to do just that. “He has showed to be an option for the future.” Prause concludes.
Compilation of Mengel’s match against Wang Hao: