As the World Championships grow near, we take a closer look at the Butterfly stars and hopes competing in the Düsseldorf event..


Friday, May 26

Timo Boll: the architect joins the killer

Timo Boll 2017

Need a Men’s Doubles partner, China’s Ma Long is a pretty good choice; the reigning Olympic champion, the World champion plus winner of all the prestigious titles on planet earth.

Surely for the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, Germany’s Timo Boll has made a very wise choice! Choose the best player in the world as your partner and you give yourself a more than reasonable chance of success.

However, let’s turn things on their head; surely Ma Long has chosen wisely?

At the Qoros 2015 World Championships in Suzhou, matters did not turn out as the neutral had hoped. Did we not want to see Xu Xin and Zhang Jike, the eventual champions, play Timo Boll and Ma Long in the final? One wonders which pair would the Chinese crowd have supported? It was not to be the scenario; after Timo Boll and Ma Long had beaten the Turkish combination of Ibrahim Gündüz and Gencay Menge, it was defeat in the second round at the hands of Xu Xin and Zhang Jike.

Left handed, pen-hold, adept over the table, near the net, a devastating forehand top spin; Xu Xin is the ideal foil for the powerful right hander. However, could that description not also be applied to Timo Boll? Accepted he is a shake-hands grip player, the pen-hold grip being perceived in some quarters as the superior grip when deft touches are required, in that area of the sport, Timo Boll is as good as anyone; otherwise he would never have never occupied the number one spot on the world rankings. In the modern era you do not reach the pinnacle of your sport if there are flaws in your play.

Equally, surely the forehand topspin stroke executed by Timo Boll may be different from that of Xu Xin but surely it is just as effective, just as dynamic. The forehand topspin stroke executed by Timo Boll might be a few kilometres shorter than the long raking windmill of the man from Jiangsu Province but when it comes to imparting top spin on the ball, who is better? The answer is very simple, nobody. Now, surely that skill is a major asset for Ma Long; the lethal rapid-fire Timo Boll forehand topspin creates the openings for his esteemed partner to release a thunderbolt. Quite simply Timo Boll is the architect in the partnership, Ma Long is the killer.

The combination of heavy topspin and awesome power makes Timo Boll and Ma Long a lethal force; furthermore, such skill does not suggest either is weak from the backhand. There may be the likes of Zhang Jike who is more powerful from that side of the racket but name any other players who better from the backhand than Timo Boll and Ma Long, you will be arguing over your German lager all night. In fact you might need ten pints before you decide that the answer could be Dimitrij Ovtcharov or Jörg Rosskopf!

Furthermore, has not Timo Boll proved himself the ideal partner for the right hander?

Consider his record at the European Championships; in 2002 he partnered Zoltan Fejer-Konnerth to gold; from 2007 in Belgrade to 2010 in Ostrava, he won on four consecutive occasions in harness with Christian Süss. Outstanding performances but was not the pinnacle at the Volkswagen 2005 World Championships in Shanghai, when at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Doubles event, Timo Boll and Christian Süss approached perfection.

Coach Richard Prause sat in awe as they beat one of the finest Men’s Doubles partnerships ever to grace the arenas of the world. They beat China’s Chen Qi and Ma Lin, likewise left and right handed, the pair who the previous year had won Men’s Doubles gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and in both Zagreb in 2007 and two years later in Yokohama were to win the title at the World Championships. The silver medal was the eventual outcome; the German duo was beaten in the final by Kong Linghui and Wang Hao. Runners up spot for Timo Boll in Shanghai but later in 2013 on the ITTF World Tour further north in Changchun, it was victory and now in 2017 the tables are turned, Timo Boll has home advantage, Düsseldorf and a passionate German crowd, time for Timo.

Timo Boll is using his trusted TIMO BOLL ALC blade with TENERGY 05 on forehand and backhand side.

Wednesday, May 24

Adina Diaconu: maintaining tradition, equalling peers

In 1955 when the late Angelica Rozeanu won the last of her six consecutive Women’s Singles World Championships titles; no-one who saw her emerge successful in Utrecht would have believed that in the next 60 years no European female would don the precious crown.

Ever since that date the trophy donated in 1931 by Dr. Gaspar Geist, President of the Hungarian Table Tennis Association, has been lifted high by an Asian athlete. England’s Ann Haydon, later Ann Jones who won the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon in 1969, came within in whisker when she was beaten by the minimal margin in the deciding fifth game by Japan’s Fujie Eguchi.

Similarly, Maria Alexandru reached the final in 1963 in Prague but had to settle for the second step of the podium; like Ann Haydon she lost to a Japanese adversary, she was beaten by Kimiyo Matsuzaki. Maria Alexandru was not able to match the success of her compatriot eight years earlier but it underlined one major factor; if there was to be a threat to Asian hegemony, the most likely country to challenge would be Romania. Notably since those days; players who have proved themselves amongst the best in Europe but just stumbled when competing against those from the east, have emerged. Mihaela Steff, her clone Elizabeta Samara and Daniela Monteiro-Dodean have all laid just claim to be considered amongst the best in the old continent.

Now they have a successor, one who can perhaps equal and surpass the achievements of illustrious colleagues from earlier generations; step forward 17 year old Adina Diaconu, a player whose record at the European Youth Championships stands amongst the best of all time. In 2013 she won the Cadet Girls’ Singles title in Ostrava, the following year in Riva del Garda she made a successful defence. Undaunted by being one of the youngest on duty, she emerged successful in the Junior Girls’ Singles event in Bratislava in 2015 and won again in 2016 in Zagreb.

Now the task is to move to the next stage; to assert her authority when opposing more senior and worldly wise adversaries.

The signs are positive; currently on the Under 18 Girls’ World Rankings, she is listed at no.8, it gives a marker when judged with her peers; however, it is her status on the Women’s World Rankings on which we should focus. At the start of last December she was named at no.123, now in May 2017, she is listed at no.82, having been as high as no.72 in February.

It is the result of Adina Diaconu proving that she is the equal of her peers and is able to move to the next level.

At the Sun International 2016 World Junior Championships staged last December in the South African city of Cape Town, she reached the semi-final stage of the Girls’ Singles event, losing to Hong Kong’s Mak Tze Wing. Now in 2017 with the year only some five months old, already she has two titles to her name. On the ITTF World Junior Circuit she emerged successful in Tunisia, overcoming her colleague, Andreea Dragoman in the final.

A creditable win but as anticipated the success gained later in the year in May is the more creditable; at the ITTF Challenge Zagreb Open she won the Under 21 Women’s Singles event, at the final hurdle she displayed the fact that she was more than a match for Asian opposition. In the title deciding contest she accounted for Korea’s Ji Eunchae. Now at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, she is the no.48 seed in the Women’s Singles event, she partners Bernadette Szocs in the Women’s Doubles competition, the pair being the no.31 seeds; in the Mixed Doubles, she joins forces with Cristian Pletea.

The target for Adina Diaconu in Düsseldorf, of course is to the advance as far as possible but is their another goal more definitive? Currently Japan has a golden generation of players the same age as Adina Diaconu; Miu Hirano, Mima Ito and Hina Hayata all compete in the Liebherr 2017 World Championships.

The target for Adina Diaconu, match or better their performances; then in the next few years can we witness a successor to Angelica Rozeanu?

Tuesday, May 23

Kristian Karlsson: leading the line

Presently listed at no.23 on the Men’s World Rankings, Kristian Karlsson leads the Swedish challenge for honours at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships in the German city of Düsseldorf; for the 25 year old that is an honour in itself.
Just simply consider the names that have gone before, the stars who have spearheaded the hopes of the Nordic nation, it is a who’s who of table tennis.
Those who are more senior years may well remember the efforts extolled by Tony Larsson, later came Hans Alser and Kjell Johansson; we wondered if their efforts would ever be surpassed. In 1971 in Nagoya Stellan Bengtsson gave the answer when he was crowned World champion.
Again we asked the question, would his efforts ever be surpassed; then arrived on the scene the likes of Ulf Carlsson, Erik Lind, Peter Karlsson, Thomas von Scheele, Jörgen Persson and somewhere mixed in amongst that group a certain Jan-Ove Waldner.
It is the footsteps of those illustrious names that Kristian Karlsson treads. He is left handed like Stellan Bengtsson, the first ever left hander to win the Men’s Singles title at a World Championships and still one of only three, the others being Seiji Ono in Pyongyang in 1979 and Frenchman, Jean-Philippe Gatien in 1993 in Gothenburg.
Great players but is Kristian Karlsson the clone of any member of the illustrious trio; it is a pastime over a pint of beer, a glass of wine or an evening meal to compare players of different generations but of course it is a dangerous pastime. Times have changed, technology advances sport, the world moves forward; when Stellan Bengtsson won in Nagoya the word “internet” was a slang phrases meaning that he had returned the ball “into net”, such is life.
However, if we are to measure Kristian Karlsson against anyone; the wise and wonderful, those who have researched the sport will choose the name of Erik Lindh.

Kollektion NAOKI, Kristian Karlsson

At the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Erik Lindh was a Men’s Singles bronze medallist.
Equally Erik Lindh was no mean doubles player; partnering a powerful right hander, he was most effective; notably at the 1981 World Championships in China, he was a bronze medallist in partnership with colleague Jörgen Persson.
Similarly, in harness with namesake but no relation, Mattias Karlsson, Kristian Karlsson has proved a more than worthy partner; the right hand style of Mattias Karlsson, using short pimples on the forehand, has proved the ideal foil for the fast forehand top spin play of Kristian Karlsson.
Notably they won the Men’s Doubles title at the GAC Group 2015 Polish Open, whilst three years earlier in Herning, they were runners up at the European Championships. Furthermore, they have been in good form this year; they advanced the Men’s Doubles final at the Seamaster 2017 Qatar Open in Doha where Japan’s Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima ended title dreams.
In Düsseldorf they may meet again, Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima occupy the top seeded spot in the competition; Kristian Karlsson and Mattias Karlsson reserve the no.8 seeded berth. Behind Patrick Franziska and Jonathan Groth, the no.2 seeds and the Russian duo of Alexey Liventsov and Mikhail Paikov, the no.6 seeds, they are the third highest European pairing
Most certainly in Düsseldorf Kristian Karlsson and Mattias Karlsson are at the forefront of Europe’s Men’s Doubles challenge for honours, as is Kristian Karlsson in the Men’s Singles event.
He is the ninth in the pecking order. The German duo of Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Timo Boll lead the old continent; they are pursued by the evergreen Vladimir Samsonov, with the newer generation of Simon Gauzy, Marcos Freitas, Tiago Apolonia and Stefan Fegerl following suit.
It is those last four names of which Kristian Karlsson is very much a club member, Vladimir Samsonsov is very much in the twilight years of his career and when we arrive in Japan for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Timo Boll will be 39 years old.
Is it possible that when we enter the third decade of the current century, not only will Kristian Karlsson lead the Swedish challenge; could he lead Europe as well? Time will tell.

Kristian is using a Butterfly KORBEL SK7 blade with TENERGY 05 on forehand and backhand side.

About The Author


Seb has succeeded in living his passion for table tennis. A long-time player, he connected to professional table tennis as commentator for the ITTF, travelling to top events such as World Championships and reporting live from the action. In 2014, Seb became part of the Butterfly Team, working in international Sales and Marketing at Butterfly Europe in Germany.

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