Zhang Jike, the backhand magnificent
Photo By: Rémy Gros
LIEBHERR 2012 World Team Table Tennis Championships
The winners two years earlier in Moscow, China retained the Men´s title at the LIEBHERR World Team Championships in Dortmund on Sunday 1st April 2012 and thus once again held aloft the precious Swaythling Cup.
At the final hurdle, as in the Russian capital city, China overcame Germany; in Moscow it had been by three matches to one, in Dortmund it was even more decisive, the end result was three-nil. At the final hurdle, under the guidance of Liu Guoliang; Zhang Jike, Ma Long and Wang Hao duly delivered.
Video Interviews: Zhang Jike and Liu Guoliang
China had completed the whole itinerary of fixtures without a single individual match being surrendered.
Unquestionably the German trio of Timo Boll, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Patrick Baum fought for the cause; they did themselves great credit; it was defeat with honour, with great honour.
In the final Zhang Jike beat Timo Boll (10-12, 6-11, 11-9, 12-10, 6-11), to give China a fine start. Ma Long followed by defeating Dimitrij Ovtcharov (11-3, 11-9, 13-11) with Wang Hao concluding proceedings by overcoming Patrick Baum (8-11, 11-5, 11-5, 12-10).
The crowd, all 10,000, was on its feet to welcome the players for the final; the Westfalenhallen reverberated to the beat of “YMCA” by the Village People in the city of Dortmund.
Mantle of Responsibility
In Moscow two years earlier, Liu Guoliang, the Head Coach of the Chinese Men’s Team had selected Ma Lin to play the “quick ones”, the player who would play the potential fourth match and this be the first to finish.
Two years later in Dortmund there was no place in the final line-up for the reigning Olympic champion; instead the mantle was passed to Ma Long, the man who since winning the Men’s Singles title at the Asian Games in October 2010, has been unstoppable.
Timo Boll the Talisman
Meanwhile, for Germany, the player in the counterpart position was Timo Boll with Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Patrick Baum in support; the team that had beaten Japan in the semi-finals.
Similarly, China fielded the team that had been successful against Korea one round earlier, Zhang Jike and Wang joined forces with Ma Long.
European Champion Faces World Champion
The outcome, the first match on court saw Timo Boll face Zhang Jike; the European champion versus the World champion.
Tactics for Zhang Jike were clear; do not let Timo Boll attack with the forehand on the first three strokes in the rally, the rotation he imparts on the ball with that stroke as dynamic.
Zhang Jike, the man with outstanding backhand, won a close first game; win a close first game and you have confidence. Certainly that fact added to the belief of Zhang Jike; any service that drifted long from the European champion was dealt with severely.
The reigning World champion dominated the second game.
Trailing by two games to nil, Timo Boll went ahead 5-3 in the third game as Zhang Jike made errors returning service from the backhand; he extended the lead to 7-4 but Zhang Jike levelled at 7-all, a deathly silence engulfed the Westfalenhallen.
The next point both went to Zhang Jike, he had won four in a row. Jörg Rosskopf, the German coach, called “TimOut”.
Four in a row, actually the umpire turned the score to 9-7, Timo Boll and Zhang Jike were in agreement. They advised that was not correct and should be 8-7.
A break and it worked in favour of Timo Boll, he went ahead 10-8, then 10-9; tension filled the air, then pandemonium. The next point went to the national hero.
There was a ray of light for Germany in the opening match but it was Zhang Jike who made the better start in the fourth game; the backhand of the Chinese star electric. However, with the crowd ecstatic, Timo Boll recovered, he levelled at 5-all; then went ahead 6-5. The chant of “Timo, Timo, Timo” echoed around the room.
Game Points Saved
The level of the contest rose; Timo Boll could not put a foot wrong; he went ahead 8-5 and at 10-6 held four game points.
Incredibly Zhang Jike saved all four game points but at 11-10 he could not save again. It was parity.
A Possible Repeat of Bremen and Moscow
A deciding game beckoned. Against Ma Lin in the Men’s semi-finals at the LIEBHERR World Team Championships in Bremen in 2006, Timo Boll had trailed Ma Lin by two games to nil and won. Four years later he achieved exactly the same feat against Ma Long when Germany faced China in the final.
Could he do it again? The answer soon came, it was in the negative.
Zhang Jike Raced Ahead
In the deciding game Zhang Jike raced ahead 6-0; Timo Boll won the next two points. Liu Guoliang, the Head Coach of the Chinese National Team called “Time Out”.
Undoubtedly the move was to calm Zhang Jike but Zhang Jike is a man who like the battle, he thrives on the challenge and he responded.
At 10-5 he held five match points; the first was saved, not the second. Zhang Jike celebrated.
The overriding feeling before the contest was that if Germany was to win; then Timo Boll had to win both his matches. It is a sentiment that pays no disrespect to Dimitrij Ovtcharov or Patrick Baum; just immense respect to Ma Long and Wang Hao.
Thus the pressure was firmly on the shoulders of Dimitrij Ovtcharov, he faced Ma Long, the man in form but whatever the history, the final of a World Championships is special; it’s different.
Dimitrij Ovtcharov Responds, so Does Ma Long
Ma Long dominated the first game but in the second game Dimitrij Ovtcharov established an 8-4 lead; Ma Long reduced the deficit to 9-7, Jörg Rosskopf called “Time Out”.
The break worked but not for Germany; Ma Long directing his forehand top spin strokes towards the backhand of Dimitrij Ovtcharov levelled; then won the next two points and celebrated as though he had won the lottery.
China was assuming control, the momentum had swung inexorably.
Ma Long’s forehand was in top gear at the start of the third game, the backhand was solid and could cope with the German’s attacks. Ma Long made the better start but Dimitrij Ovtcharov, to his great credit, stuck manfully to his task.
Match Points Saved
He levelled at 6-all but at 10-7 it was three match points to Ma Long. Dimitrij Ovtcharov saved two match points; Liu Guoliang called “Time Out”, the next point went to Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
It was 10-all; then a chance for the German at 11-10, game point saved. The chance had gone, Ma Long won the next two points.
China was on an unstoppable path.
Patrick Baum Surprises Wang Hao
Unstoppable, Patrick called a temporary halt by securing the first game against Wang Hao; he took chances, the risks paid off.
However, after some tentative moments at the start of the second game, Wang Hao accelerated into a high gear. He won the second and third games in style; in the fourth game he went ahead 5-2. Jörg Rosskopf called “Time Out”; it was only a temporary stay of execution.
Wang Hao maintained the advantage, at 7-4 ahead, Liu Guoliang called “Time Out”; just to make sure Wang Hao knew the plan and was focused.
Wang Hao Secures Title
The instructions were clear, Wang Hao understood but Patrick Baum levelled at 7-all; then went ahead 9-8. Wang Hao levelled at 9-all; however, at 10-9 it was game point to Patrick Baum.
A fearsome forehand and Wang Hao was level, then an error from a Patrick Baum forehand and Wang Hao had match point; he converted, the Swaythling Cup was in Chinese hands.
It was yet another magnificent performance; China superb.
The Chinese Men’s Team celebrates after beating Germany in the final
(left to right) Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Wang Hao, Liu Guoliang (coach), Ma Lin, Zhang Jike
Photo by Rémy Gros