by Ian Marshall & Simon Daish
Overall it is the fourth time in what is now nine appearances in the competition, which prior to 2015 was the Europe Top 12 and since a test event was staged in Zadar in 1971, with the exception of 2013, has been held ever since that date.
Performances in the competition very much reflect the rise of Dimitrij Ovtcharov from promising young player to world class star.
He made his first appearance in the tournament in 2008 on home soil in Frankfurt and did not progress beyond the initial group phase. It was the same on the next three appearances.In Düsseldorf in 2009 and in 2010 he did not claim a quarter-final place; likewise in Liège in 2011, farewell at the end of the group stage was his lot.
However, one year later, fortunes changed; he beat Russia’s Kirill Skachkov in the final in Lyon / Villeurbanne before in 2014 in Lausanne reaching the semi-final round, where Denmark’s Michael Maze ended adventures.
The rest as they say is history; in 2015 he defeated Portugal’s Marcos Freitas in the final, in 2016 it was Portugal’s João Monteiro; now Alexander Shibaev completes the hat-trick.
“I am happy to win the Europe Top 16, for me it was the first tournament in 2017. It gives some good confidence for next month towards the World Championships in Düsseldorf. Apart from that, it was also one of my best performances for several months; for me it had a good outcome. I practised in January for several weeks in a row at home in Düsseldorf, that was important. In the final I could have played better in the second, fourth and sixth games; so I am not fully satisfied with the performance. In general I am pleased”, Dimitrij Ovtcharov
Furthermore, victory in Antibes means that Dimitrij Ovtcharov is now third on the all-time champions list.
Four wins, he is now level with Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus who won in 1998 (Halmstad), 1999 (Split), 2001 (Wels) and 2007 (Arezzo).
Parity with one of the great names of Europe, Dimitrij Ovtcharov is not the leading name from his own country; that privilege belongs to the only other German to have won the title.
He is one place behind colleague Tim Boll who has five wins; he won in 2002 (Rotterdam), 2003 (Saarbrücken), 2006 (Copenhagen), 2009 (Düsseldorf) and 2010 (Düsseldorf).
Impressive but to be the master, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has some distance to go; Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner won the title on no less than seven occasions. He won in 1984 (Bratislava), 1986 (Södertälje), 1988 (Lubljana), 1989 (Charlerio), 1993 (Copenhagen), 1995 (Dijon) and 1996 (Charleroi).
However, the legendary Swede never won three in a row; that honour belongs to Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
A place in the final means an invitation to the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup to be held later in the year in Liège; it also means a guaranteed invitation for Frenchman, Simon Gauzy.
In the third place contest, the no.5 seed, he accounted for Ukraine’s Kou Lei, the no.12 seed (Kou Lei (11-6, 11-3, 11-9, 16-14).
“I am really happy to have performed well in Antibes and it means a lot to me to play in front of my family, my friends and in front of this great crowd so I’m really happy that I could do this here. Kou Lei is a fantastic player, I played against him three times last year and I lost to him three times so I was kind of the underdog in this match; this performance here gives me a lot of confidence and I’m really looking forward to the World Championships in Düsseldorf”, Simon Gauzy.
Players finishing the first three places at the 2017 ITTF-Europe Top 16 Cup gain invitations for the Liebherr Men’s World Cup, further places may become available following continental tournaments in Africa, America, Asia and Oceania.
2017 ITTF-Europe Top 16: Watch the proceedings unfold, live streaming from Antibes each day;