by Wade Townsend
Vladimir Samsonov aka Vladi is an undisputed legend of the game. The smoothest table tennis player around, he has a timeless style. Just think, it’s twenty years ago that he was facing off against Jan-Ove Waldner in the final of the Manchester World Championships. The Swede had the perfect tournament, winning without dropping a game. It’s difficult when you meet perfection.
Meanwhile, Vladi has never really had a major tournament where all the stars aligned and everything just clicked. With a little luck a World and Olympic title could easily have been his.
So with the Leibherr 2017 World Table Tennis Championships just around the corner what are Vladi’s chances?
Yes, his game is beautiful. Vladi can cover the table no problem, he is three steps ahead of his opponent. But we’ve been watching him for two decades and not much has changed. We know what to expect. It is now all a little too predictable. So wouldn’t it be great to be surprised? No, he doesn’t have to come out with a shaved head like Liu Guoliang in the Sydney Olympics, and there is little chance for Vladi to step on to the court in some Adam Bobrow inspired fashion. But how about a change of tactic? The master of passive aggressive play is predictable. They expect the rope-a-dope. But can he dance?
Picture this. Out comes Vladi, six foot and two inches of pure aggression. He’s playing all table forehands, making third ball pivot winners like Ma Lin. Forget the short game. Dig long then hit half-volley forehand counter winners. Think a giant Masataka Morizono flying around the court countering everything. The crowd would go ballistic and the opponents would be scratching their heads. Vladi would need some serious physio, a tonne of ice baths, and maybe even a shoulder replacement at the end of the week, but it would be worth it.
Another veteran at the top of their sport, Roger Federer, changed his game, looking for the volley. Despite the different sport, there is some similarity. The serve and volley is but of the old school repertoire. The same can be said about the third ball game. The big serving and forehand third ball play is really a 90s relic now. Meanwhile the all table forehand has disappeared with the classic pengrip player.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but someone resurrecting the third ball and all forehand game would leave lot of fans with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and who would be a more surprising candidate to take it on than Samsonov. Because as it stands, Vladi is comfortable in his game, but comfortable isn’t going to cut it in Dusseldorf.