by Wade Townsend
Three years ago Sweden’s Martin Friis took out the 2014 ITTF World Hopes Challenge title and booked himself a ticket to the World Cadet Challenge (WCC) in Barbados. In 2017 he has graduated and will debut for Team Europe at the WCC in Fiji.
The biggest drawcard for Friis competing at this year’s event is the competitors. He is developing a cultivated taste for table tennis and is looking forward to exotic encounters.
“There are many players I haven’t seen before,” says Friis, “so we get to see the players from Asia and Africa, which is really nice. Of course player’s styles vary from country to country in Europe, but between the continents the players are very different.”
The opponents aren’t all that is foreign to Friis, so are the hot and humid conditions of Suva. Fiji is faraway from those Nordic countries where a tan can only be found in a spray can. Viking blood never found its way to the tropics.
“It’s so much warmer here, you never get this sweaty in Sweden,” says Friis after finishing up the morning training session.
But so far it doesn’t seem to be a problem for the young Swede. At the World Cadet Training Camp his talents continue to build.
Friis has unbelievable pair of hands and style that feels like a throwback to the early 90s. A sense of nostalgia sweeps over anyone watching him play; a welcome feeling for anyone that misses the golden age of Swedish table tennis.
He has the ball on a string and is always enjoying the game.
“I just want to have fun and play as good as I can, and just see how good I can be.” Martin Friis
And on debut for Team Europe, Friis couldn’t have asked for a more spirited group of boys to compete with. The European contingent is a mischievous gang of misfits that fill the stadium with both energy and warmth.
In practice games Neven Cegnar, the team coach, jokingly threatens the players they will miss out on lunch if the lose, making them hungry for the win.
It works. The team cheers ‘Europa!’ each time they win a game. There are high fives and hugs because today they get to eat.
And after the training, stretching evolves in to a wrestling match on the floor; cadets imitating lion cubs.
Martin Friis has found himself in the right crowd as he moves on up from Hopes to Cadets.