by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
One of the most prodigious tasks in sport faced Timo Boll, not only playing one of China’s very best and listed at no.2 on the current Men’s World Rankings but time and again he had to mount a recovery as Fan Zhendong made lightning starts.
Earlier in the year at the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup, Timo Boll had trailed 4-10 in the seventh game against Lin Gaoyuan, saving an eventual seven match points before emerging successful.
Against Fan Zhendong there was no such drama but trying to stop a Chinese star once in the lead is a mammoth task; the theory often repeated is that once they gain a notable advantage their technical skills remain as high as ever but they are more relaxed and thus move faster.
“Boll is a very experienced player and we have met several times before. He is in very good form this year. Today I put myself in a lower position to challenge him in the match. I think I played well at the start in the first two games. Towards the latter part, he was able to use his experience and change in rhythm to create some challenges for me. It’s always tough against him, we both tried to take control and restrict each other, we both made some errors in the match but I was able to play the better in the sixth game.” Fan Zhendong
In the opening game Fan Zhendong went ahead 7-1, Timo Boll reduced the arrears but never gained parity, it was very much the same in the second game, Fan Zhendong gained an early 5-1 advantage.
Once again, after Timo Boll had recovered somewhat to secure the third game, Fan Zhendong clinched the first four points and duly won the game.
Ahead by three games to one, in the fifth game, yet again Fan Zhendong sped into an early lead. He went ahead 6-1, Timo Boll having called a “Time Out” when trailing 3-1; the writing was on the wall but Timo Boll was not reading the message.
Focused, he recovered to trail 7-6, before winning the next two points to move ahead 8-7; Fan Zhendong duly restored his advantage at 9-8 but the next three points went to Timo Boll, the German had a lifeline.
However, there was to be no remarkable recovery. Fan Zhendong secured the sixth game after once again making a positive start; a place in the final was secured.