27 Nov 2019

A place secured at the upcoming ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, to be staged from Thursday 12th to 15th December in Zhengzhou, whatever the outcome in the Chinese city, for Mattias Falck it has been a year to remember.

He contributed one of the year’s major success stories on the international stage with his runner up finish at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships. An unforgettable experience which has propelled him to the top of the sport and ITTF’s European Promotions Manager, Elena Dubkova sat down with the Swedish star for a special interview.

by Simon Daish

Standing at 1.88m tall, Falck possesses a wide wingspan making it tough for the opposition to find a way past him. The 28-year-old opts for a unique approach favouring short-pimples on his racquet’s black rubber allowing for a quick flat counter hit when the situation presents itself. Five-times a medallist as a doubles player at the European Championships, Falck represented his country on the Olympic stage at Rio 2016 as well as helping Sweden to a bronze medal finish at the 2018 World Team Championships.

ED: It’s been an incredible season for you. Silver medal at the World Championships in Budapest, you achieved the highest-ranking position of your career in August, new club in Germany, bronze medal at the 2019 European Games, you became a father. An intense year for you!

MF: Yeah absolutely! It’s been a fantastic year for me both in table tennis and also outside. To get a daughter is fantastic but I am really happy with the year so far and I hope I can finish off really strong.

ED: Can you please tell us how did you start playing table tennis and when did you begin to reach pro level?

MF: I start because of my father. He was a table tennis player so he took me down to the hall when I was maybe four, first time to play some balls with me and I started in my first club Lyckeby when I was seven and I said I would become a pro player maybe around 16 years old. I started to practise a little bit more and harder.

ED: The European schedule looks very tight. How do you select which event to play and also find time for practice and recovery? What is the most difficult for you during the season?

MF: As you said it’s a hectic schedule with a lot of tournaments, league matches and it’s hard to find a good solution but at the beginning of the year you have to sit down and look what you want to play and what is possible to play. After that you make a plan, a schedule for the year and as you say recovery is important and you need to find time also for that.

ED: Do you normally sit down with the national team coach or on your own?

MF: I sit down with the national team coach and also our sports chief of the association with a plan but mostly it’s up to me but with dialogue with the national team coach.

ED: Have you ever had any thoughts that you can’t continue playing, think it’s time to stop or take a break for a few months?

MF: No, never like that but of course I’ve had ups and downs. I had six months, one year with a tough period when nothing happened but you need to keep fighting so it’s never been that bad.

Falck pictured in action representing Sweden at the 2019 European Games (Photo: Rémy Gros)

 

ED: What is the best balance in terms of number of practice sessions, fitness training/rest days per week for you?

MF: It’s a good question. If I had to choose anything it would be around 10 table tennis practises, two fitness normally together with the table tennis is good. It’s not so often I get one week at home.

ED: How does it feel personally for you to play against Asian and Chinese players? What are their strengths and limitations? What is the secret of how to beat them?

MF: The Chinese are really strong, also the Asians but especially the Chinese are strong opponents. The top Chinese are almost without weaknesses, so I think you have to play them a lot to learn and adapt your game. It’s going a little bit faster, they have a little bit more spin so it’s hard to say one thing but you get closer and closer.

Mattias Falck is well-versed against Asian opposition (Photo: Rémy Gros)

 

ED: So your secret is just to play against them more often?

MF: Yes, I wish I had a better secret!

ED: Jörgen Persson was your coach at the World Championships. What was the main advice he gave you during the Championships? What kind of lessons did you learn in Budapest??

MF: Jörgen taught me to relax, keep thinking one match at a time, to not look too far forward and stay in the present. He was really good to keep me calm all the time and I learnt that anything is possible. You have to believe it and I had a goal to fight for the medals but it was even better. He gave me a lot of small things like “change the service a lot, and different receives” so I could change my play and not play the same all the time.

Jörgen Persson has played an important role in Falck’s development (Photo: Ireneusz Kanabrodzki)

 

ED: Sweden has many big names in the table tennis world. At the 2018 World Team Championships in Halmstad Sweden won bronze. At the 2019 World Championships you won silver. What has changed for you and your association since the 2019 Worlds?

MF: I think for the association and the sport Sweden has got a little bit bigger. We have more time in the news and the media so this is really good. Table tennis is a little bit bigger, for me a little bit more famous in Halmstad maybe but otherwise it’s almost the same.

ED: Many people came to see you in Halmstad when you arrived home from Budapest right?

MF: Yes, there was a big celebration in the city, it was really nice to have.

ED: There were so many questions from fans. What has changed since you took your wife’s surname? What was the reason?

MF: The reason was that my wife had her mother’s last name, who passed away two years ago with Alzheimer’s disease so that is why I also changed to honour her mother and I think since the change I’ve played a lot better as a Falck than Karlsson so I think this last name is a lot better!

ED: You are good friends with Kristian Karlsson. He is also your doubles partner. Could you talk about spending time together with him? Any funny or cool stories to tell?

MF: Yeah, he’s my best friend, he was my best man also at my wedding. I think I met him for the first time when I was 11. As you say we play doubles and we played junior national team together so we’ve spent a lot of time together, especially at tournaments. It a tough schedule as we said before so it’s hard to find time to hangout, we’re not from the same city in Sweden so we try to catch up when we see each other at tournaments.

Best friend Kristian Karlsson (left) was best man at Falck’s wedding (Photo: Mattias Falck Official Instagram @mattiasf91)

ED: Who is your biggest supporter?

MF: My wife, she always supports me through the good and bad days. She’s is always there for me.

ED: Do you have any hobbies? Do you follow other sports? If so who do you support?

MF: I follow a lot of sports, especially football. The English premier league is the main thing I watch but I try to watch as much sport as possible. I don’t have any special sports athletes that I follow or cheer for.

ED: The young generation is progressing very fast. What do you think is the most important thing at the begging of a career? Also, how do you keep your place at the top and not lose the passion and health on the way to your main goal?

MF: For the young players I think it’s important not to forget to have fun during practise. It’s a lot of hours you’re in the practise hall so if you’re fighting 100% you also need to have some moments of fun, a little bit more relaxed. I think this is important to be able to keep fighting and pushing yourself all the time. For me, to keep at my level and keep pushing myself it’s important to work with goals, it makes it a lot easier for me to get down to the practise hall where you spend a lot of hours every day.

ED: It’s a bit early to ask this question but what would you like to do after finishing the career? Do you have a plan?

MF: I have no idea, I haven’t thought about that and hopefully I can play at this level for at least 10 more years!

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In Depth Mattias Falck