by Ian Marshall, Editor
Standing between Ovtcharov and a place in this year’s German Open final is a certain Ma Long, the most decorated player in ITTF World Tour men’s singles history with a record 28 titles. The Dragon has defeated Dima in every single one of their 16 meetings.
However, Magdeburg is a magic place for the German great, who etched his place in the hearts of supporters here three years ago by clinching the German Open crown on home soil. Given the vigour, endurance and dynamism with which he dispatched of Fan Zhendong, fans are daring to dream of a repeat success story when this event draws to a close on Sunday 2nd February.
Looking beyond the boundaries of his adoring home nation, the 31-year-old will be keen to repeat another feat as well:
The final German order for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, has yet to be named; as a result of the Minsk 2019 Asian Games, Germany reserved their place in the men’s team event, Timo Boll secured a men’s singles berth as did Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja in the mixed doubles. The question is as to whether it is Patrick Franziska or Ovtcharov who fills the one further men’s singles position.
In Magdeburg, he stated his claim; also history endorses his chances. At every Olympic Games in which he has appeared, Dima has won a medal. He is the most successful European of all.
He made his debut in 2008 in Beijing, the first time the team events were held; in the men’s singles he experienced a fourth round exit at the hands of Hong Kong’s Ko Lai Chak (11-4, 11-7, 11-4, 1-11, 11-1) but earlier in the proceedings, he had proved pivotal to the men’s team silver medal success.
Lining up alongside Timo Boll and Christian Süss, in the semi-final encounter against the Japanese outfit comprising Kan Yo, Seiya Kishikawa and Jun Mizutani; in a 3-2 win, he not only gave Germany the perfect start but as today in Magdeburg proving mentally strong when the pressure mounted. In the opening match of the fixture he overcame the far more experienced Kan Yo by the minimal two point margin in the decider (11-7, 11-13, 13-11, 9-11, 12-10).
A place in the final, there was no stopping the host nation, Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin were in no mood for charity; a 3-0 win was the outcome.
Fast forward four years to London, the 2012 Olympic Games; it was bronze in both the men’s team and men’s singles events.
A change in the schedule when compared with Beijing, the individual events commencing play; after experiencing a semi-final defeat at the hands of China’s Zhang Jike, the champion elect (11-8, 11-3, 5-11, 11-9, 11-8), he accounted for Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan to secure the third step of the podium.
Memorably, the contest was just as hard fought as their second round encounter at the 2020 ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open. In Magdeburg he won in seven games (8-11, 14-12, 16-18, 11-9, 3-11, 11-6, 12-10), in London slightly less dramatically (18-16, 11-5, 11-6, 10-12, 13-11).
Bronze in the men’s singles, it was the same in the men’s team alongside Timo Boll and Bastian Steger. A 3-1 penultimate round defeat was the outcome against China’s Ma Long, Wang Hao and Zhang Jike, before by the same margin success was gained in the bronze medal fixture in opposition to Hong Kong’s Leung Chu Yan, Jiang Tianyi and Tang Peng.
Crucially, in the second match of the fixture, Ovtcharov overcame Tang Peng (13-11, 11-13, 11-9, 11-9) very much the player who spearheaded the Hong Kong challenge.
Rio de Janeiro
Podium finishes in Beijing and London, in the men’s team event in Rio de Janeiro it was the same.
After losing to Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus in the men’s singles quarter-finals (8-11, 11-7, 9-11, 4-11, 11-2, 14-12), Dima proved pivotal to team bronze.
Once again with Timo Boll and Bastian Steger on duty, a 3-1 semi-final defeat was the order against Japan’s Jun Mizutani, Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura; notably Ovtcharov the one winner, he beat Maharu Yoshimura in the opening contest (11-8, 11-3, 11-3).
Likewise, in the final on the one occasion he was required to enter the arena when facing the Korea Republic’s Joo Saehyuk, Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu, he succeeded. In a 3-1 overall team win, he beat Joo Saehyuk (11-5, 11-9, 8-11, 2-11, 11-6) in the crucial second match of the encounter.
Back to Magdeburg
Now approaching four years later, in Magdeburg, Ovtcharov was again in outstanding form. He ended the remarkable run of Fan Zhendong who had remained unbeaten since Sunday 6th October when experiencing a semi-final defeat against colleague Lin Gaoyuan (6-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-7, 8-11, 11-5) at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open in Stockholm. He had progressed to win on the ITTF World Tour in Germany and Austria, at the Agricultural Bank of China Grand Finals, the Chengdu Airlines Men’s World Cup and earlier this year at the Marvellous 12 in Shenzhen.
One run of success ended, now alongside Timo Boll can Dima become the only player to win medals in the table tennis events at four consecutive Olympic Games; present form suggests more than possible!