by Kabir Nagpal & Ian Marshall
Belief and is that not the key to Dimitrij Ovtcharov?
The first ever World Junior Championships staged in 2003 in the Chilean capital city of Santiago was the first occasion when we saw the then 15 year old on the international stage; Klaus Schmittiger, the national coach on duty, was in no doubt that the aspiring teenager had a great future.
He was correct!
Since those days, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has developed his own style of play. At the start of his career, on the global scene the forehand was by far the dominant stroke, in the past two decades the backhand had grown in importance; at the very highest levels China’s Zhang Jike is a major example, the other is Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Equally, the backhand serving technique has been taken to a different level; players like Hungary’s Tibor Klampar and Croatia’s Zoran Primorac would often serve from the backhand, standing at the centre of the table. The reason being twofold: they could control the serve better in a crucial situation and could cover the angles from the opponent’s return.
Now, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has extended this technique. He will serve with the backhand from the forehand; it is a style that would have been derided in the previous century but because the backhand top spin stroke is his strength, the tactic works. It makes him different, the player who is different is the winner.
Add to his technical skills, a strong mental attitude; bringing the crowd to their feet at the GETEC Arena in Magdeburg is not new.
In 2017, at the semi-final stage of the men’s singles event, Dima beat China’s Fan Zhendong in a thrilling seven games duel, decided by the very narrowest of margins (13-11, 11-7, 7-11, 3-11, 11-9, 8-11, 13-11).
It was a fitting déjà vu on Saturday 1st February 2020, when he repeated the feat at the quarter-final stage. Seeded no.10, he accounted for Fan – again in dramatic fashion – prevailing after being 1-3 down to win 4-3 (9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-5, 12-10).
It would have been a dream come true had Dima reached the final.
However, against Ma Long it was too much to ask for in the end. Despite his best efforts to make it yet another crunch battle – coming back from 0-2 to 2-2 in the semi-final – the Dragon was as calm as his opponent and found a way to win 4-2 instead (9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-5, 12-10) the 17th consecutive meeting Dima lost to Ma.
The biggest stage of all approaching – the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – and yet another medal?
Starting in Beijing in 2008, ever present since that time, always he departed with at least one medal to his name; a quite staggering record, just look at the names that would have liked just one.
It never came the way of world champions, Sweden’s Jörgen Persson and Austria’s Werner Schlager and how Vladimir Samsonov would like an Olympic medal to crown his career.