by Simon Daish
Frustrating run to Incheon
One of the true legends of the game it’s never a surprise to see Timo Boll mentioned amongst the list of title contenders wherever he plays, but his results prior to the 2017 Korea Open didn’t seem to present any hints as to the magnificent journey that awaited in Incheon.
Featuring just twice on the previous year’s ITTF World Tour, Boll was eliminated at the third hurdle of the 2016 German Open after succumbing to a straight games to Vladimir Samsonov. Then, when taking to the 2016 Korea Open stage five months later Boll suffered a shock round one defeat at the hands of Tristan Flore.
A much brighter display at the 2016 European Championships but Boll was still left disappointed with his semi-final exit to Simon Gauzy and that frustration was seen again in February 2017 as Boll lost out to the Frenchman yet again at the 2017 Europe Top 16 Cup event in Antibes. Boll wasn’t a man in form, but his luck was about to take a turn for the better.
Placed in the upper half of the men’s singles draw in Incheon, Boll opened his account in style, needing just four games to see off the host nation’s Park Jeongwoo (11-5, 11-5, 11-9, 11-8). Keeping a perfect record in his following two encounters against Gao Ning (11-9, 11-2, 11-2, 11-2) and Kenta Matsudaira (11-8, 11-8, 11-4, 14-12), Boll had reached the penultimate round without dropping a single game!
Taking on Maharu Yoshimura for the ticket to the final, Boll was forced to up his game and he lived up to the task as he secured a hard fought 4-2 win (11-9, 14-16, 12-14, 11-2, 11-9, 11-9). Boll was one step away from the title, but first he would have to negotiate a tricky meeting with fellow countryman and surprise package of the tournament Patrick Franziska.
Unseeded and required to start right at the beginning in the qualification rounds, Franziska completely outperformed expectations with main draw victories over Yuya Oshima, Koki Niwa, Kristian Karlsson and Lim Jonghoon to reach his first-ever ITTF World Tour men’s singles final. However, it wasn’t his first final in Incheon having already won silver alongside Denmark’s Jonathan Groth in the men’s doubles event.
Battle of frenemies
Two Germans meeting face-to-face for the gold medal spot and good friends at that too. No matter the result the country’s table tennis fans could relax to a certain extend in the knowledge that one of their beloved players would be bringing the title home, but which one would it be?
Enjoying the stronger start, Boll set the early pace and looked the more comfortable of the two finalists. Still trying to find his footing in his first singles final, Franziska managed to save two game points but ultimately found himself 1-0 behind.
A much tighter game two followed as Franziska took it right down to the wire – adding another saved game point to his collection but once again the game belonged to Boll who extended his advantage to 2-0.
Just as Franziska was beginning to question his luck, a repeat outcome from game two occurred in the third game. Putting up a brave fight, Franziska surely deserved better than to find himself three games down! The experienced man that he is, Boll remained focused on the task at hand and before long the contest was over (11-8, 12-10, 12-10, 11-6). Just the four games were required to see Boll over the finish line.
“I have the feeling, I´m gaining back my skills and abilities but I still feel I need to improve on some physical details such as the footwork. It won’t be easy playing at home at the forthcoming World Championships but I will feel more electrified than other events. I think it’s very important to have a good start and then I can improve as the tournament goes on. I can feel a big difference with the new ball. I think it´s better than the previous and you are able to play more rallies. It seems kind of chalky and has no grip on the rubber.” Timo Boll
One month later at the 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf, Boll tapped into that electrifying atmosphere he was referring to in his comment to land a noteworthy top eight finish in front of the home crowd – talk about a confidence boost off the back of his title win in Incheon!
Long wait comes to an end
So it was a successful trip to Incheon for Timo, who made it 19 men’s singles title wins from 27 finals on the ITTF World Tour, bringing a seven year wait to an end with his previous victory coming against Jun Mizutani at the 2010 Japan Open in Kobe.
Back on the top step of the podium aged 36 at the time! A great achievement from one of the sport’s all-time greats.