By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- Despite latest defeats and problems with the new ball used in international competition, China's table tennis stars are still the world's leading fraction, said German Timo Boll.
"We managed to close the gap a little bit, but they still rule table tennis," the German number two and former first of world rankings said in a recent Xinhua interview.
"When it comes to technique, athleticism, and speed they are the best," the three times World Champion commented.
Despite latest defeats of Chinese top-ranked performers at the World Cup, Boll does not see a change of guards.
"I would not speak about a change of guards. To say that is far too much. And don't forget, Dimitri (Ovtcharov) and I have to invest a lot trying to keep our current high level. When beating some of the Chinese we had reached the ultimate," Boll emphasized. To beat top Chinese players, everything has to work perfectly for the German challengers.
Some call Boll an evergreen in table tennis. The German number two is the only one over 35 years among the top ten in the current world rankings. Turning 37 in March 2018 the fan of the football sides Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt is said to be in his golden years.
German national coach Joerg Rosskopf expects Boll to continue at a top level until 2020 and beyond. "He does not have to think about retirement. He is an exceptionally gifted player, which allows him to play at such a high level since over ten years," the former German international said.
Boll confirmed to play until 2020. "When I stay fit, I have some more years to go. I still love this sport," the Hessen-born athlete said.
Boll said he would retire "when you can hardly train or attend competitions without feeling any pain." Boll said he is undergoing regular medical checks every two weeks and is keeping training and competition efforts in balance.
China's problems to some extent would be caused by the new type of ball used in international competition. "The new ball is allowing less spin which makes it easier to return. I call the new ball less dangerous. You just have better control over ball and game," Boll emphasized.
He has changed his game to gain more points through tactical variety and placing the ball more precisely. The new type of ball makes it easier for him to return and that leads to more confidence when returning a hard service.
Boll is convinced China's top players are the favorites of the 2018 team World Cup.
"They will come up with something special for the World Championships and get back to an intense training effort. But clearly the Japanese, and we are the biggest opponents for China," Boll said.
The German team is happy about closing the gap as the entire top of table tennis moved closer together. The German team is ready to win a medal at the 2018 team World Championship.
"We are happy to be within reach of the leading Chinese players. Table tennis competitions around the world are getting tighter now, and we see more surprising results than before."
Boll mentioned that Olympic Champion and World Champion Ma Long in his perspective is the World's best player narrowly followed by Fan Zhendong.
"Ma Long was the strongest player over the last 3 to 4 years. He is hard to beat due to his special game style," the German stressed after beating Ma Long recently. "But due to his age, things get harder even for him. He has to invest a lot and can't be at 100 percent in every game. As an opponent, you have to try to take advantage of that."
Experience and his age give him the opportunity to face challenges with much more easiness as in his early years as pressure and expectation were much higher Boll stressed.
Boll said Fan Zhendong is not far behind Ma Long. "He is more or less at the same level and above the three to four (players) following. China still has two top players and three to four behind on an absolute world-class level," he added.
To have attended many competitive tournaments is one of the reasons for the current success of Ovtcharov and him.
"It is energy taking at times, but we get along well. We were pushed to a higher level," Boll stressed and said it would give German table tennis a motivation boost to soon see Ovtcharov as the World's number one in the rankings.
"He would receive the reward for a lot of good tournaments and thanks to the new ranking system in operation from January 2018 on he has got the chance to achieve the top," he commented.
Boll announced he would soon launch an online training web page (www.timoboll-webcoach.com) for talents and amateurs.
Young talents and amateur players can benefit from training and technique advice. Boll plans live online sessions. Players can get a detailed analysis when handing in videos of their training or games.