Timo Boll is by far the greatest European player of this current generation. He’s dominated Europe and the World for almost a decade. But he is beatable! And it’s not just the top Chinese that are at it. Fellow German, Dimitrij Ovtcharov came back from 2-0 down to beat Timo 4-2 in the final of the German Open on 4th November 2012.
OK, so maybe the title of this post should be ‘How Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat Timo Boll’ but I decided that ‘How to Beat Timo Boll’ sounded a bit more enticing. So let’s get into it!
At the time of the game, Timo Boll was ranked #5 in the world while Dimitrij Ovtcharov was ranked #11. Timo is a lefty, Dima a righty. Boll is 31 years old, Ovtcharov is just 24. They had met seven times previously, with Timo winning five of those encounters. Interestingly, both times Timo had lost were during times he’d been coming back from injury. Boll had won the German Open four times while Ovtcharov had never claimed his home nations Open title. Timo is a huge favourite and rightly so. He is in top form and won 4-0 in both his quarter-final and semi-final.
Timo and Dimitrij, both German, know each other’s games inside out. They have spent countless hours training together and are close friends. Therefore there is no coaching in the final and the players are left to their own devices. You can watch the shortened game here. Thanks to ttCountenance.
How Dima Beat Timo
I’ve identified five key strengths that were influential in helping Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat Timo Boll. You can read more about them in the game-by-game analysis later on.
The Game-by-Game Analysis
Game 1 was very slow with both players struggling to find their form. Dimitrij Ovtcharov was making numerous unforced errors. I guess both players were getting warmed up. Dima did show a few promising signs however. His return of Timo's serve looked quite strong and his forehand topspin won him a number of points. He was doing well with his backhand serve from the middle of the table, followed up by a strong forehand topspin on the 3rd ball. It looked very important for Dimitrij to get in first with his forehand topspin. Boll wins the game 11-8.
Game 2 was again less than spectacular, with Timo Boll appearing to do just enough to win. However, Dima seemed to be finding some useful tactics. He was going for a big heavy forehand topspin into Timo’s body/middle area, which Timo was frequently blocking off the end of the table. It wasn't particularly pretty table tennis but it was winning points. Interestingly, the ‘prettier points’, such as the loop-to-loop rallies, were almost all won by the more consistent Boll. And that was how it generally went. The quick points, where Ovtcharov got in strong, Boll was losing. The longer points, where the players dropped back from the table, Boll would win. Boll won the second game 11-7 making him now a huge favourite to take the title.
Game 3 starts well for Dima with him staying up to the table much more and dominating the rallies. His forehand topspin into Timo’s body is continuing to win him points even if his backhand isn’t quite coming off as he’d like. Ovtcharov also starts to vary the positioning of his forehand topspin, throwing some wide into Timo’s forehand, forcing him to move. After a well called timeout, Dima comes back fighting. His wristy backhand flick into Timo’s body wins him a few points. Timo is not moving well at all. Despite a few loop-to-loop rallies (won again by Timo), Dimitrij’s tactics are spot on and he takes the end 11-8.
Game 4 was another close one starting with a huge topspin rally that went Dima’s way. Once again the heavy forehand topspin into Timo’s body is proving successful. Ovtcharov also starts returning Boll’s serve incredibly well. It seems as if he is reading topspin/sidespin serves and managing to hack down the back of the ball, imparting heavy backspin. Timo is struggling to attack this receive or touch it short, allowing Dima to dominate. He begins to really let loose with his attacks and it becomes a bit hit or miss. The rallies are over very quickly but this is what Dima wants. All he needs to do is get more on than he misses. Towards the end of the game Dimitrij is staying up to the table and attempting some difficult counter topspins, which pay off. He wins the game 11-7.
Game 5 was completely dominated by Ovtcharov. How things have changed since the first two sets. A pattern seems to have become established that the longer rallies, involving lots of looping and movement between backhand and forehand, are won by the more consistent Timo Boll. However, if Dima can get in early with a strong shot or stay up to the table things are going his way. He’s hitting lots of forehand winners and is now varying them well between Timo’s crossover point and his wide forehand. Ovtcharov is receiving most of Timo’s serves with his backhand, all over the table, trying to flick into Timo’s body. His serves are excellent and his short game is strong, 11-3 to Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Game 6 starts with Timo looking in a bit of a slump. Despite winning the first two points with good loop-to-loop rallies, he loses the next three points and calls a timeout. For the whole game Ovtcharov is completely committed to going for huge winners and trying to finish the rallies off early. He makes a few mistakes and finds himself 5-7 down. But Dima continues to work shots into Timo’s body. The rallies are often between Ovtcharov’s forehand and Boll’s backhand, which is great for Ovtcharov. By the end of the rally Dima is on fire, hitting huge forehand and backhand winners. But remember, this is no surprise. He has made his mistakes already and spent the time trying out these big shots. He’s not missing them now. A big finish gives Dimitrij Ovtcharov the game 11-8 and the match 4-2.
So Timo Boll is beatable and tactics can have a big part to play. Obviously you need to have the abilities to carry out the tactics to an extremely high level but here is how to beat Timo Boll…
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