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!

The Stats

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.

  • 3rd ball attack: Dima’s forehand topspin, in particular, was winning him a huge number of points. He started off attacking with heavy spin into Timo’s crossover/middle but then started switching it up by aiming some towards Timo’s wide forehand. He never hit balls into Timo’s forehand area or to places that would be easy for him to counter. At times Dima was a bit hit or miss but he was getting enough winners on to justify the tactic.
  • Service variation: His fantastic 3rd balls were all set up by his excellent service variation. As you all know Dima has that backhand serve from the middle of the table that is particularly awkward but he also has great disguise on his forehand serves. By serving from the middle it stopped the common issue when playing a lefty of playing the majority of the game between their forehand and your backhand.
  • Backhand return of serve: Most return of serves were played using the backhand. Ovtcharov was able to flick, with a lot of wrist, into Timo’s crossover. He also often played a heavy backspin dig shot off a topspin/sidespin serve. This was almost like a deliberate misread of serve. You know when you do a great short topspin serve and your opponent misreads it, plays a push but happens to catch the ball really well. It leaves you with a very heavy backspin, awkward ball to play. Dima was doing this on purpose, hacking down the back of the ball, again aiming for Timo’s crossover, making the 3rd ball very hard to flick or keep short.
  • Staying up to the table: It’s great to watch when players drop back from the table and play huge topspin-to-topspin rallies on both wings. However, Timo is great at that. He makes it look easy and his consistency is incredible. In general Dimitrij lost those points. Towards the end of the game he got better at staying up to the table and either forcing Timo back or playing a quick, reflex game. He was beating Timo by opening up first and/or trying to counter loop off the bounce, a hard shot to play but almost certainly a winner if done correctly.
  • Explosive footwork: The difference between Timo and Dima when they were both up to table was the explosive speed of Ovtcharov’s footwork. Timo looked good when given time but when rushed he was struggling to move, especially to balls put to his crossover. Dimitrij, on the other hand, got better and better. By the end of the match he was darting around the corner, playing huge forehand winners from the backhand side. This speed up to the table, and his ability to anticipate the ball, made a huge different to the outcome of the match.

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…

  1. Stay up to the table.
  2. Avoid loop-to-loop rallies.
  3. Attack strong and early into Timo’s crossover area.
  4. Serve from the middle of the table.
  5. Flick receive as much as possible.
  6. Be quick (Timo is 31 after all).

Thanks you very much for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this post then please ‘like’ it below and help me earn a position writing on a more regular basis for Table Tennis Master.

Ben Larcombe

Views: 2436

Comment by Josha Matthewman on November 26, 2012 at 3:10pm
Very well written and informative mate
Comment by Ben Larcombe on November 27, 2012 at 12:57am

Cheers Josh, Your article was excellent too.

Comment by guy chiron on November 30, 2012 at 12:20pm
a very interesting analysis of the game and for me, as a French player, a good opportunity to improve my "special tabletennis" English too !
Comment by STEPHEN TARR on December 2, 2012 at 2:50pm

nice article very interesting

Comment by Schplonk on May 14, 2013 at 6:47am

Detailed game reviews are very helpful for those (like me) developing their game. Keep up the good work :o)

Comment by Dadang Lukman on August 31, 2013 at 10:06am

Very useful tips.. especially for playing against a player of Timo's type. Thanks.

Comment by Jo Schick on August 31, 2013 at 3:43pm
Very well analysed and written, I assume. Tranks a Lot!
Comment by Jo Schick on August 31, 2013 at 3:43pm
Thanks .....


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