Dimitrij Ovtcharov had an incredible year in 2015. At the end of the year (29th December) one of the biggest German Newspapers interviewed the World Number 4 about his thoughts on the current situation in the world of table tennis, his thoughts on the new plastic balls, conditions of the World Tours and the advantage Chinese players have with their equipment.


Dimitrij Ovtcharov - Photo by: myTischtennis.de

This is a very insightful Interview into Dimitrij Ovtcharov's thoughts on table tennis. The original interview is in German which you can find here. Thanks to Christoph Zickert for translating the article to English for all the non German speaking table tennis fans out there: Source of interview by faz.net - Peter Hess.

Dima, your a winner a athlete who works very hard for your achievements. and you are someone who gives everything all the time. Do you think this is your genes or environment such as your parents bringing you up like this or did you get it from somewhere else?

My parents bought me up this way, my parents explained to me very early in my childhood that it is an important trait to work hard to be successful in sport.

A lot of parents talk a lot to their children. How come it stayed with you?

My dad used examples of how it is done. For example in training I used to bite my fingernails, then he said if you can't control yourself you can't have success in sport. Self-discipline, self-control and accurate planning are very important. He always explained to me if you don’t give everything today you cannot make it tomorrow. This is why I go confident into big tournaments as I know I prepared myself well, not just the 5 hours in the training hall but also the time around it. It is important to have a good balance between sleep, nutrition and training. Live disciplined and don’t lose too much energy outside of table tennis.

This is logical but also boring. Is this not counterproductive if it gets joyless?

I’m not that happy with myself. I want to improve myself in the next 7 months till Rio Olympics. Better planning, set weekly and monthly goals and control how I achieve my goals. If I miss some days then Ma Long already has an advantage over me as he does not miss any day. I cannot accept that. I have to work hard.

Can you enjoy and leave table tennis without having a bad conscience?

Having fun is important and I have learned this with time. If you don’t do something with your heart then you lose the fun. Once or twice a week I also drink a glass of red wine and I do it without having a bad conscience as my coaches and doctors explained it to me that it is more positive than negative. Once or twice a week I also eat nicely so I can be happy afterwards but I make sure that my enjoyment for table tennis isn’t effected.

Where do you see more areas for improvement for your preparation to the 2016 Rio Olympics?

In the past few years it always went up hill for me. In the club I play a bigger role, im the most important player for Donic and I have a private sponsor. I need to improve my time management to have a bit more rest. I bought a second phone so I look at my normal phone just at night as there is too much traffic on it.

How do you add something to your learning?

I started to do more tactical analysis. Sascha Nimtz who I played before in Tünder with does statistics for the DTTB with video analysis.

Are the statistics similar to your feelings or do you get surprised sometimes?

There are surprises, I think I have a aggressive backhand flick, the analysis confirm this as well. I win a lot of direct points from it, however even if I don’t win a straight point with the backhand flick I get into a good position in the rally to win the point. On the other hand the analysis shows that I'm in a disadvantage after the 3rd ball after the flick, I never really realized this.

Could this give you an extra thrust to your career?

The analysis can be destroying especially against Ma Long. After my apparently good backhand flick and the second ball. If I can change that and use my strengths against him better, by having a good connection between my strength and avoid my weaknesses then the game against him can be a lot more open.

You speak a lot about Ma Long, the worlds best player, who you haven’t beaten yet. Is he frustrating you or is he the scale where you compare yourself with?

I was very happy when I won the first two sets against him at the German open. However it was more frustrating that I didn’t have a chance the next two sets. Ma Long lost just one game in all tournaments this year, 13/14 tournaments he won. He is also dominating the number 2 or 3 in the world the same as me.

With his confidence he is playing table tennis from another planet.

Self-doubt was Ma Long biggest weakness before.

Exactly, it didn’t help him that he never won a big title. Since he became World champion, he left the self-doubt behind him.

What makes Ma Long so special?

If I can get the ball a few times over the net against him, I’m in an advantage. The problem is he is destroying me within the first few balls. I need to play the first balls against him different, starting with my service as well as my receive.

What ideas do you have to beat the Chinese? Would it not been better to get a Chinese world champion in your coaching team instead of Jörgen Persson?

I'm very happy with my coaching team, and in the DTTZ we have Zhou Zhaoyong and Lei Yang training with Chinese knowledge. In china they have around 30-40 coaches, national coaches, China super-league coaches and their province team coaches. They develop each player with their own system and every coach knows what to do. They also do very simple exercises, there are no secret exercises they do.

So not as strong training partners are the reason for you to miss the next step?

In china they have 30 players in the A squad, that is why the young ones get so strong. When they are 15,16 years old and train with Ma Long they improve so quickly. If I go to World Tours and I train with non Chinese, they are not as good as the best Chinese players but better than the ones in our training group. The top European players need to get together to train.

They are there for the Olympic preparation?

That is not enough, you don’t form a player in 2 months, it takes years. We had a bit of bad luck as well, with Christian Süss who was a fantastic player but he had to stop because of an injury. Partick Baum is ill and doesn’t train in Düsseldorf anymore and Bastian Steger is now 35 and not as good as with 28 which is normal.

Table Tennis doesn’t seem to develop as much

The Chinese always win and in Europe there are not any good young players coming through to change it. On television there is nothing either.

Is Table Tennis a dying sport?

It is hard to say, I think in Europe we are there where we were 10 years ago. However table tennis didn’t get closer to the bigger sports.

Its on you to change it?

I can't change anything, but I have to possibility to start to change something. I think I understand table tennis and when I speak with other players then they agree that you can make table tennis more popular.

It will take a long time to change things and the structure. There are governing bodies where not just table tennis players are in and they do decisions, such as changes in the rules. This is not good for the media as they always need to explain it new. With the new plastic balls we had big problems as the quality of many manufacturers were not good enough. A lot of rally's were getting destroyed by bad bounces, our training balls are so bad, it is frustrating as the rallies end a lot quicker. A new Japanese company is producing a new good plastic ball, we used it at the European championship. A lot of people realized that the rallies got longer and Pär Gerrell who always had a pretty poor backhand could play one now, as the ball bounced hard and regular. He came 3rd.

Why don’t they use the good balls you mentioned the whole time?

Because the event organizers promote the ball by using it and make money from it, so its not the best ball that is used, it’s the biggest company. Rubbers are so much better from Chinese production, especially their forehand rubber which is only available to the Chinese National team players.

What else is in a bad way?

There are tournaments where everything is professional such as the German Open, China Open and Qatar Open. However there are tournaments with low quality of organization halls, hotels and the food is on a low level. Those tournaments are not good for the sport. If we can improve the balls and get equal with the equipment and just organize good tournaments then we would go into the right direction. The prize money got reduced by 40% and is just 1.8 million dollars for all tournaments. In comparison five, six years ago it was 2.5 million dollars. At the Chinese Open the prize money is 15000 dollars and then minus tax. China Open is like the Wimbledon in tennis, this tournament you win just once a life in a lifetime or never and you get just 15000 dollars for it. At smaller tournaments you get maximum 2000 dollars, after flight, food and hotel you are in a minus.

The governing body is doing it or?

Yes but it doesn’t matter who is paying, governing body, sponsor or me if I register myself for a tournament for match practice. My sponsor gave me a better contract so they don’t need to pay as much for tournaments. It is annoying if I have to come 3rd in big tournaments to make no minus.

Why do you do it then?

I love the sport and the competing with the best. I love to stay in the world rankings as well.

The better you’re in the world rankings, the more you earn in with your sponsors?

Not direct, my contracts aren’t performance-related, but the world ranking is important if you negotiate for a new contract. With other players it is more extreme, they spend their own money to play World Tours to make themselves interesting for sponsors or clubs.

Do the organizers need to do it, as they don’t have sponsors to cover the high costs?

I think with smaller tournaments they earn money, whereas the bigger tournaments are just aiming for a no loss tournament.

Do you have another career plan or a specific goal for your career?

I achieved a lot, more than I expected 10 years ago. 2011 I said to my wife I’m ready for table tennis, but if I win a single medal at the 2012 Olympics then nothing is more important. I won bronze and I was happy, two months later I played poorly at the World cup and everything was gone. Then I wanted to become European champion and I won it twice. A World championship medal is the only medal that is missing. I want another medal at the Olympics but a better color then bronze. I’m still hungry and table tennis is a job I love.

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