By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Sep 25 (Xinhua) -- Who honestly expects to win a major table tennis tournament only returning to the game two months before? Timo Boll had no expectations when traveling to the southern Spanish city of Alicante to play the European Championships.
"It is going to be one of my shorter tournaments," he assumed after suffering a persistent back injury that had kept him sidelined for over six weeks.
Now 37-year-old Boll has won his seventh European singles title making him the oldest ever European champion in table tennis history. The German Methuselah broke the record of Englishmen John Hilton who in 1980 won the title when aged 32.
It was Boll's 18th European medal after being at the top of the game for the past 15 years. He claimed his first singles title when beating the Swedish legend Jan Ove Waldner in Eindhoven, the Netherlands in 1998.
Before Alicante Boll rated himself as "miles away from anything like a medal" but had to admit to having surprised not only his opponents but also himself. He said he thought more about some relaxing days on the beautiful Alicante beaches rather than playing a big part in the championships.
"I am a realistic person and I know myself pretty well. After all, I had a lot of problems in the months before," said the world No. 4 before adding "that old age does not prevent you from winning titles."
His opponents in 2018 were 11.7 years younger on average.
He had hardly won a game prior to the championships "no matter whom I was playing against. They were already making jokes about me in our training group. But in Alicante I still felt the desire to keep on playing and win the thing," he commented. "But I never ever expected to end up winning," he said after beating Romanian Ovidiu Ionescu by 4-1 to win again six years after his last European triumph.
Boll said table tennis still gives him the greatest possible enjoyment. "I think you need that feeling to go on and not stop. I still have this feeling, and I am sure it will stay for a while," he said.
Right after the Alicante campaign, he made plans for the next years mentioning the 2018 World Cup in Paris this October, the World Championships in Budapest in 2019 and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. And more: His contract at his club Borussia Duesseldorf runs until 2022 when he will be 41. Boll made clear he intends to stay on board until then.
If Boll manages to keep his unique desire and feel for table tennis he will remain a tough nut to crack. The main reason for the German legend's success seems to be that he doesn't mind taking a break and he seems to know to what extent he can still stress his body.
"I'm still before every match," he said before admitting he would resign as soon as "I have no more fun playing."
German national coach and all-time great Joerg Rosskopf said Boll's advantage is that "he never seems to lose his patience when he has to overcome an injury." In contrast the world No. 5 Dimitrij Ovtcharov still has to learn about how to deal with injuries and managing his body. "We will talk to him soon about the topic," Rosskopf said.
As for the "table tennis grandpa" Rosskopf is convinced "I don't have to give him much help." Rosskopf is happy Germany's new generation still has time to develop in the shadow of the German hero Boll. It seems Boll has the unique ability to win the titles on his own, no matter how old he is.