In three months, Boll, 37, wants to fill the Munich Audi Dome with Dusseldorf. A conversation about the end of career and about Bad Königshofen.


Interview by Andreas Liebmann

"Public enemy is too hard": Timo Boll is feared and respected by the dominant Chinese but today.

(Photo: Carl Sandin / imago)

SZ: A question in your own right, Mr. Boll. If you imagine you were a journalist and tried to lure the ever friendly, polite, often reserved Timo Boll out of the reserve – what would you ask him?

Timo Boll: Oh! … That is hard. I do not talk about private things. (Thinks) Well, so that I really get out of the skin, a lot has to happen. I think I'm a pretty balanced person.

To appeal to your old age would not be the ideal way for you to enjoy it. They have once again become European champions at 37. How is something like this possible?

That's how it turned out. When I signed a major contract at 27, I thought that might be the last one. Of course I never expected to play at this level for so long.

Especially since your body is by no means free of blemishes.

You have to become a chameleon there. Constantly adapt. To the developments of his sport, to changed rules, but also to his own body. Of course, I'm not as supple and explosive as I used to be. But for that I can allow myself less training scope, because the technology has long gone into flesh and blood through all the units. I would never have allowed myself to take a break for a week, then I would have had to start from scratch.

What exactly did you change?

The laughter is great in our training group when I stop after two exercises, and the others train one and a half hours longer. You have to deal with this mentally. But listening to your own body more than peer pressure has done me good.

In the spring, they had replaced Jan-Ove Waldner as the oldest number one in the world rankings and then sneered that they were the slowest number one in history. But not really slower than Waldner at the time with 31, right?

Well, that was perhaps an exaggeration. If I'm fine, I'm already competitive, on the level you certainly not with the Krückstock therefore. But compared to the past, a lot is missing. If I tried today to bend 90 degrees to pull out a ball with full force somewhere, then there would just be a good stab in the back and I would have to stop the game. I have to arrange that. I need a system that I do not have to go with. For that I have to be extremely precise, focused and creative. To dominate tactically.

On the other hand, the current world ranking system clearly favors the frequent players.

I still am. I've become a bit more of a coach

Last year you lost in the World Cup against Tomokazu Harimoto, a 14-year-old. Did not you have the thought: Now is it going slowly?

Not at all. It was the final, I had won against Chinese before. And then I was fascinated by how far the other one is. I never thought it possible to keep up with such a level at this age, physically. Clearly the respect outweighed.

And you beat the wunderkind several times soon after that.

Exactly.

They are just starting a small tour of Bavaria. A show fight in Hallbergmoos, a press conference here in the Munich Audi Dome, which you then try to fill with Borussia Düsseldorf next February. Why did your club and you just choose Munich?

The club always thinks of table tennis as a whole and wants to make the sport more popular. He also likes to go to regions where otherwise no top table tennis is shown. And personally, I have some friends in Munich and I like to be here on vacation, but it has never happened in my long career that I had a competition here.

You know that the best Munich men's teams play in the fourth division, even the FC Bayern?

Yes, this is a pity. Bayern Munich was already a bit higher. As had always hoped that they might advance into the first league, but of course that costs money. Especially the football clubs weigh there already exactly. Werder Bremen is like that, they play in the first division. Or Borussia Dortmund in the second. It depends very much on the main club, and many are then surprised that the budget is not so small.

You also say openly, many would not know that you can also become a millionaire in table tennis.

Of course, this applies especially to the Chinese superstars, who are already in the double-digit million range. At the last China Open, two or three hundred girls were just around the corner, so crazy footballing is unlikely to happen to a footballer.

How do you think it could be that in southern Bavaria and especially in Munich things are not going well with top table tennis?

There are only two ways to get up there. Either you have the big club in the back, which generates money through football, but maybe also realizes that you have a big Asian market there …

… about Bayern …

… also Eintracht Frankfurt had such ambitions. Or you are just a small club with a big patron or a big company, pushing the whole thing.

Counterexample: Your Bavarian tour could go a bit further, in one and a half weeks is the league game for Duesseldorf in Bad Königshofen. No big club, no big company as a financier. Will you play there?

I can not say it yet. I have a contract with my club for a certain minimum number of games, primarily to play internationally.

With 10: 6 points her team is currently only fifth, far behind Ochsenhausen, certainly also because you have played in the Bundesliga so far only one single. So you can not give away many points if you do not want to miss the playoffs as a defending champion.

Clear. Before that there is another important game against Bremen. The club will think carefully if he uses me there.

It is said that you would like to get to know the atmosphere in this small bath Königshofen with its crazy fans. Last year, there were 1300 spectators against Düsseldorf.

My colleagues were really excited about the mood there. Of course that's great when a small club with a young team builds something like that. You do not need the huge budget, they just give the younger ones the chance, as their own plant Kilian Ort …

… your final opponent at the German Championships in March.

Right. Something happens, and so the whole club can evolve.

What can others look for?

This passion and the euphoria.

How can it be that there are TTBL games in front of 100, 150 spectators? This has many a football club in football.

This does not happen in Dusseldorf, but unfortunately in too many other halls. The structures are not professional enough yet. By itself, the spectators come nowhere in the hall, because you have to present yourself well. And just such a face of the club as Kilian attracts much more than any mercenary troupe.

In the Audi Dome fit 7000 people.

A Herculean task. But who knows, maybe it's the last chance to see me here in the area. If you want to be sure, you should buy a ticket.

Such an arena for a league game is certainly the exception. But you have been fishing between two worlds for years anyway. In Germany, you can still live quite undisturbed, in China, where they play every year in the Super League, they are a superstar who can not go unrecognized through the streets. Must be a strange feeling.

That's the dream of every athlete! Others do not have a normal everyday life and miss the opportunity to just go outside. I have both worlds. The relative normal in my home country, and then this superstar existence, which allows me to live very well from my hobby. Constantly having only one grape is brutally exhausting.

How many spectators come to the Chinese league games?

So between 2500 and 7000.

And what about your life in the two and a half months of the year you spend in China?

Totally sealed off. Hall in, 20 soldiers, hall out, 20 soldiers. In any sports interns, brutal training everyday.

You probably will not be courted?

You already have an interpreter, a driver, a dozen people who are just to make your life easier. But there are no vanities of the players, but the coach has the say – and you have to subordinate.

An example?

We always play there in the summer, sometimes it was brutally hot. The air conditioning we had to issue, so it does not blow the balls. It had a loose 35 degrees in the hall, no more air. I had a huge thirst and indicated during the break that I needed water, 'Shuĭ, Shuĭ', but I lost the set, so the coach said, 'Nix Shuĭ, you're listening to me now!' That's the point.

How well do you speak Chinese?

I learned that for nine months at the Confucius Institute in Düsseldorf. It's enough to order a Peking duck in the restaurant.

For the Chinese, you were almost a kind of public enemy, the first European since the Swedes of the nineties, who could really be dangerous to them.

Public enemy is too hard, because the fans have loved me. On the one hand, because I was polite and took time to sign autographs – Chinese do not bother with their fans. And second, because they were grateful that there was at least some competition.

There is not only Timo Boll in Germany, Dimitrij Ovtcharov was also number one. An extremely dynamic attacker who is less gifted than you, but a very hard and meticulous worker. Has his development helped you stay at this level for so long?

We benefited a lot from each other. Dima just in his early years, when he often came to my training in the Odenwald. And that's how he helped me later to maintain my level.

In the top 50, many Germans regularly appear, Patrick Franziska, Ruwen Filus, Ricardo Walther, Bastian Steger. What is actually more amazing: That your sport still gets hardly any TV time and the first league only in livestreams to see – or that despite this lack of attention so many successes are recorded?

I think we work well at the DTTB, because we get the best out of our possibilities. We can hardly influence that with television. We have a contract with the public-law, then have a World Cup in Dortmund with the World Cup final Germany against China, 13 000 spectators in the hall. If nothing comes live, I do not know what else to do. We do not want to moan big, but that was disappointing, just out of respect for the sport. That was almost a small slap in the face.

You can watch four hours of tobogganing on television rather than five minutes of live table tennis – is this the theme we use here?

Oh, the other sports also make it more skillful. Maybe we'll look a little stupid because we're not courting the media. Of course it is nicer to travel to the Alps, have some events there, get in contact with the athletes. This is more fun than driving into a lousy hall and hearing: Do it! We have to work on that.

But that will eventually have to work without the flagship Boll.

Sure, that does not make it any easier. Success must be, otherwise you do not need to be rebellious as a fringe sport.

How long are you going to continue your career?

I would like to play at a good level for another three or four years. But you are not in it at this age. A big injury can not come anymore.

Are you looking forward to the time afterwards?

I'm terribly scared of the moment. I turned 16 professional. Since I was eight I trained almost professionally. I do not know anything else. And I like to do that. When I think about it, well, I do not want to say that tears fall into my eyes, but it's a very queasy feeling. That's why I suck on every moment right now and enjoy it.

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