Boll – Ovtcharov: the battle for the German crown

Dimitrij Ovtcharov
Dimitrij Ovtcharov competing for TTC Fakel Gazprom Orenburg. Photo: Verein

The club competition season is about to finish and the 2016/2017 Table Tennis Champions League Men have recently played the first leg of the finals. Borussia Düsseldorf, from Germany, and Russia’s TTC Fakel Gazprom Orenburg reached the final stage of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament. With a 0-3 result for the Russian team, it seems that the team, composed of Jun Mizutani, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Vladimir Samsonov, will not have trouble gaining one more title for Orenburg.

The finals started in thrilling fashion, as the first match was played by the two best German and European players in recent – and not so recent – times: Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. The match result: 2-3 (11-7, 5-11, 8-11, 11-6, 12-14) for Ovtcharov, whose higher World Ranking position prevailed and gave TTC Fakel Gazprom the first point of the leg.

In this article, we will analyze the match between Timo Boll and Dimitij Ovtcharov, presenting some stats, charts and insights which will help us understand the key factors that explain the result.

The match

Düsseldorf, the capital of table tennis, was the stage for the battle between Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. The match lived up to expectations, getting to the very last set, with lots of exciting rallies.

The first set was easily controlled by Boll, which ended 11-7. Comprised of short rallies, with the longest being only six shots, and a subtle aspect: Ovtcharov’s trouble when flicking. He was just not able to take the initiative when attacking on Boll’s short serves, which caused him lose the point whenever he tried: four times.

The second set turned it around with Ovtcharov leading it from the beginning. He achieved a 0-3 advantage first, 4-7 later and a final 5-11 to tie the match. Four forehand topspin mistakes did not help Boll to compete properly. However, the key moment of the second set was at 4-6 when Boll did a bad job returning both Ovtcharov’s serves, and won those points with two third-ball winners.

The third set of the match had much longer rallies than the previous ones. This seemed to play in Ovtcharov’s favour, as Boll lacked some power when far from the table and found it difficult to reach alternating forehand and backhand balls. A leading 2-6 was almost overturned by Boll, who forced his opponent to use his timeout with a 6-7 on the scoreboard. However, a controversial let – the ball touched the net according to the referee – after Boll had already won the point, caused him lose his focus and fail his service when being 7-8 down. The set score: 8-11 for Ovtcharov.

Boll’s experience from his long career was needed in that moment. In the fourth set, he re-established his competitive form and got a leading 3-0, a margin we would never see reduced, to quickly finish the set 11-6. However, Ovtcharov’s passivity really influenced the result, as he opted for blocking more often than counter-attacking, as he did in the previous sets.

The final, and deciding, set was led by Ovtcharov almost from the beginning. A 1-6 was followed by a 6-9 and then 7-10, which resulted in three match balls for the younger German player. Nevertheless, Boll saved all of them, and got two match balls in a row (11-10 and 12-11), which he could not win. An exceptional block after a stunning forehand flick by Boll allowed Ovtcharov to keep getting chances in the set, which he finally won 12-14, to settle the match with a 2-3 in the set scoreboard.

Match highlights can be watched in this video:

The numbers

Let’s start first with some basic stats on the match:


It is obvious that it was pretty tight throughout the whole match, as both players achieved similar figures. However, there is one aspect which differs: the number of winners  Ovtcharov had with eleven,  compared to Boll who only won seven.

Now we are going to take a look at how the rally length evolved during the match:


As the match went on, the rally length increased, from an average rally length of 4.16 shots in the first set to 6.58 and 5.26 in the fourth and fifth sets. Boll seemed to be more comfortable with shorter rallies, while Ovtcharov tended to play better farther from the table and lobbing.

The list of the longest rallies of the match confirms this hypothesis:

Rally length Winner
23 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
20 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
15 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
13 Timo Boll
12 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
11 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
11 Timo Boll
11 Timo Boll
10 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
10 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
9 Timo Boll
9 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
9 Timo Boll
9 Timo Boll
9 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
9 Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Regarding the kind of strokes that each player used, the following pie charts give a brief view into this:


Both players have a similar distribution of shots. However, there are slight differences between them. As usual, Ovtcharov uses more backhand shots than his opponent. This time, 103 out of his 211 shots, which represents almost 50%. On the other hand, Boll’s forehand shots made up almost 60% of all his shots.

Apart from that, Boll’s usage of the forehand flick is almost non-existent, using it only 4 times, compared to Ovtcharov, who used it 12 times. This enabled him to attack shorter balls and take the game initiative.

Now let’s see the winners and mistakes ratio, classified by type of shot:

winners_and_mistakes_boll winners_and_mistakes_ovtcharov

It is obvious that the attacking skills of Ovtcharov stood out against Boll’s. As can be seen, Boll’s mistakes with his forehand topspin account for almost half his total number of failed shots. On the other hand, Ovtcharov had 6 backhand topspin winners, which is almost as many winners as all of Boll’s.

Going deeper on this matter, we realize that 4 out of the 18 mistakes that Boll made with his forehand topspin happened when trying to return Ovtcharov’s serve. However, here comes a remarkable fact: Ovtcharov only performed 2 backhand serves out of his 47 attempts during the whole match. According to our previous article analyzing his serve, it is quite a strange thing for him as he usually has a lot more of his widely-known backhand sidespin serves.

The keys

After examining the match and all the insights we got from its stats, we are able to make some conclusions about the key factors that determined the result.

At first glance, it seems that Boll struggled when Ovtcharov was able to take the initiative and move him out from the table. Boll had difficulties when counterattacking, especially when swapping from forehand to backhand and vice versa.

Furthermore, Boll lost his focus twice in the match: after the controversial let and when he failed to return two services in a row. Ovtcharov took advantage of these to secure two sets in a row which was enough for him to get to the last match. Even with a lower performance in the fourth set and three match balls lost in a row, Ovtcharov managed to keep his chances alive. A high-class block stopped one of the few forehand flicks that Boll attempted, ending in a match that both of them could have won.

A tight rivalry

According to the ITTF website, Boll and Ovtcharov have played nine times in international competitions. Ovtcharov leads this particular German battle, with five victories.

This time, he made it happen again. However, the match finished in the fifth and last set, and both players had match balls, which shows how tight it was. Boll, who is 36 years old, is still competitive against European players. In fact, with only the final remaining in the German league, he has won 12 matches and lost only once, which makes him one of the best players of the season.

Both players will compete at the 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf in less than three weeks so the draw may offer us the chance to see them again at the same table. In addition to that, the second leg of the 2016/2017 Champions League might see a replay of this match. In either case, the bets will be tight and the spectacle, guaranteed.

∗ Cover photo by: DPA

∗ Videos by:

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