THE LIGHTENING OF JAN-OVE WALDNER
By Cor Apeldoorn - December 2000
Jan-Ove Waldner is the Mozart of table tennis, because he can play many different compositions on the table. That's a briljant metafoor which turns up in many newspapers.
"He is indeed a little bit like the Mozart from the film Amadeus", says Jens Fellke, the former practise-mate of Waldner.
Three years ago he wrote the in German translated book "J.O. Waldner Geheimnisse eines TT-Genies". I also approached his brother Kjell-Ake (38) for this interview. The other Waldner is national women coach of Sweden.
Jan-Ove Waldner (35) did many interviews in his life. That could be noticed very well during this interview. He solves supposed ignorance of the reporter by supplying necessary information without a worrying face. Nevertheless relatively little interested table tennis players know much about him. That's why this interview about and with Jan-Ove Waldner took place.
Jan-Ove Waldner was born in Stockholm on October 3th in 1965. Like in many Swedish families, both parents had a job. Mother was a shop assistant and father was graphical assistant at a newspaper.
Jan-Ove didn't need to check in a club. Together with his brother he is asked to play at Sparvagen during a little tournament in spring holidays when he was six years old. His parents noticed that he and his brother had very much fun on table tennis. They drove both brothers soon for practising and matches. Little Jan-Ove developes very fast. Faster than in tennis and football, sports for witch he was gifted too. On his ninth he became already Swedish Champion in his age group. He finished off his nine years taking ground school, to start playing table tennis as a professional on his fifteenth. On his sixteenth he wins his first Porsche, which he may drive two years later.
The Waldner on the age of 15, was another one than the Waldner now. His brother Kjell-Ake: "Jan-Ove plays nearer on the table than twenty years ago to gain time and energy. And he has improved his backhand all the time. But if you play on his level, it's necessary."
Jan-Ove thinks naturally the level is higher than when he started: "Table tennis has become much faster. Service-receive is now more important than ever. Because there are less rally's, it's important to start attacking after the service."
"His passion for table tennis is enormous", declares writer Fellke the long carrier of Jan-Ove Waldner. "It is incredible how he can maintain his way of life all this time. He practises more than ever ever to keep his level. And he still is 200 a 250 days a year from home to play matches."
Jan-Ove: "I still have very much fun when I play. But I also had fun all the times I played for the national team. The atmosphere has always been very good. Many of the players are friends of mine. Moreover it fascinates me to keep an high level of concentration. All of my successes I reached by being able to concentrate very well."
Complex of factors
But passion is not the only factor. Author Fellke: "Jan-Ove is also very talented, has an extremely good feeling for the ball and has very good eyes. He tries to bring aspects of other players in his own game. Moreover, he analyses very well. He used to do so with his brother a long time ago. For the rest he seldom watches lost games by himself on a video."
Jan-Ove: "Passion is important, but I can read the game also very well. And maybe my talent plays a little role." It seems to be unlikely he attributes talent for such a little part to his sometimes briljant arts with the ball.
But why doesn't Jan-Ove never see his own lost games? "I sometimes did. But it's more important to see the games you won. Negative experiences damage my confidence." His determination behind the table, seems to be a facadeâ¦
The dedication for table tennis has its drawback. Writer Fellke: "His life is not very divers. On other parts he is quite lazy. He doesn't spend energy one things which does not really interest him. For instance he hasn't even managed his drivers license yet."
Jan-Ove's footwork seems to be quit and deliberate.
"Still I practise very much on footwork", Jan-Ove gives a decesive answer. "I am standing where the ball comes, that's why I don't have to move. I can read the game." That remark used soccercoach Van Gaal about ten years ago. You play soccer with your head, he said. By that he raised sport as a matter of intellect. But Jan-Ove doesn't play with his head. He is practically the only one who can play on intuition.
Author Fellke: "Jan-Ove is very aware of the psychological part of the game. He likes leaving his opponent think he can only play because he is talented. He radiates a certain inviolability. Every time I used to win from him, he thought it was an exception. Like he knew there was going to be one day I never won again of him. Beside that, the opponent should never know what Jan-Ove thinks. The opponent should always been unsure. Even if he is leading with 19-14. To get seven balls in a row."
Are this the 'Geheimnisse' from Jan-Ove? Jan-Ove denies: "I am not creating an image to the opponents. De words of Fellke are incorrect. I have trained all my live to get such results. Of course talent is needed, but I do not behave like it is coming naturally to me."
His brother Kjell-Ake: "Jan-Ove should have been angry sometimes when he lost. But he knows showing that anger influences his game in a negative way. That's why he handles his emotions in a good way now."
"He can get frustrated too", knows writer Fellke. "If his opponent is screaming, yelling en shouting, he can get upset without showing it. Then he can even lose his game!"
Jan-Ove: "Losing is easier when you get older. Nevertheless I sometimes also show my emotions if I am not satisfied." However, during our conversation he hardly shows any feelings. But during tonights match, he seems to be happy.
As a watcher the Swedish ballwizard can appreciate emotions in sports: "I'd like to see two poles apart, like Borg and McEnroe." Has he been affected by Borg? "Maybe a little bit. But also from former teammates like Ulf Carlsson en Mikael Appelgren. It is a bit the Swedish style. Besides in table tennis concentration on your own game is more important than within any other sport."
"I think last tournaments have been very attractive to the spectators. One is now trying to introduces the bigger ball, to make the game even more attractive. But its not the big success like they hoped. But ninety percent of the 40 mm-balls are of bad quality."
"Most important is a well-organized tournament. Other steps get in a second place. Whether the next measures the ITTF will propose, can make the game more attractive is difficult to say."
Jan-Ove refers to the shorter games and the new service rule that will be introduced this year. Last rule implies the effect of the service should be ALSO judgeable to the opponent. Jan-Ove: "The umpire should supervise the service in a better way. If I should throw up the ball higher, I can not do anything behind my back. Like many players are doing now. Maybe we need professional umpires."
Last quotes date from one year ago. Fellke: "I think Jan-Ove still stands for these words. He still thinks most new balls are of bad quality. He welcomes the new counting system. What he was most worried about was the discussion of the new service rule. At the Swedish closed in March 2001 he would quit playing if the new service rule went through. But when I talked to hem in oktober 2001, he was planning for playing until the Olympics 2004. So I think he is coping with the latest changes."
Roll of honour
Now, after a 21 years taking professional carrier, his roll of honour is really something. In singles he reached all thinkable international titles. He was Olympic Champion in 1992, two times world champion, one time European Champion and was seven times the winner of the Europe Top 12. In the five golden European medals and four golden medals Sweden won during Waldners carrier, Jan-Ove had his part.
"He considers everything he wins know like a bonus", knows writer Fellke. "He is already the best table tennis player ever. That's why he is less nervous before a match than in the beginning of his carrier."
How far will Jan-Oves lightening goes?
Last Update : 06 November, 2002
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