Widely dubbed by table tennis critics as the Mozart of Table Tennis is the retired legend from Sweden, Jan-Ove Waldner. So legendary was he in fact that he is probably the only non-Chinese table tennis player that the majority of Chinese table tennis fans know (he was given an affectionate Chinese name, 老瓦). Heck! He was more recognizable than Bill Clinton to the people of China in the 1990s, than President Bill Clinton himself! We however believe that the label, however glorious it may, does not really mean much to us tennis players for its lack of relatability. Thus, I prefer to call him the 'Federer of Tennis', which when making a comparison between the two, is actually eerily apt.
Waldner has a tactical awareness in the game that is unmatchable. If you watch his highlights, he is does not seem to move around or be as frantic as the average table tennis player. That is because he is always in the right place at the right time, credits to his superb anticipatory prowess. This is especially important in table tennis when there is such a short time span within which to react, and because the shots travel much faster than say in tennis, being in position to hit a good one would go a much longer way to putting your opponent in a losing position or state. Who else is known for his superb anticipatory powers? Roger Federer.
Waldner is proficient to the highest degree in every table tennis shot of the book. The serve, block, topspin, serve-returns, and chops - you name it! Because of this all-roundedness Waldner has no apparent weakness, a characteristic attributed by tennis times too many times, before Rafael Nadal came onto the scene in 2008. We would argue also, that it is because of such well-rounded excellence, both Federer and Walder were/are able to afford to stay in neutral positions longer than most other players, for a relative lack of need to compromise strategic positioning to run around weakness.
The two cannot be as comparable as this without also being similar in style! It is a measure of Walder's unparalleled talent that he plays with a grace surpassable by most other table tennis players. As seen in the video below, he plays with a certain description-defying kind of steadiness, and calmness, that make his opponents all look like nervous wrecks in comparison! Roger Federer carries this with him in his gameplay, does he not?
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