Ebby Schöler: five most difficult opponents

Classic defensive skills (Photo: Archive)

by Ebby Schöler

During international competitions between 1962 and 1973 in which I participated, most players did not like the various changes I made when returning the ball with backspin. However, some opponents were able to read my defensive strokes and avoided easy mistakes.

Li Furong
In those days Li Fu-Jung, I played only twice – in Prague 1963 and in Nagoya 1971 – and lost both matches. His forehand attack was fabulous, very hard. He hit many more balls on the table than off!

Dragutin Surbek
He was great at learning and fighting. I won the first six matches against him – until he got used to my spin – and he never congratulated me again!

One match, however, was very close. During the Belgian Open at the end of the 1960s, probably in the men’s singles semi-final, Dragutin was leading 2-1 and 20-12 when I played some tremendous returns to his fast top-spin strokes and won the game 22-20. The fifth, deciding game he started as usual, played as if nothing had happened before and won the match!

Koji Kimura
One of the few left handers I had difficulties with was Koji Kimura. I remember the match at the 1963 Worlds in Prague when I met him in the round of the last 32.

He beat me 3-1 with remarkable strokes, keeping me on the backhand side and then often finished the rally with a dangerous top spin and smash to the forehand. Great match!

Istvan Jonyer
Apart from Li Furong and Koji Kimura, Istvan Jonyer was the only other player I never beat.

Would have been interesting to have met him at the Worlds 1969 when I was in top form – but perhaps fortunately he lost earlier.

Zhuang Zedong (Chuang Tse-Tung)
We met three times – once in the Worlds 1965 in Llubljana (semi-final) and twice in friendly international team matches in 1963. I lost the semi-final and beat him in one of the friendly matches in Nuremberg, Germany. In the other friendly competition, I lost by the minimal two point margin in the third game because I could not return his service properly.

In those days, players were allowed to serve from below the table surface which made it difficult to see what kind of spin was used. One of the good decisions of ITTF to alter this service rule!