Timo Boll leads Borussia Düsseldorf on home soil (Photo: Jörg Fuhrmann)
A different look to previous years, traditionally teams playing on a home and away basis, a single venue is the order of proceedings for the 2020-2021 edition of the Table Tennis Champions League Men.
Necessitated by the current pandemic, the tournament will be played to a conclusion over an eight-day period commencing on Friday 11th December; the destination is the ARAG Center Court, the home of Borussia Düsseldorf.
Undoubtedly, the hosts led by Timo Boll with Kristian Karlsson, Sharath Kamal Achanta, Anton Källberg and Ricardo Walther in support start very much as one of the favourites to lift the title.
“I am recovering from the long injury I struggled during the summer; that is why I missed the Asian events. Luckily, I have played a few Bundesliga matches, so I have tasted some action this season. I am not in top shape, but I hope, one of my most powerful weapons, the ability to raise my level of play during the tournament itself, will work here well.” Timo Boll
Five times the winners and on six occasions successful in the event’s predecessor, the European Club of Champions, Borussia Düsseldorf has a long pedigree of success. They are the second seeds behind Russia’s Fakel Gazprom Orenburg who select from Lin Yun-Ju, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Marcos Freitas and Vladimir Samsonov.
“I cannot comment my current shape. I played one tournament in Madrid a few weeks ago and I played in Zagreb, but that is not enough to make a clear view of my form. We will see when the games start.” Vladimir Samsonov
The lack of competitive play adds an air of uncertainty but it is very much towards Russian and German clubs that eyes focus.
TTSC UMMC with Liam Pitchford, Jonathan Groth and Tomislav Pucar on duty present formidable opposition, as does 1. FC Saarbrücken, the somewhat surprise winner of last season’s German Bundesliga. They are represented by Patrick Franziska, Darko Jorgic, Tomas Polansky and Shang Kun
Arguably Shang Kun is the man who could have a major influence on proceedings; he has never established himself in the Chinese team, but he is capable of beating the best. He overcame a certain Ma Long in the second round of the men’s singles event at the GAC Group 2015 ITTF World Tour Japan Open; it’s the only time the pair has met on the international stage. Not bad to have a perfect record against the Olympic and world champion!
Proceedings will be organised under a so-called “Bubble” with Andreas Preuss, who has been the team manager at Borussia Düsseldorf for some 30 years, very much making sure that everything is in order.
“The event will be played in the bubble format. It means the creation of a secured environment for all persons taking part. Players, coaches, umpires, staff etc; everybody must arrive with a recent negative test certification and make a further test upon arrival. All visiting teams will stay in the official hotels and only use the official transportation. During the whole competition period none of the participants is allowed to exit from the dedicated spaces. In the hotel there will be a separate dining room accessible for only the participants. Shuttle cars, field of play and training tables will be cleaned and disinfected regularly.” Andreas Preuss
Different to previous years and there are further differences. No breaks for coaching after games one and three; should a match go the full five games distance it is “sudden death”, no two-point gap needed, just first to six points.
The 2019-2020 competition was cancelled at the semi-final stage; 1. FC Saarbrücken, Borussia Düsseldorf, Fakel Gazprom Orenburg and TTSC UMMC were listed in joint first place.
Overall, 15 teams on duty, play commences with three groups comprising four teams, one group with three teams. First and second in each group advance to the quarter-finals.
First Stage Draw
Group A: Fakel Gazprom Orenburg (RUS), KS Dartom Bogoria Grodzisk Mazowiecki (POL), Post SV Mühlausen 1951 E.V. (GER), Leka Enea TDM (ESP)
Group B: TTSC UMMC (RUS), Sporting Clube de Portugal (POR), TTC Enfirecx Ostraba (CZE)
Group C: 1. FC Saarbrücken (GER), Roskilde Bortennis BTK61 (DEN), SPG Walter Wels (AUT), AS Pontoise Cergy (FRA)
Group D: Borussia Düsseldorf (GER), GV Hennebont (FRA), De Boer Tavero (NED), KS Dekorglass Dzialdowo (POL)
AS Pontoise Cergy (FRA): Tristan Flore, Quentin Robinot, Panagiotis Alexandropoulos, Patrick Baum, Dany Lo, Adrien Mattenet, Zhai Yujia
Borussia Düsseldorf (GER): Timo Boll, Kristian Karlsson, Sharath Kamal Achanta, Anton Källberg, Ricardo Walther
De Boer Tavero (NED): Gabrielius Camara, Tom Closset, Jochem de Hoop, Leroy Heemskerk, Arjan Huiden, Tinko Keen, Alex Naumi, Dorian Nicolle,Victor Pellicer, Yannik Vostes
Fakel Gazprom Orenburg (RUS): Lin Yun-Ju, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Marcos Freitas, Vladimir Samsonov, Sergei Andrianov, Denis Ivonin, Alexey Liventsov
1. FC Saarbrücken (GER): Patrick Franziska, Darko Jorgic, Tomas Polansky, Shang Kun, Mike Hollo, Peter Hribar, Stanislav Kucera, Dimytije Levajac, Jiri Martinko
GV Hennebont (FRA): Omar Assar, Cédric Nuytinck, Andreas Lind, Sam Walker, Boris Abraham, Pierre Bailly, Sasha Gillen, Georgios Stamatouros
KS Dartom Bogoria Grodzisk Mazowiecki (POL): Panagiotis Gionis, Marek Badowski, Michal Gawlas, Mikolaj Grerlo, Kaii KOnishi, Patryk Pysk, Molosz Redsimski, Pawel Sirucek
KS Dekorglass Dzialdowo (POL): Andrej Gacina, Jakub Dyjas, Kamil Kurowski, Jiri Vrablik, Wei Shihao, Xu Wenliang
Leka Enea TDM (ESP): Mikel Angulo, Aimer Chamorro, Endika Diez, Hodei Mancha, Taras Merzlikin, Oriol Monzo, Daniel Palacios, Ahmed Ali Saleh
Post SV Mühlausen 1951 E.V. (GER): Daniel Habesohn, Ividiu Ionescu, Lubomir Jancarik, Fabian Günzel, Jürgen Gnauck, Vincent Kazuck, Steffen Mengel, Erik Shreyer, Thomas Strecher
Roskilde Bortennis BTK61 (DEN): Michael Maze, Baek Kwangil, Allan Bentsen, Antoine Doyen, Jens Lendqvist, Oliver Petersen, Mattias Ringstrom, Mads Toft Schmidt
SPG Walter Wels (AUT): Frane Kojic, Gabor Böhm, Peter Hodina, David Huber, Andreas Levenko, Dominique Plattner, Julian Rzihauschek, Kohei Sambe, Adam Szudi, Hibiki Tazoe
Sporting Clube de Portugal (POR): Bode Abiodun, Diogo Carvalho, Thiago Monteiro, Guilherme Paulo, Fransico Silva, Tomas Silva, Vasco Veloso, Francisco Wahnon
TTC Enfirecx Ostraba (CZE): Simon Belik, Tomas Ceganek, Filip Delincak, Tomas Demek, Jakub Kleprik, Petr Korbel, Richard Korbel, Felipe Olivares
TTSC UMMC (RUS): Liam Pitchford, Jonathan Groth, Tomislav Pucar, Maksim Kaburkin, Mihail Rozhkov, Semen Shevnin, Daniel Sokolov