Friday 7 September 2012

Post-Olympic Interview with William Henzell

My third interview with William Henzell, a player I continually like to go back to and hear more from. He always gives me the quality of answer I am looking for so that you guys can enjoy your read and learn from him. Thanks again for the time William and congratulations on breaking the top 100 players in the world and winning your 10th Australian National Singles title!

Hard work pays of for William Henzell in London
Image from ITTF

Well you certainly left a great impression on spectators around the world William. Let's start at the beginning. Your first match against Adam Pattantyus. You had played him just weeks ago at the Challenger Series and the result had been quite different, how did that weigh on your mind? I imagine you must have analysed his game quite carefully, did you do this for your other opponents as well?

I had lost 3 times to Adam in the past 8 months and hadn’t really had much of a chance in any of them. Twice in Austrian league and once at the Challenger Series. The Challenger Series was very, very important for that match as I played three matches against defenders (1 against Adam and 2 against Chtenttinine) and lost all of them. I played better and better though and lost the last time against Chtenttinine 11-9 in the 5th set.

I did video analysis of all my opponents before the matches and I felt it worked very well. I walked into the match with a good idea of what tactics I would need to use and what patterns of play I needed to avoid.

Now the Monteiro match was huge. Training with Joao at the WSA, did you think you had a reasonable chance of winning the match?

I knew it would be very difficult. Playing against training partners can distort the relative levels of the players – sometimes the better player can have an advantage if they have a big mental edge from training and sometimes the lower player can have an advantage from having gotten used to the better players strengths. I hadn’t played enough against Joao in Vienna for it to have much of a difference I don’t think.

I felt I was in good enough form to have a chance against anyone in the tournament so I just gave it a go. Rankings don’t always mean that much – I mean Mizutani barely got 5 points in any set against Maze so I didn’t worry about who was expected to win.

Would you say beating Monteiro was a career high win? I know you beat Jens Lundqvist in Beijing.

Monteiro is a career high win (in singles anyway). The highest ranked player I’ve beaten (WR39) and he just came off a fantastic season in Germany last year.

How did you feel during the match with Monteiro, after losing the first set by such a large margin what did you have to do to bring the game back?

I got killed in the 1st set, but felt I was trying to do the right things, just missing, so I continued. It paid off. I felt he became unsure and lost confidence when my shots began going on in the 2nd set so I knew I had a good chance to come back and take out the match.

The problem is that players of that level give so little away for free so you have to maintain such a high level throughout the match.

Your celebration at the end of that match was ecstatic. What were the final moments of the match like?

They were very tense. I was leading 3-2 in sets and was up by a few points in the 6th set, 6-3 maybe. He played very well for a while and turned it around to lead 9-8 and 10-9. I kept on using the same tactics that had worked well up until then.

I tried to be aggressive against his serves and make the most of my backhand sidespin flick which is one of my best shots. I needed to be decisive and go for my shots – it can be quite difficult to find the courage to keep on pressing forwards when your body has the involuntary reaction of tensing up.

When his last shot went long, it was a surreal moment. There is so much adrenaline pumping thorough the body that it feels like you are flying. I remember jumping very high a few times so maybe I came close!

Henzell celebrates a career win vs. Monteiro
Image from Zimbio

How did you feel about drawing Samsonov as an opponent in the next round?

I felt I could beat anyone in the tournament at that stage so I didn’t really care who I was playing. Vladi is a tough player with more experience than almost anyone else.

It was important to play tactically well – I didn’t think I’d have much of a chance if I got stuck playing long, medium paced rallies or if I had to move around too much. His placement is too strong and he would outmanouvre me.

He had a 3-2 lead in sets against Zhang Jike in the next match so he was in decent form.

Ok here's the big question everyone would probably like answered, a 6-4 lead in the final set and you unfortunately lost a long string of points in a row. What happened?

I think it was 4-1 and 5-3 in the 7th set. It is not as though much needs to change for him to start winning many points in a row. Leads are won and lost in every match.

I overhit a couple of shots and he landed some important counterspins out wide to my forehand. That was enough to change the momentum of the match. He has been in that situation (close in the 7th against a guy ranked 130) dozens of times and I have never been in that situation (almost beating an icon of the sport) before.

Some casual questions

Who have you been enjoying watching so far?

When I am playing I do not feel like sitting down at the hall watching the matches. It is important to get away from the hall and from table tennis when possible.

Will you be watching any other sports?

Didn’t get a chance to watch any other sports. We were very busy training, doing massage/physio and recovery sessions. The transport was slow at times so the hours of the day went by very slowly. I left London a couple of days after we lost in the team event to go on holiday and I am happy I got out and got away from Olympic emotions.

Your chance to thank people publically if you want:

From a table tennis point of view, the coaches at the Werner Schlager Academy, Richard Prause and Dirk Wagner have done a huge amount for my game. I have found it almost impossible to find coaches who are as passionate about improving my game as I am, so it was fantastic to find these guys. Their daily discipline, hard work and energy make it easier to really push yourself and get th emost out of the training. My footwork and forehand topspin have improved a great deal in Austria.

On a personal level, I would not have been able to perform well in London without the support of Danni, my fiancee. I quit work 18 months ago (no small decision when you have a mortgage) and spent 8 or 9 months in Austria playing full-time out of our savings. She spent 6 months over there with me. We are both very happy that we did it.

Thanks for everything William, you just showed Oceania that it's possible to be world class :) 

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