Tuesday 29 October 2013

Breakdown Blog: Samsonov Ends Boll's 5 Year Run

Vladimir Samsonov, while a solid performer among the European players, has always fallen under the shadow of Europe's great hero Timo Boll and since 2008 the German player has outperformed Samsonov at their every meeting. In Belgium at the ITTF Leibherr Men's World Cup 2013 however it was Samsonov who finally turned the table on Boll to claim an outstanding 4-0 victory in the semifinal stages. What stood out tactically in the match? The breakdown blog returns to analyse the performance of Samsonov and Boll in this classic clash of European greats.

First off it is important to note that Timo is looking quite a bit slower and less consistent than we have seen in previous years. Samsonov on the other hand is looking smooth as ever, no less consistent and still with a great sense of angle play.

Samsonov targets shorts balls to the middle and opening flicks to the backhand in his service return and even off Timo's receive of serve. The pivot zone is his main port of call outside of the tight play, with his first attacking balls usually finding themselves in the backhand half where Timo's consistency really failed him in this match. Vladimir seems to realise that he certainly doesn't need to hit big shots to win the match or play with too much risk, given the number of unforced errors Boll makes it is simply a matter of who returns the most balls, this is a situation which suits Samsonov well.

While Timo tries to create some unpredictability by his range of placements out of the pivot zone, Samsonov has most of these balls covered and even reaching for the wider balls where he returns a ball at 50% pace, he is still in the point. Samsonov mixes up the pace quite efficiently, some points he presses the attack and counter and moves the ball out to the forehand side earlier in the bounce while others he plays more patiently into the backhand and crossover. Essentially he is attacking at 60-70% into the backhand side, even picking the ball up a little later at times, there really doesn't seem to be as much pressure on him from Boll. Samsonov's opening ball is not overwhelmingly strong, he picks it up after the peak of the bounce on a lot of occasions where Timo's serves or pushes drift to medium length, this is a strong area for Samsonov and gives him the advantage of being first opener.

What is important to note is the key tactics Samsonov is playing. He knows that Timo's forehand attack is well placed and has a high amount of spin, so he tries to time the ball earlier when playing to the forehand in order to reduce the reaction time for Boll. Given Boll's decrease in speed and movement time this is highly effective on a number of occasions. He also tries to get the ball as close to the outside line and as deep on the table as possible. Some points we simply see Samsonov blocking without much pace, he looks very much in control and again is pressing the ball across the backhand side where Timo's errors are stacking up. Even forced back from the table, Samsonov wins a large proportion of points simply from lobbing.

While it becomes difficult to analyse tactics when Boll is clearly not in amazing form, there is still a clear game strategy for Vladimir. In the beginning we see he tries to press the ball wide into the pivot and then force the next ball out wide, but then realises that he doesn't need to execute at such a high risk level to win points given that he is able to hit more balls on that Timo in this match. We also notice that some of Timo's serves drift long, seemingly unintentionally, it is far from a good performance for the German player and Samsonov takes advantage of the situation perfectly, this is the key reason for the straight sets win, as well as Timo's high number of unforced errors, even when he is in a dominant attacking table position.

An interesting match to watch, purely on account of the result and the scale of the victory for Samsonov. Make sure you check it out!

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