The best-known table tennis player, Jan Ove Waldner was born in Stockholm on 3 October, 1965. He is responsible for many of the greatest victories in. Swedish sporting history, ranging from winning the Olympic games in Barcelona (1992) to the world cup triumph in Csiba 2000.

His achievements secured Sweden to become one of the leading table tennis nations. Some people call him a magician, while other say he’s the greatest living table tennis legend. One thing is sure, J-O Waldner deserved his fame and popularity, he’s truly a star in his category.

This article highlights his amazing career milestones and explains how he get involved in table tennis. Besides it introduces the turning points in his sport life, lists his most remarkable achievements and tries to reveal the secret of his unique playing style and smooth movements. 

The 1970’s was an ideal era for those who want to become a world leader in table tennis. Waldner was six years old when Sweden celebrated its first singles world champion, Stellan Bengtsson. Two years passed by, when in 1973 Sweden won the team World Championship gold medal. The sport gained huge popularity, therefore more clubs were offering training opportunities, while unlimited competitions were organized at the weekends.

The young Waldner lived in the suburbs of Stockholm, so it was logical to begin his career at the Stockholm Spårvägar club, which was one of the well-known and most promising clubs in Sweden. Already after some tough practices J-O defined his goal: becoming the best Swedish player, which also meant, being among the top 10 players in the world. The circumstances were all set, such players as Mikael Appelgren, Ulf Thorsell and Roger Lagerfeldt supported him along his way. They trained all day for year which undoubtedly contributed to latter success.

The early signs of the genius

When he was seven, he could return 60-70 backhands without missing the ball. Two years later, he already had a decent forehand loop, which was quite unique compared to his club mates. Table tennis allows to do countless tricks with the ball, which quickly became Waldner’s favorite activity. He liked to make a fool of his opponents, giving incredibly and unexpected spins to the ball. J-O had an organic feel of the ball, while he loved discovering new shots and developed them until perfection. Losing was not in his dictionary, even though that’s what led him to improve his style even further. Talent and persistence were indeed significant attributes, however – according to his memoir – the safe family background was also among the crucial factors that made him world number one player. Security and support from his parents and brother gave him courage and power at the table.

The turning point in China

While still improving his game, the young Waldner, along with other Swedish national players, flought to a training camp held in China. The trip was a turning point in his career and changed his attitude towards the sport. He hadn’t experienced such a thing earlier in Europe. The dedication and solidarity of the Chinese players highly impressed him and gave him a solid boost to achieve his goals.

Funny enough, he became one the most popular and admired ping pong player in China. Some rumor says, there was a time when he was even more recognized in China then the President of the United States, Bill Clinton itself. No surprise, he was also nicknamed by the Chinese as “the evergreen tree” in Mandarin.

Jan Ove Waldner playing style

Waldner read the game, meaning that he absolutely controlled each rally. From an outsider it might seem there’s nothing that could surprise him during the match. His basics were extremely strong. Although, some people may argue that every professional player has strong basics; Waldner always had much sophisticated strokes. His tactical awareness was also brilliant. A table tennis player should know or at least reckon the kind of return he would receive after a serve. To further enhance this ability, he always seemed to anticipate the opponent’s movement effortlessly. As in tennis, a good serve can win the game, therefore a whole match. Waldner’s had a wide range of serves, pushing constant pressure on his opponents. After the opening, he could control, then finish the rally most of the times.

J-O’s forehand and backhand were elegant, smooth and effective. The touch of the ball was always perfect, he could add as many spins to the ball as he intended. Due to the hard work and conscious practice, he also developed great footwork. It was rare to see the ball passing his by. Above all, his uniqueness lied in his spectacular saves, sometimes 20m from the tables. Even though he turned back to the table he played it on and won the rally.

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