Table Tennis: Waldner denied his final ambition

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The Independent Online
JEAN-MICHEL SAIVE, the world No 1, beat the Olympic champion, Jan-Ove Waldner, at the National Indoor Arena here yesterday to deny the European singles title to perhaps the most skilful player in the world. The Belgian's 23-25, 21-10, 21-17, 21-16 victory over the Swede suggested, however, that he is the most powerful, aggressive and energetic.

Saive's win makes it increasingly likely that this will remain the only major trophy never to find its way into Waldner's collection. At 28, he already shows signs of being jaded after 12 years on the circuit.

However, the Barcelona gold medallist is still capable of moments of unique brilliance. He recovered an eight-point deficit in the first game with exquisite control on his counter-attacks.

But at 20-20, Waldner cut his hand on the table and, after a three-minute delay to bind up a finger in the second game, his control and feeling left him. By the time it returned, half- way through the third game, Saive was launching into some stunning topspin loop attacks on Waldner's famous serve.

Waldner, who endured a tough five-game semi-final two hours earlier against Zoran Primorac, of Croatia, made light of having to play both matches in one day, but still criticised the organisers. 'It's not professional how they have done the programming,' he said. 'I cannot understand it. If it's finals day, you should only play finals.'

The tournament director, Clive Oakman, said that could have been achieved only by the men playing three times in one day earlier in the tournament, and there had been a meeting with all four semi-finalists. 'They had to compromise, we had to compromise and the TV people had to compromise,' he added.

Marie Svensson's 21-12, 21-14, 21-18 win against the unseeded Gerdie Keen in a women's singles final shorn of the leading players put the failure of England's other No 1, Lisa Lomas, in perspective.

Eleven days of competition had taken an unprecedented toll. Lomas, a hard-working defender, never came to the women's singles in a condition in which she could win.