2018 Projects Ovtcharov to World Number 1

By Ray Huang | Jan. 03, 2018, 12:04 p.m. (ET)

In a historic victory at the 2017 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany overcame Japan’s Koki Niwa in the round of 16 to become the world number 1. In fact, this is the first time a non-Chinese player has stood at the top since Timo Boll in 2001.

The thrilling match lasted a full seven sets. The score never far apart, with neither Ovtcharov nor Niwa ever leading by more than one set. However, in the last set, Ovtcharov began to place spiny loops to Niwa’s backhand, which proved extremely effective. This coupled with Niwa’s hesitation to attack resulted in Ovtcharov sealing his no.1 world ranking with a decisive 11-5 in the last set.

Ovtcharov, who at the time was ranked no.3, has been a long time rival of Niwa, then ranked world no.8. The two faced off just months prior at the 2017 World Championships, where the two played a hair-raising game with Ovtcharov narrowly losing 9-11 in the seventh. Prior to the match, many considered the prospect of Ovtcharov succumbing to the additional pressure of losing to Niwa merely seven months ago, but fortunately for the German fans, Ovtcharov was able to perform at his peak in this crucial match.

His achievement has not come without criticism. Recently, ITTF has remade the world ranking system in order to emphasize tournament results over individual victories. For example, when Ovtcharov beat Niwa to become world no.1, he gained points due to him advancing through the round of 16, not because of his individual victory over Niwa. The new system has now been adopted completely and, beginning January 2018, will come into full effect. So as the New Year comes in, Ovtcharov's number 1 position has been made official.

Critics argue that the previous world no.1, Ma Long, who had continuously held the position for a record 34 months, should not lose his title merely due to a lack of participation in international tournaments, the Chinese player has been dominant on the world stage for many years, his world ranking now sits at 7th place.

Despite the critics, Ovtcharov’s position is well earned. In 2017 alone, he has won the China Open, German Open, and the World Cup. After a long hiatus, Germany seems to be finally loosening China’s iron-tight dominance on table tennis. Will this new system help find a new balance or will it's results have less merit than the previous system?