How to compete with younger players – lessons from Vladimir Samsonov

One of the most inspiring moments of the table tennis event at the Rio Olympics was Vladimir Samsonov getting to the semi-final of the men’s singles. Modern professional table tennis is increasingly physical, favouring younger bodies. To reach an Olympic semi-final at the age of 40 is a phenomenal achievement. What can we learn from Vladimir Samsonov’s success? How can we keep on competing with younger players and play close to our best when past our physical peak? In this blog post, I share four lessons I’ve learnt from watching Samsonov.

Vladimir Samsonov vs Xu Xin (World Tour Grand Finals, December 2015)

20151214 - Vladimir Samsonov vs Xu Xin

Fascinating match-up between the world’s top penholder, Xu Xin, and European legend, Vladimir Samsonov. At 39 years old, Samsonov isn’t as quick as he used to be, so he has to use all his cunning, rather than speed, to disrupt Xu Xin’s attacking game. Notice how Samsonov uses the full width of the table when pushing, blocking and flicking and how often he switches the direction of play to try and keep Xu Xin off-balance. Ultimately, Xu Xin proves to be too good, but it’s a closer match than many expected. There is also a fantastic drop shot by Xu Xin in the first set, which is definitely worth watching.

Benefits of an unconventional playing style

Table tennis coaches (myself included) often favour teaching a modern topspin game – service from the backhand corner, playing forehands on ¾ of the table, playing topspin strokes as often as possible, attack, attack attack! But this isn’t the only way of playing table tennis. In this blog post I explore the benefits of unconventional playing styles.

Vladimir Samsonov vs Dimitrij Ovtcharov (European Games, June 2015)

20150621 - Samsonov vs Ovtcharov

Final of the men’s single in the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. European veteran (and legend!) Vladimir Samsonov takes on top seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov. And what a final! The match goes to seven sets and in the final set the score reaches 8-8. It couldn’t be closer, but who is going to win those final few points? Enjoy.