Anton Kallberg – future world champion?

There is plenty of excitement at the moment about 18-year-old Swedish player Anton Kallberg.

He has had a rapid rise up the international rankings in the past year and once again confirmed his potential with an impressive run of results at the 2015 Swedish Open.

In the round of 64, Kallberg swept aside England’s Liam Pitchford (world ranking 57). In the round of 32, he recorded the best result of his career, beating Chinese player Yan An (world ranking 15). His impressive run of wins only came to an end when he faced world number 2, Fan Zhendong, in the quarter finals. But even in defeat, he showed signs of his potential (more on this match later).

I have to confess, I’m excited too. It’s very early days, of course. There have been plenty of 18-year-olds who have shown potential, but never made an impression on the world’s top 50, let alone the world’s top 5.

But I really think Kallberg is different. He has the game to play at the very highest level. He has a very attacking style, dominating opponents playing close to the table. He attacks with great speed. He attacks with lots of spin. He attacks with both forehand and backhand. He has an exaggerated service action, which allows him to disguise his serves and cause his opponents all kinds of difficulty.

This kid is good!

In his victory against Yan An (video below), you can see just how fast his attacks are, especially his forehand. On many occasions, Yan An just watches the ball fly past him. He cannot compete with the speed of Kallberg’s attacks.

In the quarter final match against Fan Zhendong (video below), it takes Kallberg a little time to get into the match. He is facing the world number 2, after all. But from being 3-0 down, he fights back to 3-2. And Kallberg really should win the 6th set. He misses two easy forehand attacks, makes two unforced errors on backhand attacks and puts two forehand pushes into the net. But crucially it is Kallberg who is the more attacking, dominant player. He forces Fan Zhendong to play quite passively and cautiously. Not many players can do this to Fan Zhendong.

What’s interesting about the two matches above, is that Kallberg has plenty of areas he can improve. His short game is a little sloppy – a few pushes pop up high. His backhand attack is not as consistent as his forehand – there are too many unforced errors. He needs to work on speeding up his recovery after his big forehand attacks – a few times he gets caught out by a blocked return. And his consistency in fast topspin rallies is not as good as players in the world’s top 20.

But despite all these weaknesses, he still beat a player in the world’s top 20 and gave Fan Zhendong a very good match. Just imagine how good he will be when he makes improvements to these areas of his game.

There is a temptation to get too excited about a new European talent. We desperately want a European player to challenge the Chinese. And often our desire for change at the top of the rankings can cloud our judgement.

I think we get even more carried away when a new talent happens to be Swedish, as it reminds us of the glory years when Jan-Ove Waldner was the best in the world. Kallberg is a very different payer to Waldner. Waldner was a magician. He played with guile, brains and artistry. Kallberg is all speed and power. He plays with relentless attacking intent. He plays like the Chinese. And this is exactly what European players need to do, to have any chance of competing.

So maybe, just maybe, Kallberg will be the player to end the Chinese dominance of the sport. Let’s wait and see…

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