Two decades and one name remains from the very first; Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus competed in the inaugural ITTF World Tour Grand Finals staged in the Chinese industrial city of Tianjin in 1996, now in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon, in what is the 20th edition of the tournament, he competes once again.
Proceedings commence in the Pavilhão Multiusos de Odivelas on Thursday 10th December and conclude on Sunday 13th December.
European Youth Champion
In 1993 Vladimir Samsonov won the second of his Junior Boys’ Singles titles at the European Youth Championships when he succeeded in Ljubljana; he entered the senior stage in an era when male players from the old continent, were at their zenith.
Sweden had won the Men’s Team title at three consecutive World Championships starting in Dortmund in 1989; in that year Jan-Ove Waldner had also been crowned Men’s Singles champion followed two years later by Jörgen Persson and then in 1993 by Jean-Philippe Gatien.
China, for perhaps the one and only time in its history was in a state of turmoil; should the pen-hold grip style of play be abandoned? It was the burning question. The answer was to be found in Liu Guoliang.
In the opposite side of the world, eyes turned to the talented young man from Belarus; in 1995 he was invited to the Perrier Men’s World Cup in Nîmes.
He arrived only to be told that he was the reserve. It was a very disappointed 19 year old who had to be consoled by the late Hans Giesecke, at the time Executive Vice President (Finance) of the International Table Tennis Federation.
One year later, it was a different story, he finished in third place in the Perrier Men’s World Cup, he won his first ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles title when he succeeded in Italy and he qualified for the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.
Progressing from potential junior to world class senior; in less than three years Vladimir Samsonov had bridged the gap into which so many fall.
The Grand Finals
At the Grand Finals, he underlined the fact that Europe had a new star. He reached the final of both the Men’s Singles and with Germany’s Jörg Rosskopf, the Men’s Doubles event.
In both competitions he was beaten by future Olympic gold medallists; in the Men’s Singles event he suffered defeat at the hands of Kong Linghui, in the Men’s Doubles, it was Wang Liqin and Yan Sen who halted aspirations.
“I had a lot of fun there, it was a new event, a lot of spectators, great atmosphere and I played really well, I had a chance to win both titles”, said Vladimir Samsonov. “I don’t think Rossi and myself actually qualified, we were on the reserve list; one pair didn’t accept the invitation.”
Won Only Once
In fact, although they came close in Tianjin, as a partnership Jörg Rosskopf and Vladimir Samsonov only ever reached one other ITTF World Tour Men’s Doubles final. In 1997 in Linz at the Austrian Open, they beat China’s Liu Guozheng and Ma Lin to claim gold.
Furthermore, it is the only ITTF World Tour Men’s Doubles title ever won by Vladimir Samsonov!
Winner in Hong Kong
The Men’s Singles runner up in 1996, one year later in 1997 in Hong Kong, after winning the Men’s Singles title at the Swedish Open, he won at the Grand Finals.
Furthermore, in the final he beat a player of some pedigree in the title deciding contest; he beat Wang Liqin.
It was contest that saw a new innovation; “Time Out” was in its first year and against Wang Liqin the break was used.
“Hong Kong was very special, I was in great shape during the whole event”, reflected Vladimir Samsonov. “I beat Ma Lin, Liu Guoliang and Zoran Primorac; if Primorac had beaten me and won the final, he would have been the world’s number one on the next ranking, it was a very close game.”
It did not happen, Vladimir Samsonov prevailed.
First Time Out Call
“Of course beating Wang Liqin was very special; before the final I already knew that in the next world ranking I would be the new number one”, continued Vladimir Samsonov. “After leading two-one and 20-15, I lost two points and took a “Time Out” at 20-17; as far as I remember this was the first official tournament with the “Time-out”, for sure the first that I played.”
The first he had played and it proved very wise!
“I won the next point and the whole event”, smiled Vladimir Samsonov. “I enjoyed that match; one of my best ever!”
Won in Qatar
Arguably it was an era that when reflect on the career of Vladimir Samsonov, it was the time he was at his very best.
It was a time when the ball was 38 millimetres in diameter, internationally matches best of five games, each game to 21 points.
At his best some 20 years again but make no mistake Vladimir Samsonov continues to be a major force.
Earlier this year he was crowned Men’s Singles champion at the GAC Group 2015 ITTF World Tour Qatar Open.
It was the 26th such success of his career; it is a record no player can equal and my suspicions are there are more to come.
The GAC Group 2015 ITTF World Grand Finals awaits; so does 2016 and he will be eligible for the World Veteran Championships in Alicante/Elche.
He can drive there! He lives in Spain but he better hurry up with his entry; to date 3,019 entries have been received