Perhaps renowned for your B/H and brilliant serves, can you discuss how you developed your individual game style?
Thanks. Yes, I have good serves and a strong B/H and I also believe that my speed also gives me an advantage over most players. Because of this I try to ensure that I can utilise my strengths as much as possible. For example, I would serve short F/H as this would ultimately lead to a B/H v B/H situation in which I am comfortable or I would serve a quality long, fast serve to make my opponent attack, but with not as good quality which would give me the opportunity to counter spin and hopefully give me the advantage. So, my goal is always to use my serve to get the B/H v B/H situation or for me to use my speed and aggression close to the table.
You have an almost telepathic relationship with Doubles partner Daniel Habesohn, can you give us some insight into how this developed?
My first Doubles partner was actually with my brother Christian and we had good results, then I had a successful partnership with Chen Weixing in which we made a Pro Tour final and won a big Tournament. Chen then retired from Doubles and so I formed my partnership with Danny. At first, we struggled a little but then we practiced a lot more and in a similar way to the way I practiced with my brother which started to show good signs. We focussed a lot on movement but the most important thing for a Doubles team is for each player to know what the other player is going to do in order to prepare for what is likely to come next from the opponents. We also knew each other very well, enjoyed the practice together and always supported each other no matter what the result or situation, all these things add up to creating a good team.
At 42 years young you are amazingly ranked # 24 in the world and have been in the top 100 for 18 years, how have you been able to sustain such a high performance level for so long?
Yes, I probably didn’t think I would be playing at such a high level at 42 years old when I was younger but I am a professional player and even when I was injured, I always tried to find a way to do what was right for my body. When I was younger, I could train as much as I liked and eat what I liked but now as I have got older, I have learnt how to listen to my body and make the appropriate adjustments. I also have a nutritionist and eat a mainly vegan diet which has given the energy needed to keep training hard. So, even at my age, and with the changes I have made to my food intake etc, I feel I am even faster now than I was a few years ago. I am also wiser now and I also feel I am strong in the mental department and so with these skills and the changes I have made to look after my body, I feel I can still compete at the highest level.
If you could choose one player to watch, who would it be and why?
When I was younger, I loved to watch Jan Michel Saive as he was a fighter and ran a lot but my favourite would have to be Jan Ove Waldner as he had so much feeling and he made the game look so easy, just lovely to watch.
Image from Roberts Instagram
Can you discuss your training methods and some suggestions on how a player can get the best out of a training session?
Right into my 30s I have always practiced as much as my body would let me. My best period was probably in 2008 when I practiced in China for 6 hours a day on a regular basis. I would do this over 3 sessions with 1 hour dedicated to fitness and at times I didn’t think 24 hours in a day was enough! Table Tennis is a very technical sport and I wanted to ensure my strokes were automatic and so in order to achieve this I needed to practice in the morning, afternoon and evening, as well as having a fitness session included. I always try to give my best in practice and to fight for every ball but I made sure I had a structure for my week. I made sure I practiced the small things like flick and other receive variations as it’s important a player has more than just a good F/H and B/H but to focus on combinations and always have some sort of goal. I also work on the physical side of the game as it’s important that in order for me to give my best, especially as I get older, that my body needs to be in the best condition possible.
Finally, can you give some advice on how you cope with the mental side of Table Tennis?
This is very important as without this it is not possible to be a great player. I was lucky to have a mental coach who helped me focus on playing one point at a time and to get rid of any negative energy and always show positivity. A player needs to focus on playing in the present and to always play to your strengths. I feel it’s also important to read a lot about the mental side of sport which can help with new ideas on how to be strong mentally.