NEW YORK, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Matchups against Chinese paddlers were not only fun but also "helping me so much to improve myself," and "I was always curious to play them," said German table tennis evergreen Timo Boll.
"I always wanted to play them. I was never shy to play them," the former world No. 1 told Xinhua in a recent interview, adding "(it) doesn't matter if I win or lose, afterward I'm always a better player when I meet them."
"I wouldn't have become such a good player without the Chinese," said the German veteran, who was also active as a guest player in the Chinese Super League.
The eight-time European men's singles winner said every generation of the Chinese table tennis circle has very outstanding players.
"If I play Chinese players, I have to be prepared from the first ball because you have to read the game inside the game," he said.
"You have to be very sharp and you cannot afford easy mistakes and you have to be really on the point in that game," said Boll, who has taken on different generations of top Chinese paddlers, including Liu Guoliang, Kong Linghui, Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, Zhang Jike, Ma Long and Fan Zhendong.
"The more often you play them, you feel immediately that you (get improved)," said the world's No. 10, adding "it's nice to follow the whole table tennis history of China and to be a small part of it."
The six-time Olympic contender said the biggest strength of Chinese table tennis lies in its unique system, which helps to find the talents and train them at younger ages.
To spot the young talents and to bring them to good cultures, where they can grow up, where they go to school and practice a lot with good coaches, "this is unique in China," and "that's we have to learn, but it's not easy," Boll said.
Germany is well-structured in clubs where a lot of amateur players can play each other, but it lacks a good structure for professional table tennis like China, he noted.
Commenting on his performance at the recently concluded 2021 Houston World Table Tennis Championships, he said it was unfortunate as he failed to take a chance at the semifinal, but still "it's a nice story" to win his first singles medal at the worlds in a decade at the age of 40.
The German said he came to Houston "without very high expectations," as he was still a little bit struggling with his physical condition after the Olympics and wasn't sure if he could play really on a high level.
Boll said he won't be retiring any time soon, though he could feel the age every day.
"It's all about fun playing ... I won't find anything else which can fulfill myself so much like table tennis, it's also hard to stop. I have to admit," he said.
The veteran, who repeatedly voiced his love for practicing and the routine of a sportsman, added that respect from the other players and fans also encourages him to keep going.
Looking ahead, Boll said he would concentrate on his club, try to compete in big tournaments and play them on a high level.
"I will try to play, especially the Asian tournaments where I can compete against the best players like the Chinese players," he said, adding he hopes to lead his compatriots to compete in the 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Chengdu.
"Hopefully I can come back to China soon," he said. Enditem