| Austrian Werner Schlager gave Europe its first title since Jan-Ove Waldner’s gold in 1997. (AP)
Paris: Austria’s Werner Schlager won the men’s singles title at the table tennis world championships here Sunday.
The sixth seed defeated Korea’s Joo se-Hyuk 11-9, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 8-11, 12-10. The 30-year-old registered Europe’s first success in the blue riband event since Swedish legend Jan-Ove Waldner’s gold in 1997.
“I’ve played the role of fox chased by the great Chinese players for too long, now with this title I guess I’ll become a hunter,” said Schlager.
“I hope I’m not going to wake up suddenly and find this fairytale is a dream,” added Schlager, who booked his ticket to the final with a seven set semi-final victory over double Olympic champion Kong Linghui earlier.
Tackled on his plans to celebrate the new world number one smiled: “I don’t know, some beer might help I guess.”
The right-handed attacking player was bringing the trophy home to Austria for only the second occasion in the event’s 77-year history.
Schlager’s defeat of Kong in the semi-final left China without a representative in the men’s final for the first time in six years prompting him to observe: “This wall of China thing is played up a little by the press, for me it’s more a question of playing a beautiful game and it’s all about who is best.”
“I enjoyed playing Joo and trying to disrupt his rhythm by hitting long and short balls, I think I did it quite well,” he added with a forgiveable lack of modesty.
Schlager’s win prevented a third consecutive clean sweep of championship golds for China.
Schlager’s 11-9, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8, 8-11, 7-11, 14-12 triumph in the semi-final left China without a representative in the men’s final for the first time in six years.
In the other semi-final, Joo defeated the 9th-seeded Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece 11-5, 3-11, 11-7, 11-8, 12-10.
In the fiery semi-final encounter between Schlager and Joo, the Austrian raced to a 2-1 lead, and he tightened his grip further when his clinical finish earned him the fourth set too.
But Kong, who was seeking to repeat his 1995 championship success, cut the deficit by taking the next set 11-8. Kong then went on to square the match by taking the sixth set also.
At this point Schlager, as he had done in his quarter final win over reigning champion Wang Liqin, raised his game. But stout resistance from the opposite end of the table saw the pair neck and neck in the deciding set at 12-12. Schlager then kept his cool to save one match point before converting his chance to close out at 14-12.
“It was a tough game played at an intensely high level,” said Schlager of the semis win.