Proper blocking is one of the most underrated skills in table tennis. When we think of the masters of this skill, the first world-class names that come to mind probably are, Jan-Ove Waldner, Oh Sang-Eun, and Vladimir Samsonov. Back in the 60s, there was a young German player on the rise who perfected the blocking skill and earned plenty of accolades in the next few decades. His name is Wilfried Lieck.
Born in 1945, the future German international won his first medal at the national championships in 1965. Soon, he joined the national team and successfully represented Germany in the international arena, for almost two decades. Shot-blocking became the key element in Lieck’s playing style. He played close to the table and relied on this element a lot. To block the shots efficiently, a great feeling and control of the ball are crucial. Lieck had it all, and his rare style of play brought a lot of success, both – nationally and internationally.
Throughout his career, he became the most successful German player on the national level, with a total of 16 gold medals in the German National Championships. Timo Boll and Jörg Roßkopf have the same amount of gold medals, but Lieck was able to win more medals in total. He was also very successful in the German Bundesliga, winning four titles during his career.
In the international arena, Lieck won silver and bronze medals in the team event of the World Championships together with other renowned German players, such as Eberhard Schöler. In 1978, Wilfried Lieck became the European champion in the mixed doubles event. On the professional circuit, the German international won two singles titles.
Despite his rare playing style, the success was there. Lieck is without a doubt – one of the greatest shot-blockers in table tennis history. Every top-class player can have a sequence during the game where he uses blocking as his main weapon. However, there is a massive difference between using this element occasionally and building the whole game around it. On the top level, Lieck and the Englishman, Desmond Douglas were the only two players who managed to achieve success at the major tournaments by keeping close to the table and being able to return the variety of the opponent topspins with confidence and great consistency.
Lieck played in an era when top-class players had very different styles, tactics, and characters. Unfortunately, nowadays, you won’t see this kind of player succeed. Even the defenders are the dying breed of table tennis, and blocking is more of a supplementary element for the top players rather than a cornerstone of their game. Luckily, we can at least enjoy some of the highlights, from the games of Wilfried Lieck. Such one-of-a-kind players made the game truly exciting to watch.
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