(2/20/16) - The Austrian National team ran into an issue just 10 days out from the 2016 Perfect World Table Tennis Championships in Malaysia. Daniel Habesohn has been struck with an illness which has ruled him out of the competition. The man to rise to the occasion came as quite the surprise. The WSA announced today that 2003 World Champion and formerly retired player, Werner Schlager, will step into the vacant team spot to play for Austria.
The former World Number 1 last competed at the 2013 World Championships where he lost to Germany's Patrick Baum but by then he was already transitioning into retirement. The former world champ, who famously won in Paris in 2003, remains to be the last European to win a World Championships after his infamous battles with Wang Liqin, Kong Linghui and Joo Se Hyuk. Schlager also won a silver medal at the World Cup and was twice European Top 12 Champion.
Upon retiring, Werner focused on the development of his Academy WSA in Schwechat, Austria, one of 2 ITTF International Academies in the World with excellent conditions and a host of top players. The centre was even used by the Chinese National Team on a number of occasions to prepare for important tournaments in Europe. WSA hosts players like Marcos Freitas, Tetyana Bilenko, Stefan Fegerl and many others as well as some of the world's top young players. For many years the head coach was internationally acclaimed former German team coach, Richard Prause, up until last year when he returned to Germany.
So why the comeback now? Well recently Schlager competed in the ITTF Legends Tour where he lost to Kreanga but there were signs of some long lost form hiding in the wings. While Schlager didn't look amazing, he still looked relatively competitive. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the champion claims the win at the Energis Masters games, in doing so also beating World Number 4 Dimitrij Ovtcharov from Germany and currently European Number 1. He marched into the final to defeat his former teammate Chen Weixing and claim the crown. As you can see in the match below, his form still looks like it was just yesterday when he retired!
During his career Schlager was labelled by the Chinese National Team as one of the great tactical players of the generation, alongside Jan-Ove Waldner and a host of Chinese players. Schlager was well known for his wicked fast serves, lightning face backhand punches and loops close to the table and also his incredible touch for dropshots.
Schlager is currently 43 years old as he returns to the table for Kuala Lumpur, just over a week since the retirement of one legend J.O Waldner, one comes back. No doubt it will be a spectacle to see one of Europe's former best as he attempts to compete with the best in the world again. Perhaps if we are lucky we will see a repeat of Jorgen Persson's Beijing Olympics performance and Schlager can achieve some surprise results.
Written by: Matt Hetherington