Champion lays challenge on the table
He’s still regarded as one of Australia’s best table tennis players, but veteran William Henzell believes its time someone knocked him off that pedestal.
A 10-time Oceania Singles Champion and a 12-time Australian Singles Champion, Henzell retired from the sport in 2016, but still holds Australia's highest singles placing ever at an Olympic Games - 17th at London 2012.
But the 35-year-old is hoping to see Australia’s current table tennis stars step up and beat his record.
“I basically dedicated my life to table tennis for 15 years and spent most of those years overseas working as hard as I could to become a better player,” Henzell told GC2018.com.
“So it’s lovely to have this honour but I think it’s time for some of the younger guys to knock me off that pedestal.
“We need our next Australian table tennis star to step up.”
A history maker in the sport, Henzell secured Australia's first Commonwealth Games table tennis singles medal, a silver in Melbourne in 2006.
The right-hander became the first Australian male to win matches in both the singles and doubles at the Athens 2004 Olympics and was the first to reach the third round of the singles at Beijing, two years later.
For a sport which is dominated by Asian countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, Henzell believes athletes need to regularly expose themselves to overseas competitions in order to break out on the world stage.
“I think the young up and coming players, if they do want to make it on the world stage, need to base themselves in Europe for multiple years to be able to breakthrough at the top level,” Henzell said.
“When you’re based in Europe, you’re playing league, week in and week out, you’re playing pro tour events and that’s where you build up the mental toughness to be able to win big matches.
“I understand this is not for everyone and won’t criticise any player that doesn’t want to go overseas as it is an enormous sacrifice for every aspect of your life, I just believe that’s what is required.”
Henzell believes sacrifice and full-time dedication is key for success.
“I moved over to Europe when I was 14 and basically stayed there for 12-13 years for the sport,” Henzell said.
“It is a very repetitive sport and there’s a lot of hours you need to spend out on the table working very hard.
“It is a grind to be a professional athlete, there’s six hours a day where you’re doing similar stuff, day in and day out, and it can wear you down mentally but that’s what elite sport is all about.
“It’s about having the persistence and the longevity to be able to dedicate yourself to your sport for many years before you’re even good enough to break through internationally.”
The No.1 player in the Oceania region for a number of years, Henzell was inducted into the Australian Table Tennis Hall of Fame at the age of just 26 – a whopping 20 years younger than any other inductee.
However, a lot has changed for the former Australian No.1 table tennis player with the Melbourne resident currently working at a law firm whilst studying an MBA at the Melbourne Business School part-time.
And although he doesn’t spend much time hitting balls these days, he still fondly remembers his time on the table, especially winning silver at Melbourne 2006.
“That was one of my proudest moments,” Henzell said.
“What made it especially special was that my parents got to watch me play.
“Moving overseas at a young age meant my parents didn’t get much of an opportunity to watch me play, so Melbourne was one of the first times where they got to see me compete and cheer me on. Which was extremely special.”
Alongside his parents were thousands of other unlikely supporters who also left a memorable ‘Aussie’ imprint.
“What was nice about the Commonwealth Games was that the crowd were generally a non-table tennis crowd,” he said.
“They’d obviously never seen high level table tennis before and it gave it quite a different atmosphere, it was almost like being at the footy.
“Table Tennis crowds are generally more subdued than footy crowds and you could say crowd etiquette went out of the window at the Games and it was fantastic.
“The crowd were going absolutely crazy all the time so it was certainly unlike anything I have ever experienced playing in Australia and something I will remember forever.”
The next stars of Australian table tennis will have their chance to impress at the 2018 Australian Commonwealth Games Qualification Tournament to be held on the Gold Coast starting on January 11.
The memories will last, but the tickets won’t. Make sure you secure your table tennis tickets today.