Table tennis: Doubles duo Falck, Karlsson serving up a Swedish renaissance

Mattias Falck (left) and Kristian Karlsson in 2021 became the first table tennis men's doubles world champions from Sweden since 1991. PHOTO: WORLD TABLE TENNIS

SINGAPORE – After winning gold at the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships in Houston, men’s doubles pair Mattias Falck and Kristian Karlsson have since risen to world No. 2 and become mini-celebrities in their home country Sweden.

Falck, 31, told The Straits Times: “They recognise me more after we won the title.

“Sometimes, people come up to say hi and tell me they watched the world championships final. They say it was an amazing match and they’re so happy we won it for Sweden.

“That makes me happy and proud that we managed to achieve such a huge title. More people are playing it in Sweden now and we are more liked as players.”

Karlsson, who is ranked 21st in singles, added: “It was just pure euphoria. When we realised what we had done, we were – and still are – very proud of it.

“There are not many non-Asian world champions, so this will always be with us and it’s the nicest feeling to look back and say we won the world championships together.”

Victory in the sport’s toughest competition has sparked hopes of a Swedish table tennis renaissance, which has been in the making for a few years.

Falck and Karlsson were the first Swedish world champions in the event since Peter Karlsson and Thomas von Scheele’s triumph in May 1991, a few months before Falck (September) and Karlsson (August) were even born.

National legend Jan-Ove Waldner was the last Swede to win a world title when he clinched the men’s singles gold in 1997.

In the 2021 final, Falck and Karlsson, then unseeded, defied the odds to beat South Korean 10th seeds Jang Woo-jin and Lim Jong-hoon.

Earlier, they had also disposed of Chinese top seeds Liang Jingkun and Lin Gaoyuan, as well as ninth seeds Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin.

At the same tournament, teenager Truls Moregardh made a surprise run to the final, where he lost to singles world No. 1 Fan. It was the second consecutive edition that a Swede finished second after Falck did so himself in 2019.

Karlsson, also 31, said: “Table tennis was very popular during the golden era in the 80s and 90s. The success stopped in the early 2000s and it was a tough situation for the next generation.

“They were always going to be compared to the previous guys, so it was hard for them. But in the last six years, we’ve been consistently taking medals in the world championships and European championships, so it’s interesting now for the Swedish team.

“The sport has become more popular in the last couple of years with Truls and Mattias taking silver and now our gold. If you produce results consistently, people are going to take a bigger interest.”

Mattias Falck (left) and Kristian Karlsson are the first table tennis men’s doubles world champions from Sweden since 1991 when they won in 2021. PHOTO: WORLD TABLE TENNIS

Noting that Sweden has five men’s singles players in the top 50, something the country “has not had for a long time”, he believes more success may be in the offing.

Falck and Karlsson kick off their world title defence in May in Durban, and the former noted that the Singapore Smash, which features the world’s best players, will help their preparations.

While Karlsson admitted “the odds are not in our favour”, he added: “But we know that if we can produce the same level of quality that we did, we will be very hard to beat. We just have to be at our absolute highest level to do such a feat again.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.