Like living legend Jan-Ove Waldner, Timo Boll is always a crowd puller in table tennis-crazy China.
The 26-year-old Boll has opted out of the world team table tennis championships which opens on Saturday, to rest an injured knee before cracking a shot at this summer's Beijing Olympics.
"China regards Germany as its top rival in the men's team competition, but without Boll, Germany is not the same team," said Chinese Table Tennis Association's media chief Zhao Weizhen.
"My patella tendon is inflamed and my knee needs a rest," Boll said in a statement released by the International Table Tennis Federation.
"It is senseless to play there not fully fit and with permanent aches," the triple European champion said of the tournament in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.
Former world doubles champion Jorg Rosskopf, 38, fills Boll's void in the German team for the championships which runs to March 2.
Boll is widely recognized as the European successor to legendary Swede Waldner, the first player of three to have swept a "Grand Slam" of Olympic, world championships and World Cup singles titles.
The other winners are Chinese Liu Guoliang, now head coach of the Chinese men's team, and Kong Linghui, coach of the women's squad.
Ranked fifth in the world as the top-rated non-Chinese, Boll was supposed to be the biggest draw in Guangzhou. His pullout disappoints Chinese fans.
"I like Boll's game very much," said Luo Jun, an IT technician and avid fan of the German star. "I am a bit disappointed that he is not coming."
Possessing a set of superb serves and lethal topspin attacks, Boll led the Germans to a silver medal in 2004 and a bronze in 2006. In 2007, the German team counted on Boll's awesome form to deliver the men's team, singles and doubles gold medals in the European championships.
Chinese coach Liu is suspicious of Boll's injuries.
"I believe Boll has injuries, but I doubt his injuries are serious enough to keep him from the world championships," said Liu.
"He is saving the best for the Olympics," Liu added.
(Xinhua News Agency February 22, 2008)