The highest Spanish entry on the ITTF World Rankings list and an experienced head on the world stage, Alvaro Robles has been the pacesetter for his nation’s efforts over the past decade with numerous appearances at the sport’s most prestigious events.
Robles pulled off one of his finest international achievements last year when he combined with Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu to claim men’s doubles silver at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest. One year on the ITTF caught up with the Spaniard to discuss all things table tennis.
The rise to stardom
Simon Daish: How old were you when you first took up the sport and when did it really start to click for you that you knew you wanted to become a professional athlete?
Alvaro Robles: I started at the age of nine and it wasn’t until I was 18 that I decided that I would like to become a professional player. I was still going to school and I felt that I wanted to practise more.
SD: Did you have any table tennis role models growing up? If so, who which players really stood out for you why did they prove so inspirational?
AR: Wang Liqin was my role model when I was a junior because of his attitude at the table. Timo Boll to this day is another player who inspires me. He is left-handed and I love to watch and learn from him. I also have to say that in the last year I have been inspired by Lin Yun-Ju, who is simply amazing. When I became professional player, I looked to a few players who inspired and helped me to reach my goals, for example Carlos Machado, Andrej Gacina, Simon Gauzy and Hugo Calderano.
SD: From your personal perspective, what has been your standout memory in your career to date?
AR: The doubles silver medal I won with Ovidiu Ionescu at the 2019 World Championship in Budapest.
SD: There’s no shortage of talented figures on the professional stage, but who would you say is the toughest opponent you have ever faced?
AR: Fan Zhendong. I always feel that he dominates almost every aspect of the game, meaning it’s difficult to establish a foothold.
SD: Who is your personal favourite player to watch in action and why?
AR: I like to watch Xu Xin because of his style. He runs all over the table and that’s something I like to see.
Lighting up the doubles stage
SD: In addition to your singles qualities, you have also proven a highly skilled doubles player over the years. What is it about your game that suits the doubles scene so well and have you been working hard in this area from a young age, or has the ambition developed in recent years?
AR: If I am being honest, I never practised doubles in my life! I was always focused on my singles game. I think that my backhand flick and the good communication with my partner are key areas that work for me.
SD: As you mentioned earlier, you won a sensational men’s doubles silver medal alongside Ovidiu Ionescu at the 2019 World Championships, shocking fans across the world in the process. Why do you think your partnership with Ovidiu proved so difficult to topple in Budapest and what were the emotions running through you upon reaching the final?
AR: Well, before that amazing tournament, we already played few good events including the China Open where we beat Ma Long and Xu Xin. Our game fits very well together because each of us can develop his own strengths. The experience we lived there it was like a dream! To be on that court playing the finals with the best players in the world is something very special that I will always remember.
SD: Are there any players outside of Europe you would like to play alongside in a doubles pair?
AR: Jang Woojin
Keeping fit in 2020
SD: How was the long lockdown period for you earlier in the year and what techniques did you employ to keep yourself fit during the extended time in quarantine?
AR: During the second week of lockdown, I put up a table tennis table in my living room along with a robot and that was the set up I was playing with for two months. I was also doing Yoga every day which helped me to stay fit.
SD: What was it like returning to the table for the first time after lockdown had ended and how have things been progressing since?
AR: My first time back in training after lockdown was with Dimitrij Ovtcharov and it was really intense! The positive thing to come out of the long break without competitions during summer was that I find time to practise much more, so I now feel back up to speed.
SD: How do you like to spend your time away from table tennis when you’re not stuck at home? Are there any other sports you like to indulge in?
AR: I enjoy playing a lot of tennis and football.
Lessons learnt and future goals
SD: You are the highest ranked Spanish player in the world ranking list and have been for some time. How do you feel your country’s progress on the international table tennis front is shaping up – do you see a bright future ahead?
AR: Spanish table tennis has been making a great effort in recent years. Our tradition of table tennis is not as big as in other top countries like Germany, France or in Asia, so the federation is working hard to create a system that helps the players in their professional careers. We have two Olympic centres in Spain that provide the best possible conditions for us to focus on our training.
SD: What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your table tennis career which you would share with any new up-and-coming players?
AR: You really don’t stop learning in this sport because we are playing competitions every week, but as a lesson I would say that for me it was always very important to trust the process and the timing for the opportunities. I would advise any young players to start as soon as possible, there is not time to lose and it’s fun.
SD: What does the future hold for you? Do you have any key goals you are aiming to accomplish in the years ahead?
AR: I am 29 years old now and I started to reach some of my big goals not so long ago, so for the moment I wish to be healthy and fit for the next ten more years at a minimum. The best is yet to come.
SD: Finally, do you have a special message you would like to share with your fans?
AR: I would like to say thank you because the journey here was long. I am proud to wear the Spanish shirt all around the world and I will continue do so.