The sport has been patting itself on the back after what is widely regarded as the best World Championships for the past 20 years. The victory by Austrian Werner Schlager finally broke a run of two successive Chinese clean sweeps. The Chinese fell one title short of their fourth sweep in five championships, a domination that was threatening to dull interest in the sport, not just in Europe but on the mainland, too. The breaking of the Chinese hegemony has given table tennis a much-needed shot in the arm. Since it was introduced in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, China have claimed all but three of the 16 gold medals, while from that time the eight World Championships have seen 31 of the 40 titles land in Chinese hands. 'The Chinese prefer to see their players against other countries,' said Adham Sahrara, the president of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). 'Then they can relate to and cheer for their player. In China, there is not the same interest when there is an all-Chinese match.' However, the championships do not herald the end of an era for Chinese table tennis. They not only won the other four finals, with Wang Nan completing the first triple since 1971, they produced all the finalists and 13 of the 16 semi-finalists. It was only in the men's singles that things did not go their way with only Kong Linghui making the semi-finals. However, the margin between success and failure was minute, as pointed out by Li Furong, the deputy minister of sports, a team world champion and a beaten finalist in the 1961, 1963 and 1965 individual championships. 'This actually met our expectations. We knew the men's singles would be very difficult,' he said. 'There are many strong players and the levels are very close. There was a lot of concern from our own point of view. But all of our players who lost had a very good chance to win. Kong Linghui, Ma Lin, Wang Liqin and Liu Guozheng all lost 4-3. One point could have changed all of those results. But I saw that we made more mistakes and I could see some of our techniques were not strong.' Just as exciting was the re-emergence of the defensive player as a force. Contradictory as it might sound, these players helped create a fantastic spectacle as they backed off from the table and hurled themselves around the arena. It had been thought they were an endangered species. The last time that a 'chopper' won a men's title was in 1950 - when Richard Bergmann, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis to continue his career for England, won the last of his four titles - so long ago that the players in those days were still using pimpled rubber rather than sponge on their bats. The last defensive men's finalist before the surprise package of Paris, Joo Se-hyuk, was Eberhard Scholer in 1969. But Joo and the Austrian/Inner Mongolian quarter-finalist Chen Weixing are far more than out-and-out defensive players. Joo, in particular, was being hailed as having the finest attacking game ever seen in a player of his type. The emergence of genuine opposition in the sports' blue riband event and the evolution of the more aggressive chopper style bodes well for the sport. The success of Kalinkos Kreanga of Greece in reaching the semi-finals will increase interest in the host nation for the Athens Olympics, while Beijing 2008 is a guaranteed success.