JOHOR BAHRU, 15 Jul 2017 – Team Maze had to make do without Korean player Yang Haeun who had taken ill overnight, and relied on Hina Hayata to play twice, as the Japanese player stood in for the ailing Yang.
On the final day of Round 2 of the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) in Johor Bahru, the two teams that met to kick off this made-for-TV table-tennis league proved equal to each other as three of the opening four matches ended in 2-2 draws.
Fans at the purpose-built T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios were in full voice today cheering Singapore star Feng Tianwei to her first victory, as well as the fast-paced final tie which saw Tomokazu Harimoto and Chen Chien-An play out a full five games before adding another Kill Zone set.
Match 1: Matilda Ekholm (SWE) vs Hina Hayata (JPN)
For a third straight day, Jiang Jialiang called on Swede Ekholm to lead his charge, after his opposite captain Michael Maze won the toss and named Hayata as his opening player. Hayata quickly got into stride to wrap up the first game 11-7, looking much like the player with a four win-one loss record. Then came the turning point when Hayata was unable to close game two despite leading 10-6. Ekholm, who has a one win-four loss record, fought back gallantly to win five straight points for the set. The Swede rode that momentum to clinch the third game 11-7. But with the fourth game played under time pressure, Ekholm had to fight back from 5-7 behind to force a deciding point at 7-7, and despite her best efforts, it was Hayata who took that final point to walk away with a 2-2 draw.
Said Hayata on clinching the final point: “I was expecting her to attack my serve, so it was all about dealing with that first and then playing my hardest to win that point.”
Match 2: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) vs Timo Boll (GER)
Any match with Chuang was always going to be exciting, what more when you have Boll on the opposite side, as both players served up a treat and left the audience wishing the clock was longer than 24 minutes. Boll won the opening two games 11-8, 11-10, with exciting rallies and little separating the two. Chuang hung on to a slight lead to close out the third game 11-10, then managed the clock well to be ahead 6-5 in the final 20 seconds. Boll served as the second ticked down and was left disappointed as the buzzer sounded in mid-rally while he was trying to secure a tying point to force sudden death, as the set went to Chuang for a 2-2 draw.
Asked about the scoring system, Boll said: “The result should really depend on me, not on the system. Of course you’re more stressed, when it came down to the situation of the final ball. Like everyone else, Chuang has learnt to slow things down when he’s leading, this is the system and it’s his right.”
Match 3: Jeon Jihee (KOR) vs Feng Tianwei (SGP)
Both players started this match determined to secure their first T2APAC win, and with identical one draw-four loss record. And for a while, it looked like world number six Feng was going to run away with this tie as she went 9-0 up in the first game and winning 11-1 in just three minutes. But then came the Jeon comeback as the Korean worked out a four point lead before closing out the second game 11-8. Feng found her range in game three to win 11-9, delighting her many fans in the audience. Jeon could count herself unlucky in the fourth game as it was point-for-point until 7-7 before Feng built a two point gap to win the shortened game 9-7, and a 3-1 win overall.
Asked if the third game was a turning point, Feng said: “Yes, you could say that. We were quite evenly matched and every point was hard-fought.”
Match 4: Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) vs Aleksandr Shibaev (RUS)
An intriguing match between two players who know each other well, although Samsonov is on hot form having won the ITTF Australian Open just before returning to Johor Bahru for Round 2 of T2APAC. But it was Shibaev who stole the march on his Belarussian opponent in taking the first game 11-9. Samsonov hit back to win the next two 11-3, 11-8 as he found his accuracy, while mixing up his serves to keep his opponent guessing. With time running out, it was Shibaev who came from 5-7 behind to level at 7-7, then working the clock as he took a 9-8 lead. Despite getting the tournament’s first yellow card for time-wasting, Shibaev managed to hold on for a 10-8 win.
Match 5: Sun Yingsha (CHN) vs Hina Hayata (JPN) (substitute for Yang Haeun who is ill)
With Yang Haeun sideline by illness, it was left to team-mate Hayata to play on her behalf, and the Japanese did an adequate job against her fellow teenage opponent Sun, who at 16 is a year younger. And it was Sun who took the first game 11-7, although Hayata fought back to take the second 11-4. And Hayata should have taken the third but was unable to close out the game from 10-9 in front, losing 10-11. A fired-up Sun, already ranked 10th in the world, took the fourth set 11-3 but could not get going in the fifth game played under time pressure, losing 1-4.
Said Sun: “The third game was crucial as I was leading 9-7 before I got too anxious while she played steadier and got back in. Good thing I was able to close out the game.”
Match 6: Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) vs Chen Chien-An (TPE)
A match played at breakneck speed as both players went for the kill, and Harimoto settled down faster to secure the opening game 11-4. Thereafter, it was the Chen show as the Taiwanese continue to burnish his reputation as the “find” of the tournament. Taking the second and third sets 11-8, 11-6, one would expect Chen to take his foot off the pedal. But the 26-year-old wasn’t about to let his 14-year-old opponent back into the match as he secured the fourth game 11-7, then fought back from 6-8 behind to win 11-9 as a frustrated Harimoto struggled for answers. There was just enough timeto play a Kill Zone set, and Harimoto hung tough to come from 3-4 behind to close out a 5-4 win, although still losing 4-2 overall.
Team Captains’ quotes:
Jiang Jialiang: “My team is starting to play a lot better, although I can see Sun Yingsha understands my instructions a lot better and I see more improvement coming out of her. This was such a competitive match, and the result could have been closer.”
Michael Maze, whose team picked up a fifth win from six matches:
“Everyone gave 110 per cent today, I’m really proud of the players and we picked up another 15 games. It wasn’t great to lose Yang Haeun, she had to go to the hospital this morning but insisted on coming to the venue to support the team, so you can see we have great team spirit. This will be very important throughout the season as we fight for the top two spots and a place in the final.”
Quote of the day:
“We really love having all of you here, and without the fans there wouldn’t be the sport, so keep coming.” – Team Maze captain Michael Maze thanking the fans
Match Day 3
Team Fixture 11: Team JJ vs Team Maze