JOHOR BAHRU, 15 July 2017 – Jorgen Persson may have called the wrong call at the opening toss, but the Swedish legend would soon be purring as he watched Wang Manyu gave his team the winning start to Team Fixture 12 at the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
On the final day of Round 2, the audience at the purpose-built T2 Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios made their presence felt as they cheered every play and clearly had their favourites in every match.
Team Rossi would have fancied their chances in the final match which featured European champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov but Mattias Karlsson had other ideas.
Match 1: Elizabeta Samara (ROM) vs Wang Manyu (CHN)
Samara would be wondering what manner of storm hit her as she was outplayed in this match by a teenage player ranked eight places below her. Indeed, Wang is showing herself to be a more-than-able replacement for world number one Ding Ning. The 17-year-old stormed to a 3-0 lead after winning 11-3, 11-5 and 11-8. Even when Samara jumped to a 5-1 lead in the fourth game, Wang pegged her back to 5-5, then sprinted away to win 11-7. The Chinese player was never threatened in the fifth set, as she held on to win 10-4 as time expired.
Said Wang, who gave herself 7 out of 10 for her performance: “I was very well prepared and I guess I executed my game plan well today. Maybe I can do even better my next time out.”
Match 2: Paul Drinkhall (ENG) vs Joo Saehyuk (KOR)
A compelling contest that served up one good rally after another, with Drinkhall unlucky to end up on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline. It was the Englishman who took the first and third sets 11-5 and 11-6, relying on good defence and effective attacks. But the two games that he lost could so easily have been wins, as on both occasions, Drinkhall came from behind to tie the score at 10-10 only to lose the deciding points. The Kill Zone game would see Joo overcome a 3-1 deficit to subdue Drinkhall 5-3 for a worthy victory.
Commented Joo on winning the Kill Zone game: “I just kept believing I could win and never gave up. The crowd was cheering so hard for me and I couldn’t let them down.”
Match 3: Cheng I-Ching (TPE) vs Bernadette Szocs (ROM)
If Szocs wasn’t a player familiar to many in Asia, the Romanian is definitely winning her way into the hearts of many fans with her never-say-die attitude and a tremendous fighting spirit. And after six matches at T2APAC, Szocs can be reasonably proud of losing only one match, a close 3-2 defeat to Hina Hayata this week. Against a tough opponent like Cheng, Szocs knew she had to be patient in wearing down her opponent, as she won a tight first game 11-10, then added the second 11-7. Cheng found her range in the third, winning 11-5, but the fourth set would see Szocs coming from 2-6 down to tie at 8-8 before winning 11-8. There was enough time for a fifth game which Cheng won 4-2 to narrow the margin of defeat.
Said Szocs: “It’s really good to see all the fans and supporters here. I’ve been playing unbelievably well in T2APAC and hope I can play like this always. Our team has gelled well and are always together and it has helped everyone play better.”
Match 4: Wang Chuqin (CHN) vs Jun Mizutani (JPN)
Rising star Wang has adapted quickly to the T2APAC format after replacing Chinese compatriot Shang Kun in Round 2. Facing his second Japanese opponent after losing his debut match 1-4 to Harimoto, he was in better form against Mizutani as he relied on his superior hand speed to win the first two games 11-8, 11-5. Mizutani, a former child prodigy himself, wasn’t about to cave, as he patiently worked himself back to edge the third game 11-10. But he would rue not being able to make the most of an 8-4 lead in game four, as Wang fought back to win 11-9. Having lost his previous two Kill Zone games, Wang managed to hold his nerve this time to win 5-4, wrapping up a handsome 4-1 win.
Said Wang: “Thanks to all the fans who supported me. I’ll do my best to keep improving in the coming matches.”
Match 5: Georgina Pota (HUN) vs Suthasini Sawettabut (THA)
Little to separate these two players as the match had to be decided by a fifth game played under time pressure. Pota drew first blood by taking the opener 11-7 but Suthasini quickly hit back to win the second game 11-4. Pota took an early lead in the third and kept her opponent at bay to win it 11-9. But the Thai, who was women’s singles champion at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, returned the favour in the fourth, winning it easily 11-4. It was down to a final game with Pota overturning a 1-3 deficit to carve out a small lead which she held as time ran out.
Said Pota on the final game which could have gone either way: “I just tried to concentrate from the beginning because I knew we won’t be able to complete the set, so every point was very important. At 4-3 I got lucky when my return hit the edge of the table. She played very well and varied her serve but I’m so happy to have won this match.”
Match 6: Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) vs Mattias Karlsson (SWE)
On paper this should have been a straightforward win for Ovtcharov who is the highest ranking men’s player of this competition. But the German world number four couldn’t cope with his Swedish opponent ranked 20 places below him. Playing with greater intent, Karlsson simple wouldn’t allow his European champion opponent to get into stride, shooting to an 8-2 lead in the opening game, which he converted into an 11-6 win. The second game was even easier, as Karlsson thumped Ovtcharov 11-3. Ovtcharov finally found his groove in the third set which he won 11-9 but again went off-rhythm as he dropped the next two games 3-11, 7-11. There was enough time to play a Kill Zone game, which Ovtcharov would be thankful to win 5-3 to narrow the margin of defeat to 4-2.
Team Captain’s quote:
Jorgen Persson: “This was a fantastic effort from my team. We had a break yesterday and they came back much fresher and it showed. I told them this is the last game with two weeks of free time to come, so I urged them to give everything. And thank you also to the fans here today, they gave fantastic support to all the teams. Keep coming back for more great table tennis in the coming rounds.”
Match Day 3
Team Fixture 12: Team Rossi vs Team Persson