A Feng vs Szocs cliffhanger leaves fans thirsting for more after the penultimate round
JOHOR BAHRU, 7 Oct 2017 – Fans could not have asked for a more dramatic end to Round 5 of the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) as Feng Tianwei and Bernadette Szocs served up a thriller with just one more round to go in the regular season and so much still at stake.
Team Persson won by a single set (14-13) the last time these two teams met at the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru but it was Team Maze that Lady Luck favoured this time around, as all four teams remain in the running to make the Grand Finals.
Chinese teenager Shi Xunyao must have thought she had her maiden T2APAC win in her grasp only to let slip the opportunity, and Mattias Karlsson would be left wondering how Paul Drinkhall could win all his matches when pulling double duty while he would be less successful.
Match 1: Chen Chien-An (TPE) 4-1 Mattias Karlsson (SWE)** (11-9, 11-9, 11-1, 11-6, 6-7)
Just like Drinkhall for Team Rossi, Karlsson has been thrust into double duty due to Joo’s injury but the Swede didn’t show much confidence, especially after losing the tight opener. Karlsson’s inability to deal with Chen’s serve was key in his match as the Taiwanese took full advantage. A fightback from Karlsson in the fourth set stalled midway but he controlled the clock well in the fifth set and kept his nose ahead to secure a consolation point.
Said Chen: “I was aiming to make it a clean sweep and got a bit hasty in the final set. I served well today and he struggled with his returns. That worked well with my attacking approach, hence I was able to assert my dominance.”
Match 2: Yang Haeun (KOR) 2-2 Shi Xunyao (CHN) (10-11, 2-11, 11-8, 11-10)
Quite possibly the match of the day had it not been eclipsed later by Feng vs Szocs. Shi was looking good to secure her maiden T2APAC win after going two sets up. The Chinese teenager fought back from 8-10 behind to win the first set that featured a dead fly, then ran away with the second. Yang slowly brought herself back into the game before both fought out a dramatic fourth set. Yang held a 10-2 lead with nearly two and a half minutes on the clock, then conceded eight straight points to send the match to a sudden-death point, which she won to earn a 2-2 draw and leave Shi still seeking a breakthrough victory.
Commented Yang on the cliffhanger fourth game: “I was leading 10-2 and she was fast to the ball and making strong returns. I got a bit nervous and was unable to focus. Thank God I won the last point!”
Match 3: Aleksandr Shibaev (RUS) 2-3 Jun Mizutani (JPN) (8-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 3-5*)
A see-saw match is the best way to describe this one as both men gave their best only for Mizutani to edge it in what turned out to be the day’s only Kill Zone game. It was a high quality match with big rallies as both took turns to close out the first four sets. Down to the Kill Zone decider, Mizutani gained the upperhand and closed out the match with a short serve and swift attack.
Said Jun: “I lost 1-4 to him the last time so it’s good to be able to get one back. I also haven’t had much luck with the Kill Zone and am glad to win this one.”
Match 4: Hina Hayata (JPN) 1-3 Suthasini Sawettabut (THA) (8-11, 11-10, 9-11, 6-9)
Memory of a first round drubbing by the same opponent spurred Suthasini in this match and the Thai ace was keen to prove she is no pushover. In taking the first set, she ensured there was to be no repeat of the previous result but Hayata fought back to edge the next game. Hayata took an early lead in the third but following a time-out when she was 5-2 up, the popular Japanese player lost her way, allowing Suthasini to reach game point first before closing out the set. The Thai ace would jump to an 8-3 lead in the fourth game played under time pressure and held on to secure a handy win.
Said Suthasini: “Having lost 4-0 to Hina in our first meeting, it’s good to be able to get a result over her this time and I really want to thank the fans for their support.”
Match 5: Timo Boll (GER) 3-2 Mattias Karlsson (SWE) (10-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 7-3)
Karlsson would wonder how he managed to let this one slip, especially after he’d looked very comfortable in going two sets up against Boll. It was the German the legend who looked ill at ease, whiffing the ball in the deciding point in the first game, then serving into the net and out when 8-10 behind in the second. But you can never count out a player like Boll as he stormed back to take the next two sets in commanding fashion and was always in control in the deciding fifth game.
Commented Boll: “This sport is so much about confidence and after failing to close out the first set my opponent just got better and better. It was an untypical game with pimples on the forehand and it took a while to get used to the different rhythm.”
Match 6: Feng Tianwei (SGP) 3-2 Bernadette Szocs (ROM) (8-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-5, 5-4)
Team Maze led by a single point at the start of this tie with Feng surely the favourite to secure a result over Szocs. But the Romanian never fails to raise her game against big name opponents and this was no different as she took the first game but not letting Feng settle into any sort of rhythm. The Singaporean invariably fought back, and the players ended up splitting the first four sets. With at least a draw in the bag for Team Maze, Feng would enjoy two pieces of good fortune in the deciding fifth game, a table-edge winner to go 3-1 up, then another on the final point, leaving her opponent in tears afterwards.
Said Feng: “I was very lucky with that last point, sorry Bernadette, and there was a similar point earlier also. It was a very competitive match. I still have a lot to do to ensure I get to play in the grand finals.”
Team Captains’ quotes:
“It was a very difficult match for us, we had a good start and Chen played excellent today, he was our man of the match. To win by two sets over Team Persson is ok but I had hoped for a bigger win.” – Team Maze captain Michael Maze
“We have now lost twice to Team Maze by a close margin but we are still top of the table. It was a very close fixture but I think Bernie really deserved to win the last match. Team Rossi is coming on strong and have the best form at the moment, so they are still in it. It will be an exciting Round 6 next.” – Team Persson captain Jorgen Persson
Quote of the day:
“We were a bit lucky in the end, I feel sorry for Bernie, she played a great match. It’s sports sometimes, it’s brutal.” – Michael Maze on the two decisive table-edge winners for Feng that swung things his way in the final match
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About T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League:
Headquartered in Singapore and with offices in Shanghai and Chicago, the first-ever pan-regional professional table-tennis league has been assembled to engage a much broader audience and consumer base. The first of its kind, T2APAC features a ground-breaking format including separate but concurrent Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed-Team Championships, a player draft system (for the Mixed-Team Championship), 24-minute time limit per match, and a unique scoring system. All 228 matches of the inaugural season will be held entirely in the T2CAVERN, a specially-designed and purpose-built arena at Pinewood Studios in Johor, Malaysia, and before a live studio audience.