Feng Tianwei earns playoff spot on the very last point as Chuang, Samsonov and Boll book their spots in the men’s final four
JOHOR BAHRU, 4 Nov 2017 – The regular season of the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) came to a close with Team Maze going through as the top team despite losing 17-12 to Team JJ in this final tie.
That’s after Yang Haeun gave Team Maze a flying start at the purpose-built T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru.
Chuang Chih-Yuan fought back to beat fellow Taiwanese Chen Chien-An to book his playoff passage and Jeon Jihee gave Team JJ brief hope with her result over Hina Hayata.
Feng Tianwei endured jitters in her quest for a playoff spot which she eventually secured on the very final point, and Timo Boll could not repel Vladimir Samsonov in the final tie, although the result did both men little harm.
Match 1: Matilda Ekholm (SWE) 1-4 Yang Haeun (KOR) (9-11, 7-11, 5-11, 11-10, 3-5*)
Team Maze needed four games to move back into Grand Finals contention and Yang duly delivered in the very first tie against her Swedish opponent. In truth, the Korean needed only to stay steady against Ekholm whose every trip to the table has been a battle against inner demons. Ekholm couldn’t push on from an early lead in the opening set, and quickly lost her resolve and the first three games. The fourth set saw Ekholm taking a 10-4 lead, then conceding six straight points before managing to close out the game. That was the only bright spot for the Swede as she went on to lose the Kill Zone game. Not the start Team JJ wanted.
Said Yang: “This was an important match for the team and I’m happy to pick up the four points.”
Match 2: Chuang Chih-Yuan 4-1 Chen Chien-An (TPE) (7-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8, 10-6)
Chen took the opener in the all-Taiwanese encounter to earn another important point for Team Maze but Chuang was a man on a mission as he could still make the top four in individual standings. No wonder then that the veteran stepped it up to take the next two games, closing off both sets strongly. Chuang would’ve wanted the same for the next two games as he probably squandered the opportunity to earn the Kill Zone game and perhaps another point for Team JJ. He needed four tries to close out the fourth game from 10-5 up, and was ahead 7-1 in the fifth set before struggling to close it out at 10-6, wasting precious time in the process.
Said Chuang: “I gave it all out there today but I’m not entirely sure if this would be enough to get me into the Grand Finals.”
Match 3: Jeon Jihee (KOR) 4-1 Hina Hayata (JPN) (11-10, 11-8, 11-10, 11-8, 1-5*)
Perhaps one of Jeon’s best performance of the season, much to the surprise of even her captain. Showing none of the fragility that typified her outings for most of the season, the Korean showed plenty of fight to come from 9-10 down to take the opener. She would do the same in the third set, fighting from 4-7 and 5-8 to again edge the game on sudden death point, and suddenly she was 3-0 up against her Japanese opponent. Despite Hayata’s best efforts, Jeon was able to keep up the momentum and it was only in the Kill Zone that Hayata found her range to take the short set and gain a point for Team Maze.
Said Jeon: “I lost 4-0 to her the last time so I was determined to do better this time around. The scoreline was a bit unexpected but I hope it’s enough to keep alive our Grand Finals hopes.”
Match 4: Jeoung Youngsik (KOR) 2-2 Aleksandr Shibaev (RUS) (9-11, 8-11, 11-9, 6-4)
Whatever hopes Team JJ harboured of making the Grand Finals were ended in this tie where Shibaev finally put a stop to the Jeoung juggernaut. The arrival of the Korean as substitute for Tomokazu Harimoto revitalised his team, and although he had a habit of dropping the first set of his matches, the 25-year-old invariably power through for a win. Not this time. Shibaev was aggressive from the start and always kept his nose in front in taking the first two games. Jeoung’s fightback came in the third set, and with both men on the edge of being penalised for slow play, they would struggle to take the match beyond four sets. In the end, the fourth set was a shortened one, and perhaps Shibaev may have felt he edged this one despite the result being a draw.
Said Jeoung: “Shibaev played really well today. I thought I played well but couldn’t keep up my winning streak.”
Match 5: Liu Fei (CHN) 2-2 Feng Tianwei (SGP) (11-8, 9-11, 11-6, 5-6)
Plenty riding on this match with Feng needing to win two sets against the Chinese teenager to lock up her playoff spot. Liu’s defensive backspin style was always going to pose a problem for Feng and the Singaporean’s trouble deepened when she dropped the first set. Despite Feng winning the second set to draw level, Liu took the third game and was up 3-0, then 4-1 in the fourth game with the clock running down. There were some 60 secs left on the clock when Feng drew level at 4-4, then won the next point off an edge that wrongfooted Liu. But Liu would win the next point to draw level, leaving Feng’s chances hanging on the very last point in the final 22 seconds. To Feng’s delight, Liu sent the deciding point into the net, earning the Singaporean passage into the women’s final four.
Commented Feng: “That was such a tough fight. I was always behind and thought my chances were gone but I never gave up and managed to get that last point, what an awesome result.”
Match 6: Vladimir Samsonov (BEL) 4-2 Timo Boll (GER) (11-3, 5-11, 11-5, 5-11, 5-11, 8-10)
Samsonov needed to win four games to stand any chance of making the playoffs and it was always going to be a tall order against Timo Boll, fresh off a runner-up finish at the World Cup. And things looked bleak for the Belarussian after Boll took two of the opening three games. Undeterred, Samsonov dug deep, knowing he had not only Boll but also the clock to work against, and he took the next two sets against an increasingly beleaguered Boll, hampered by an injury. Samsonov would lead 10-6 in the sixth game before closing out a nervy 10-8 win, with the result good enough to send both men through to the Grand Finals, and knocking Jun Mizutani out of the top four.
Said Samsonov: “I knew that I needed four points, and it was a very tough game. It’s always tough to play against Timo and I’m very happy to be in the finals.”
Team Captains’ quotes:
“It was always going to be a tall order for us to win 21 sets to go through to the Grand Finals. But the team fought really and we gave a good account of ourselves. I want to thank all the fans for coming to support all the teams. This can only be good for table-tennis going forward.” – Team JJ captain Jiang Jialiang
“It was quite comfortable in the end but things were in the balance in the middle. I knew we didn’t have a perfect draw today and it was hard. I’m happy for Feng Tianwei who had a tough start to the season and she deserved her place in the Grand Finals and I’m happy to have two players in the individual top four as well.” – Team Maze skipper Michael Maze
Quote of the day:
“Thank you Michael Maze for guiding me through my match and for always encouraging me. I hope to play my part for the team in the Grand Final, and hopefully we will win the championship.” – Feng Tianwei complimenting her team captain after booking her place in the women’s final four
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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.