JOHOR BAHRU, 7 Dec 2017 – Day 1 of the Grand Finals at the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) Showed just how the competition has caught the imagination of fans who turned out in droves to see their favourite players in action.
At the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, four quality matches left the fans breathless and still yearning for more as the finalists in the women’s and men’s individual competitions were decided.
The winners will each walk away with US$40,000 and it will be decided between Feng Tianwei and Bernadette Szocs for the women and Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov for the men. All four came through the toughest of tests to earn their places in the deciders.
Women’s Semi-finals 1: Shi Xunyao (CHN) 1-3 Feng Tianwei (SGP) (11-7, 9-11, 7-11, 7-8)
It looked like it was going to be an easy assignment for Feng given Shi struggled in the regular season to record a match win, finally achieving it only in her very last group match. But it was Shi, the 2016 World Junior Champion, who drew first blood by taking the first game in convincing fashion. Feng knew she could ill afford to go two games behind and kept things tight to win the season set despite a late rally from Shi. At 31, Feng is a veritable veteran with plenty of experience in her, and it started to pay dividends as she seized control to win the third game, at times bamboozling Shi with her serve. But there was still to be drama in the end as Shi went for broke in the fourth game, fighting from 4-6 behind to level at 6-6, and even took a 7-6 lead. The seconds ran out at 7-7, and a sudden death point was required to see if the match would go into a fifth game. That didn’t happen as Feng won the deciding point, and with it the match, as Shi ballooned her return after the ball caught the top edge of her bat.
Said Feng: “I really hope to go all the way and win this competition. I felt quite lucky there on that final rally when the ball went off the edge of Shi’s bat. She played really well and it was a very competitive match, all credit to her.”
Said Shi: “I wasn’t especially nervous and went into the match with the mentality to give it all I’ve got. I fought hard but there were untidy patches which obviously cost me the match.”
Men’s Semi-finals 1: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) 2-3 Timo Boll (GER) (11-7, 4-11, 11-10, 6-11, 3-9)
A highly enjoyable spectacle for the fans as Chuang and Boll put on a grand show of punching and counter-punching with super rallies that showcased table-tennis at its very best. Chuang went for his shots early but Boll immediately hit back to split the opening two games. Chuang went on the offensive again in the third set, keeping Boll on the back foot and narrowly edged the tight set. Despite Jiang Jialiang urging the Taiwanese player to go for the kill, Boll finally found the motivation to return the favour and he now stepped up to push back at Chuang. The German would keep stay on the momentum to put the match beyond Chuang’s reach, highlighted by a scintillating rally in the fifth game.
Said Chuang: “I made far more mistakes in the first three rallies of every point and simply failed to control my play there. I feel I did my best and managed to find my way around to solving problems. But it wasn’t enough in the end.”
Said Boll: “I had a bad start but Chuang played really fantastic. I couldn’t put him under pressure enough. I had to start hitting difficult shots and I didn’t get many easy points. We’re both around the same age but he seems to be fitter than me. I think the key for me was in the end I played more precise and powerful.”
Women’s Semi-finals 2: Liu Fei (CHN) 2-3* Bernadette Szocs (ROM) (9-11, 8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 4-5*)
There is no doubt Szocs is taking the Grand Finals seriously. The Romanian arrived in Johor Bahru with her father as well as her sports psychologist in tow. Which goes a long way to explaining how Szocs was able to keep her composure under extreme pressure late in the match against Liu. Having taken the first two games, which including a comeback from 3-7 down in the second, Szocs started to see the match slipping away as Liu found her defensive range and asserted control. Conscious of the change in momentum, Szocs played with a little less certainty as Liu hit back to level the match at two games apiece. In the tense Kill Zone that followed, Szocs called time-out with Liu 2-0 ahead and promptly won the next two points to achieve parity. But it was Liu who again shot ahead to earn herself two match points with Szocs looking all but out. But as she has shown all season, Szocs never gives up and proceeded to grind her way back to 4-4 before seeing Liu’s shot on the sudden-death point hitting the net and going long. In three short points, Liu’s payout went from a certain US$20,000 to just US$5,000, which is what the losing semi-finalists will be getting.
Said Liu: “That was a tough loss. I did my best and there were very few mistakes but I will be thinking about those final three points for a long time.”
Said Szocs: “I wasn’t thinking at the start of the season that I could be playing in the semi-finals, so I really can’t imagine now that I will be playing in the final. I really prepared hard for this match with Liu especially having lost to her in regular season. I watched the match and just practices against a similar player. I simply took what I learnt in my practice into the match. Now I get a chance again to play against Feng.”
Men’s Semi-finals 2: Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) 3-1 Jun Mizutani (JPN) (11-10, 6-11, 11-8, 11-10)
Ovtcharov made no secret he was out to win it all right from the start of the season as the German set the pace in T2APAC while making waves on the European and world circuits. Mizutani, meanwhile, never quite lived up to the hype and needed illness to Vladimir Samsonov to take his place in the final four. And the Japanese looked to have found his groove after dropping a tense first set to his club team-mate by the narrowest of margins. Having beaten Ovtcharov twice in the T2APAC regular season, Mizutani certainly knows what to do but the German quickly showed why he’s ranked 3rd in the world as he upped a gear to seize a 9-4 lead before closing out the third set. It was down to Game Four with Mizutani leading 9-7 into the final minute but unable to find the go-ahead point. Ovtcharov equalised to force a sudden-death point which he won to prevent the match going into a deciding 11-point game.
Said Mizutani: “I had my chances in the match but I think I played too negatively in the crucial moments.”
Said Ovtcharov: “This is my first victory over Jun for a very long time. This victory gives me a lot of confidence. I risked a bit more, I went for the points and it paid off in the end and I’m very glad to be playing in the final.”
Quote of the Day:
“It will be tough against Timo (Boll), we’ve been meeting a lot especially in the finals. I know he will want to win this one but I’m confident to bring another trophy home, I mean look at the cup, it’s beautiful and I want to take it home!” Dima Ovtcharov, eyeing yet another title in what has been an outstanding 2017 for him
Grand Finals Day 2
Friday 8 December 2017
Order of Play:
Team Championship Final
Team Maze vs Team Persson
Match 1: Timo Boll (GER) vs Jun Mizutani (JPN)
Match 2: Yang Haeun (KOR) vs Suthasini Sawettabut (THA)
Match 3: Chen Chien-An (TPE) vs Joo Saehyuk (KOR)
Women’s Championship 3rd/4th Place: Shi Xunyao (CHN) vs Liu Fei (CHN)
Women’s Championship Final: Feng Tianwei (SGP) vs Bernadette Szocs (ROM)