JOHOR BAHRU, 9 Dec 2017 – Day 2 of the Grand Finals at the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) saw the crowning of the first women’s champion in Romanian Bernadette Szocs who belied her world ranking of 57th to upset 11th-ranked Feng Tianwei in the final.
At the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Team Persson made the most of the Bonus Kill Zone games introduced for the Team Final by winning two of the three points there and limiting their halfway deficit to Team Maze to just three points.
But the day will be remembered for the victory by Szocs which also netted her US$40,000 and a weighty crystal trophy, with Liu Fei beating fellow Chinese Shi Xunyao in the battle for third place.
Team Championship Final: Team Maze vs Team Persson
Match 1: Timo Boll (GER) 2-2 Jun Mizutani (JPN) (11-10, 11-10, 8-11, 7-8)
A battle between two left-handed players who know each other’s games only too well, although Boll could occasionally surprise with a right hand return as he did the previous day in the men’s semi-finals. And it was the German who edged the first two sets with Mizutani netting the ball on both sudden-death points. The Japanese would hit back by taking the third, winning six straight points from 5-5. The shortened fourth set went to 7-7 before Mizutani took the winning point to leave the match all-square.
Match 2: Yang Haeun (KOR) 4-1 Suthasini Sawettabut (THA) (11-6, 11-4, 11-3, 11-10, 4-5)
Yang took control after a tense start to win the opener, and kept up the momentum to quickly wrap up the next two games as well. Staring at a big defeat, Suthasini began her fightback in the fourth game, going point-for-point with Yang and was unlucky to suffer a cruel edge on the deciding point. With the clock running down, Yang held a 4-2 lead in the fifth game and looked good to complete a whitewash. But the Korean refused to indulge in gamesmanship and run the clock down, allowing Suthasini the opportunity to level the score and going on to win the sudden death point to pull back a set that could ultimately prove costly for Team Maze. Was the Korean being sporting or was she simply naïve? The jury is still out.
Match 3: Chen Chien-An (TPE) 3-2 Joo Saehyuk (KOR) (10-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-9, 10-2)
It may be his swansong tournament before taking on a new role as a coach but underneath Joo’s languid style hides a fierce competitor who never backs down. Trailling 6-9 in the opening set, Joo fought his way back to win before asserting himself for a 2-0 lead. But stamina was always going to be the Korean’s enemy as Chen starting mixing up his shots to run away with the third game before enduring mid-game nerves to take the fourth. The fifth would be a lot easier as Joo ran out of puff to concede the game as the 24-minute clock expired.
Bonus Kill Zone games:
Players from the three matches returned to play a special Kill Zone set which counts for an extra point.
Kill Zone Match 1: Boll 1-0 Mizutani
Boll was in no mood to let Mizutani off as he shot to a 3-1 lead before completing the win.
Kill Zone Match 2: Yang 0-1 Suthasini
Still smarting from the mind-blip that allowed Suthasini to steal Games Five of their match, Yang quickly went 0-3 down but fought back valiantly to level at 3-3. Suthasini found her second wind to seal victory.
Kill Zone Match 3: Chen 0-1 Joo
Joo made the most of his opportunity to level up the match, producing an audacious winner to go 4-2 up before completing victory.
Team Maze captain Michael Maze:
“It’s better to be leading 10-7 than to be behind 7-10. But we had chances to have a bigger cushion, especially in Yang’s match when the last 10 seconds of the match could have been managed better. The Kill Zone games are really a bit of a coin flip and could have a huge influence on this final. Hopefully we can finish the job on Sunday. We will need a good start and stretch out the lead a little more.”
Team Persson captain Jorgen Persson:
“It could’ve been a lot worst. I’m very satisfied that we won two of the three Kill Zone games. That shows out team spirit and we have been doing this the whole season. We’re now in the position of being able to win the final even if it looked really bad at one stage but I think the competition is still wide open.”
3rd/4th Place: Shi Xunyao (CHN) 2*-3 Liu Fei (CHN) (8-11, 11-9, 9-11, 5-1*, 8-11)
The match between two rising Chinese stars went the way of the backspin specialist Liu although 16-year-old Shi showed enough to suggest she too will have a bright future as her game continues to mature. Shi fought back to win the Kill Zone handily after Liu had gotten the better of the opening three sets which really could have gone either way. That necessitated a tie-breaker game played over 11 points, with Liu producing the better end game to emerge third.
Said Liu: “I’m really happy to have finished third. My game has really improved from playing in T2APAC and I’ve learnt heaps from the fulltime professionals. Compared to them I’m still a very young player and it was great to be able to be in such illustrious company.”
Final: Feng Tianwei (SGP) 2-3* Bernadette Szocs (ROM) (9-11, 8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 4-5*)
All season long Szocs had been threatening to do something special and were it not for bad luck, should have arrived at this final boasting a 2-0 record over Feng in regular season. That being so, Feng at World Number 11 still started the final as prohibitive favourite to bring home the crystal trophy and the US$40,000 that came with it. And the Singaporean signalled her intent by taking the first four points played, then overcoming a mini-fightback by Szocs to take the opening game. And it should have been 2-0 for Feng who had game points in the next set only to see Szocs going past her to level the match score. Szocs would build on that momentum to take the third set, overturning a mid-game deficit along the way. But with victory in sight, the Romanian became tentative, allowing Feng to power through in the fourth game. It was fitting that the first title in T2APAC would have to be decided with a T2APAC invention that is the Kill Zone. With nerves coming into play, all eight points in the mini-set would come from errors rather than winners, and it was Szocs who made fewer as she built on a 3-0 lead to wrap up the game 5-3 and with it the match and the title. It was also fitting that Szocs played the final looking much like the character Chun Li from the popular arcade game Street Fighter, for that was how she played throughout the season with plenty of grit and determination and never being afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve.
Said Feng: “What a wasted opportunity, especially as I had led 10-8 in the second set after winning the first. And at the critical point in the third set, my receive let me down. I will learn from this and hope to bring my best game to the team final on Sunday.”
Said Szocs: “I always stayed positive like I’ve been throughout this season because I knew I had nothing to lose against Feng. I was really angry after the fourth set as I had been playing unbelievably good until then. But captain Jorgen (Persson) calmed me down and gave me some tactical pointers, and that helped me.
“This is a big win for me because I cannot believe I made it this far in this tournament. I never expected to be a T2APAC champion but I’m really happy I did it and I will be proud. I want to thank so many people who stood by me all season and helped me in so many ways.”
Said Jorgen Persson who coached Bernadette Szocs in the final:
“I told her to forget the fourth game and just bring it home in the Kill Zone. She won so many Kill Zones in the regular season, so I reminded her to be positive. I also told her to vary her service a little because Feng looked to have worked her out, and to go for her shots, and that’s what Bernie’s been showing all the time that she has the guts to make the points.”
Quote of the Day:
“Bernie has been surprising me the whole way since the season started. Her ranking is 57th in the world but she has shown in her performance in T2APAC that she should be much higher.” Team Persson captain Jorgen Persson commenting on T2APAC women’s champion Bernadette Szocs
Grand Finals Day 3
Sunday 10 December 2017
Order of Play:
Team Championship Final
Team Maze vs Team Persson
Match 4: Feng Tianwei (SGP) vs Shi Xunyao (CHN)
Match 5: Aleksandr Shibaev (RUS) vs Mattias Karlsson (SWE)
Match 6: Hina Hayata (JPN) vs Bernadette Szocs (ROM)
Men’s Championship 3rd/4th Place: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) vs Jun Mizutani (JPN)
Men’s Championship Final: Timo Boll (GER) vs Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER)