JOHOR BAHRU, 10 Dec 2017 – Day 3 of the Grand Finals at the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) saw Team Maze defeating Team Persson 20-13 for the team title, with Alexander Shibaev and Hina Hayata playing vital roles in the push to the finish line.
Fans at the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru were also treated to an unforgettable experience in the Men’s 3rd / 4th placing match when Chuang Chih-Yuan and Jun Mizutani served up a splendid exhibition that showcased the best in table-tennis.
But it would be Boll who would avenge his defeats to Ovtcharov at the World Cup and German Open this year with a crafty performance that netted him a US$40,000 individual payday apart from crystal trophy, putting icing on the cake as he was also a member of the overall champions Team Maze.
Team Championship Final: Team Maze vs Team Persson
Bonus Kill Zone games:
Players from the three matches play a special Kill Zone set to start the final session which counts for an extra point. In a shrewd reversal from the first day of the finals, the Kill Zone games were played before the actual matches.
Kill Zone Match 4: Feng Tianwei 0-1 (3-5) Shi Xunyao
Shi wasn’t going to let her opponent’s reputation cow her as the Chinese teenager took a 4-2 lead before completing a 5-3 win, enabling Team Persson to narrow the overall score to 10-8.
Kill Zone Match 5: Aleksandr Shibaev 1-0 (5-4) Mattias Karlsson
Team Persson badly needed Karlsson to deliver this point and the Swede looked good to fulfil that hope when he went 4-3 ahead. But Karlsson wasn’t able to bring it home as Shibaev fought back to edge the game.
Kill Zone Match 6: Hina Hayata 1-0 (5-2) Bernadette Szocs
Hayata lost the opening point but quickly hit back to lead at 3-2 before powering through for victory over newly-crowned women’s champion Szocs. It also meant the six Bonus Kill Zone games were evenly split and played no role in the eventual outcome
Match 4: Feng Tianwei (SGP) 1-3 Shi Xunyao (CHN) (6-11, 7-11, 11-6, 7-10)
Having taken the Kill Zone game to start the day, Shi continued where she left off by taking the opening game comfortably. A surprisingly flat Feng paid the price for her inaccurate returns as teenager Shi also took the next set. Feng would tighten up her game to take the third set in commanding fashion. But Shi, who was the 2016 World Junior Champion, played a far better end-game in the fourth, managing the clock well after going ahead, and closed out a worthy winner. Team Persson sniff the opportunity to overturn their deficit yet again.
Said Shi: “How many points I win is not as important as how hard I fought for the team to make sure we get the best possible outcome.”
Said Feng: “Shi put up a tremendous fight and forced me into plenty of errors. I want to thank all the fans who supported me and the league this season, hope to see more of you next season.”
Match 5: Aleksandr Shibaev (KOR) 3-1 Mattias Karlsson (SWE) (11-7, 11-9, 5-11, 10-6)
This was always going to be the tie that would swing the entire match as Shibaev can be quite unplayable when he’s on song. And the Russian took little time to settle into stride as he went 2-0 up in short order despite Karlsson’s best effort to stay competitive. The Swede would take advantage of a good start in the third game to pull back a set. But wily Shibaev got in front early in the fourth and never gave up his lead as the clock ran down, restoring a four-game cushion for Team Maze.
Said Karlsson: “I always do my best for the team but he played clever and there were some opportunities in the game that I didn’t take.”
Said Shibaev: “I’m very happy to get this win and very happy to be here at T2APAC. And I want also to say thank you to all the fans. Without you there wouldn’t be us here.”
Match 6: Hina Hayata (JPN) 4-1 Bernadette Szocs (ROM) (10-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-9, 10-2)
She had one job to do and she did it well. That summed up Hayata’s performance in the Grand Finals as the Japanese spent the better part of this week gearing up for this match and held her nerves better to edge the opening two sets by the smallest of margins. Enjoying also a little good fortune, Hayata would grab a commanding 4-0 lead in this tie to completely douse Team Persson’s championship hopes. Full credit to T2APAC women’s champion Szocs who kept playing even when all hope is lost as she won the shortened Game Five for a consolation point.
Team Maze captain Michael Maze:
“Shibaev’s win took the pressure off us. If Hina had gone into the final match with say a two-game cushion, it would’ve been 50-50. We also had some lucky balls at important moments. But throughout the season we were the two best teams and in the final anything can happen. Inside I was so nervous because I felt Hina (Hayata) needed to win that first set. And when she won the final point off the net, I felt like maybe today fortune favoured us.”
Team Persson captain Jorgen Persson:
“We had opportunities but we didn’t take them. We had to get closer to them to put them under pressure but we never got that close. Player-for-player maybe Michael (Maze) had higher-ranked ones but we matched up well against them. Personally it was great for me to get the opportunity to work with some many different players and Bernie (Szocs) was the biggest surprise for everybody here, winning the women’s title, it’s fantastic!”
3rd/4th Place: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) 1-4* Jun Mizutani (JPN) (8-11, 11-10, 8-11, 10-11, 4-5*)
For the outset, it was obvious the two players were determined to sign off their T2APAC season on a high. Playing this placing match with both getting equal prize-money as losing semi-finalists, Chuang and Jun quickly settled got into the business of playing long, crowd-pleasing rallies that grew in intensity and creativity as the match wore on. As the fans in The Cavern started cheering every smash and lob returns, the plays became more intricate as both players took turns to hit with their weaker hand, and Mizutani even running around the table in between shots. Top-class table-tennis entertainment.
Said Chuang: “We did it for the fans and we’re glad they enjoyed it. I’ve had a great time in T2APAC and am thankful for the opportunity to display my skills here.”
Said Mizutani: “I hope the fans enjoyed that. It was a very hard season and I’ve enjoyed it very much and am honoured to walk away with the bronze medal.”
Final: Timo Boll (GER) 3-1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) (11-9, 6-11, 11-10, 11-8)
While 2017 has been a breakout season for Ovtcharov with a shiny career beckoning, veteran Boll looks headed towards the sunset of his having long been the stalwart of German and European table-tennis. Ovtcharov’s biggest title of the season – the World Cup – had come at the expense of Boll, and the heir apparent started the match a slight favourite for the crown.
But the younger German knew better than to discount his older team-mate as Boll edged a tight first set to draw first blood. Ovtcharov would strike back immediately to pull level in emphatic fashion, then looked good to take a 2-1 lead when he lead 10-8 in the third. Serving to stay in the match, Boll forced Ovtcharov into an error then served an ace to stay in the match. A time-out was called as Ovtcharov tried to regroup but it was to no avail as Boll controlled the sudden death point, forcing Ovtcharov into a return error.
There was still opportunity for Ovtcharov to regain parity as he led 5-2 in the fourth before Boll fought back and eventually took a decisive 10-8 lead before closing out the match.
Said Ovtcharov: “After losing a tight first set and dominating the second, I was in a good way by leading 10-8 in the third game and having three set-points. That was possibly the match-breaker. Today Timo managed very well to take all the chances that he got and he was a deserved winner. T2APAC has been a very emotional, long season and experimental as well interesting and nice. And it was also the best year of my career, I won so many titles including the World Cup and have the chance to lead the world rankings. Playing in T2APAC has certainly helped me to improve my game as my results on the international stage has shown.”
Said Boll: “Most people wouldn’t know I beat Dima in a smaller tournament in Germany this year also and I tried to think back on that and visualise all the good things I did there, and also think about the mistakes I made against him in the other finals. The third set was obviously very important, I think we were both a little tired when our concentration were not so high and we made easy mistakes. But in that key moment, I was in my tunnel.
“It was also very helpful that I went into the final knowing Team Maze had won the team title because there was nothing else I could do and I was very nervous until Hina won the first set and I could start focusing on my preparations. I also had to focus on managing the little things that the format of T2APAC demanded, such as thinking what to do should the game go into a tie-breaker set, how to manage the clock and all that. So it was an interesting final.
“It’s a new project and we invested a lot of time and energy into T2APAC. And that’s why it’s worth to fight for it as much as you can, so I’m really happy to be the champion as it was probably the toughest half year of my life with so much travelling.”
Quote of the Day:
“I’ve to be thankful to my father who introduced me to table-tennis. He’s not often with me and I took the chance to ask him to come with me to the Grand Final. He was my coach until I was eight years-old, investing a lot of time in my career. This win is a small thing I can give back.” T2APAC Men’s Champion Timo Boll on having his father Wolfgang watching him courtside in Johor Bahru.