Team Fixture 28 goes down to the wire as the race for Grand Finals tightens
JOHOR BAHRU, 5 Oct 2017 – Round 5 of the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC) is proving pivotal as all four teams find themselves in with the chance to make the Grand Finals. Team JJ’s 16-13 win over Team Persson, coupled with Team Maze’s defeat earlier in the day to Team Rossi meant there is only a nine-point spread between all four teams.
Team Persson’s hold on the top spot is decidedly shaky now – even if they have now won 201 games – with Joo Saehyuk picking up a fresh injury and unable to play.
The crowd at the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru was still treated to a high quality encounter with the result staying in the balance all the way to the final tie between Liu Fei and Bernadette Szocs.
The all-Japanese encounter to start the session served up another thriller, as did the two matches that feature Mattias Karlsson, even if the Swede would have preferred a better outcome.
Match 1: Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) 3-3 Jun Mizutani (JPN) (8-11, 3-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6, 5-2)
Mizutani’s strange T2APAC journey continued as he blew Harimoto off the table in the first three games only to lose the next three to his teenaged opponent, as the two Japanese players fought out a second straight 3-3 draw. In the 10-day break between rounds, Mizutani made world headlines as part of a science and technology story playing against the world’s first robotic table-tennis machine. Harimoto certainly returns the ball better than the robot and was also receptive to tactical advice from Jiang, his captain, who cautioned him to regroup and just focus on getting his return shots back on Mizutani’s side. The advice worked a treat as Harimoto was able to gain parity in this match.
Said Harimoto: “My opponent was more aggressive than I expected at the start and I wasn’t prepared for that. But I adjusted and slowly found my game and was able to fight back, thanks to the advice given by my captain.”
Match 2: Matilda Ekholm (SWE) 0-4 Suthasini Sawettabut (THA) (7-11, 7-11, 9-11, 10-11)
What a contrast 24 hours make as Ekholm could not replicate her fighting performance against Singaporean Feng from the previous day against another Southeast Asian player. Similarly, Suthasini shrugged off a 5-0 blanking by Taiwan’s Cheng to deliver a sweep over her Swedish opponent, with nothing more than steady, consistent play. Ekholm wears her emotions on her sleeves and the Swede let her frustrations get the better of her. But her fightback in the fourth set was notable as she came from 7-10 down to force a deciding point, although it was ultimately to no avail.
Said Suthasini: “I wanted to try again after losing 5-0 yesterday. Ekholm played slowly and I just concentrated hard on every shot. I just reminded myself that today is a new game and I get to try again.”
Match 3: Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) 3-2 Mattias Karlsson (SWE)** (11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 11-7, 0-5*)
With Joo out injured, Jiang selected Karlsson to go up against his veteran workhorse and it proved an astute choice. After the players had split the opening two games, Samsonov seized control, aided by a streak of good fortune which saw him getting the lion’s share of nicks off table edges and net shots. There was even a point in the fourth game when Karlsson’s shoulders slumped after losing consecutive points to nicks, with Samsonov also stopping play in mirth. The good spirited match saw both men displaying sportsmanship apart from producing some superb rallies, with Samsonov glad to have fortune on his side.
Commented Samsonov: “I remember the game against Paul (Drinkhall) a few rounds ago when I was incredibly lucky but today could top that. I’m pleased that I won but I’m really sorry for Mattias, he was kinda disappointed after the tenth net-ball or edge-ball but sorry man….”
Match 4: Jeon Jihee (KOR) 3-1 Shi Xunyao (CHN) (11-7, 11-6, 11-10, 10-11)
Jeon is certainly benefitting from the guidance of Jiang in T2APAC as evidenced from this effective victory over Shi although the Korean would rue not being able to give her team the lead. That was certainly on after she won the first three sets to level the match score, with Shi still struggling to find her game. The Chinese teenager fought back in the third set and could count herself unlucky from dropping that after reaching game point first. But commendably, Shi fought back from 10-6 down to take the fourth game after Jeon predictably retreated into her default mode of playing safe while ahead and paid the price.
Said Jeon: “It’s a good win but again I played a bit too conservatively at the end and let that final set slip away.”
Match 5: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) 3-2 Mattias Karlsson (SWE) (11-6, 8-11, 11-8, 11-2, 5-7)
With an eye on making the final four, Chuang knew he needed to push against Karlsson in the Swede’s second trip to the table today. But Karlsson wasn’t put off by losing the first set as he came back strongly to take the second game. Thereafter Chuang took charge as Karlsson flagged, particularly in the fourth game when it was 8-0 before he put a point on the board. Chuang’s hopes of putting another set on the board for himself and his team was thwarted as Karlsson took a 5-1 lead in the fifth set and eventually won 7-5 as the clock ran down, reducing the damage to just one set and leaving the match score tied at 12-12.
Commented Chuang: “It’s a pity I played too conservatively especially in the second set. I was hoping to give the team the lead but a win is a win.”
Match 6: Liu Fei (CHN) 4-1 Bernadette Szocs (ROM) (11-7, 11-10, 11-7, 11-6, 3-5*)
Liu has proven a revelation for T2APAC as the attack-minded chopper has shown she is fully capable of matching it with the best, producing returns from impossible angles aided by great footwork and clever change of pace. Despite carrying an ankle strain, she still proved too much of a handful for Szocs who struggled to cope with the heavy backspin. The Romanian did have her chance in the second set when she came from 2-8 down to lead 10-8, only for Liu to fight back to win 11-10. Szocs took a gamble by forcing a Kill Zone game and it paid dividends as that was the only point she managed to get, much to her delight.
Said Liu: “I’m so happy to win this for the team. I think I played better than yesterday and prepared better too.”
Team Captains’ quotes:
“We can count ourselves a bit lucky with Joo Saehyuk unable to take his place. I’m really pleased with Harimoto’s comeback and the boy is learning fast how to manage his emotions during matches.” – Team JJ captain Jiang Jialiang
“We’re happy to losing by a small margin. It was always going to be tall order for Bernadette (Szocs) against Liu as Europeans are not used to going against defensive-style players. But the matches were very watchable today with many nice rallies.” – Team Persson captain Jorgen Persson
Quote of the day:
“She won it for herself, and for us. I congratulate her because she is also carrying an injury.” – Jiang Jialiang commending Liu Fei on delivering victory for his team
Round 5 Match Day 2 – Team Fixture 28: Team JJ vs Team Persson