Shibaev and Boll the standouts the race intensifies for spots in the Grand Final
JOHOR BAHRU, 4 Oct 2017 – What a difference 10 days can make as Team Maze shrugged off indifferent form in Round 4 for a solid start to Round 5 of the T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2APAC).
Having beaten Team JJ 15-13 in the last round, Team Maze recorded a far bigger victory (17-12) today at the purpose-built T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru.
Aleksandr Shibaev continued where he left off in the last round with a second straight 4-1 win, this time in a lead-off role against Chuang Chih-Yuan.
Team-mate Feng Tianwei dropped out of the top four in women’s individual standings after a surprise 2-2 draw with Matilda Ekholm, while Timo Boll had just enough energy to win four crucial sets against Japanese tyro Tomokazu Harimoto, all which proved crucial as attention now turns to which players and team remain in contention for the Grand Finals in December.
Match 1: Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE) 1-4 Aleksandr Shibaev (RUS) (8-11, 3-11, 9-11, 10-11, 5-4*)
“Why not 5-0?” Shibaev asked after the match, after being denied the sweep that he most definitely deserved. Against a player that rival captain Jiang said he could watch all day, the Russian simply proved too fast and too good. Not that Chuang was a slouch as he reached deep into his bag of tricks. But his opponent a decade younger was on a different plane with his speed, accuracy, decisiveness and control. Pity the Kill Zone proved somewhat a killjoy.
Said Shibaev: “It was an interesting match, I played totally correct tactics and this match was important as we are playing our closest rival for a spot in the top two, so it was maximum focus for me.”
Match 2: Matilda Ekholm (SWE) 2-2 Feng Tianwei (SGP) (10-11, 11-9, 11-10, 3-8)
Feng’s fans would have expected the Singaporean to take this tie easily, given her superior world ranking and her red hot form in Round 4 when she won all her matches by a combined margin of 11-3. But her Swedish opponent was not about to be cowed, as Ekholm fought her point-for-point, coming back from a set down to lead 2-1. The third set actually saw Feng squander an 8-2 lead, conceding eight straight points before eventually losing 10-11. It took a shortened fourth game for Feng to come away with a share of the spoils.
Said Ekholm: “I have to be satisfied with a 2-2 draw against one of the world’s top players, I’m quite happy with my performance. We’ve played each other several times and have worked out each other’s tactics.”
Match 3: Vladimir Samsonov (BEL) 2-3 Chen Chien-An (TPE) (9-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-8, 5-7)
The elder statesman of table tennis still has the ability to match wits with the current generation of players but there are times when agility and hand-speed counted for more. Chen, who’s 15 years younger, came prepared to tough it out against his illustrious opponent, with the match decided by a shortened fifth game. The umpire may have missed Samsonov’s time-out signal with the Belarussian 5-6 behind, necessitating an intervention from the Head Umpire. But the extra point played didn’t matter in the end as Chen won that and the match. Still, the Belarussian managed to pick up two more sets that keeps him on track for a place in the final four.
Said Chen: “I lost 4-1 to him the last time we met and he edged the crucial points. This time I was determined to seize the initiative. It was a good win.”
Match 4: Jeon Jihee (KOR) 3-2 Yang Haeun (KOR) (11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 10-11, 5-2*)
There couldn’t be a closer match between two Korean team-mates and doubles partner separated by a single place in the world rankings. Jeon, the higher ranked, has often proven fragile at crucial times in T2APAC but showed more authority in this encounter. Jeon could’ve taken a 3-1 lead but was edged to the fourth game after failing to take her chances late in the set. But she came out blazing in the Kill Zone, converting a 4-1 lead into a 5-2 victory, and with that the match.
Said Jeon: “It was a bit conflicted having to stand at opposite ends with a national team-mate and close friend. I guess the match went to who was a bit decisive at the table on the day.”
Match 5: Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) 2-4 Timo Boll (GER) (7-11, 5-11, 5-11, 10-11, 11-6, 5-2*)
It will be interesting to see what Harimoto will achieve in the coming decade. Now only 14, the reigning world junior champion plays is completely fearless and plays every opponent with a singular will to win. Perhaps Boll too would like to see how far this Japanese prodigy can go, although he managed to work out how to blunt the teenager’s attacks and quickly move 3-0 ahead. A tight fourth set signalled the turnaround as Boll’s stamina started to flag while Harimoto hardly paused for breath. The 24-minute clock could not come fast enough for the German who was more than happy to ‘escape’ with the win.
Commented Boll: “I was happy with the first four sets but after that he improved a lot. You have to play very sharp, very precise against him. I put him under a lot of pressure in the beginning but then there was a little turnaround and maybe I lost my energy a little bit.”
Match 6: Liu Fei (CHN) 2-2 Hina Hayata (JPN) (11-4, 11-5, 8-11, 2-8)
A game of two halves which saw Liu streaking to a two-set lead before Hayata worked out how to play the Chinese attacking chopper. It was always going to be a tall order for Liu to win five games in order to earn her team a draw and it got harder after she slipped and twisted her ankle in the third game. Hayata was simply content to extend the rallies by sending everything back over the net and mistakes started creeping in for Liu. In the end, the draw proved a fair outcome.
Said Liu: “I can’t say much for my performance tonight, it was so-so. I slipped in the third set and felt my ankle give way and that affected my movement thereafter.”
Team Captains’ quotes:
“In my assessment, Shibaev’s play has improved the most and he gave Team Maze a flying start against my most reliable player. That proved the difference.” – Team JJ captain Jiang Jialiang
“I’m very happy with the result and I think we had the opportunity to win by a bigger margin. I think we showed today that we’re here to win T2APAC.” – Team Maze skipper Michael Maze
Quote of the day:
“I need to sit down, I’m been standing up the whole match. They are a tough nut to crack, We’ve still not beaten them after five tries.” – Jiang Jialiang clearly forgetting his team edged Team Maze 15-14 in Team Fixture 14