Monday 31 October 2011

What makes the Chinese so Dominant? Take 2: The Professionals Speak

Here is a list of quotes from my interviews with international players about why the Chinese continue time and time again to win international titles, top the rankings and remain the dominant force in world table tennis. 

China dominates at the 2008 Beijing Games
Image Courtesy of Xinhua News

'Because they start very young and they have very good organisation for this sport. They work a lot for this and the coaches are top.' 
Gionis Panagiotis - Greek National Mens Team

'Simply, this is the national sport in the biggest country in the World (population).' 
Jean Michel Saive - 1994 European Champion and Former World Number 1

'They are very athletic, unbelievable power in their strokes and mentally, they are very strong' 
Patrick Franziska - 2010 European Youth Champion

'Chinese work harder, are more professional, more organised, also they have many more players. Most of the top Europeans live far away from each other, we should practice more together like the Chinese do, this seems to work for them and is something we lack.' 
Vladimir Samsonov - 3 Time World Cup Winner and Former World Number 1

They have: traditions, good system, good history, knowledge and money. Combine this with a BIG number of players. The status of table tennis is high in China. Parents are dreaming of having future champions. All these things make the competition inside the country very hard. This drives the level of the sport up!!' 
Peter Karlsson - Swedish National Coach and 2000 European Champion

'Imagine creating the best athlete and then re-producing that athlete over and over again. And only modifying the system based on the next perfect athlete. The Chinese use this system right across as many locations in the country and reproduce the system in different tiers.' 
Simon Gerada - 2000 Oceania Champion

'Numbers and dedication. If you've got millions of people who are desperate enough to do whatever they can to succeed then you've got a winning recipe. Most other countries rely on a handful of players who are serious enough to do what it takes.' William Henzell - 3 Time Oceania Champion

These are things which are being raised time and time again. The sooner the rest of the world can move towards this seemingly flawless system of producing World Class players the better. I think the population issue is a big advantage for China, but imagine if a country like the United States adopted a training programme like the Chinese. Unfortunately with Table Tennis such an overshadowed sport in the States by Football, Golf and Basketball along with many other sports, the Chinese do hold that every lingering advantage of having table tennis as their national sport. As Henzell said though in comparison we seem to have a group of serious players in each country trying to compete to this end. It can work, Sweden were vastly successful with a much smaller number of players than China back in the 70s and 80s but the problem as we are seeing now is that the pool of players diminishes and is sometimes not replenished, where China is overflowing with new players all over the country, and not just players, amazing coaches too.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Gionis the Greek God of Ping Pong

It was my pleasure to continue interviewing some of the sport's greatest players in Europe this week, one player who had caught my eye at the recent European Championships in Gdansk, Poland was Gionis Panagiotis of Greece. Gionis has a unique style and showed complete class in defeating Bastian Steger, one of Germany's finest players. Gionis was kind enough to do this interview with me, thanks Gionis! 

Name: Gionis Panagiotis
Age: 31
Date of Birth: 07/01/1980
Nation Represented: Greece
Highest World Ranking: 36

Gionis on defence
Image courtesy of ITTF

Equipment Used:
Blade: Butterfly OFF Korbel
FH Rubber: Tenergy 05 2.1
BH Rubber: Feint Long II 1.1


How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?
I'm playing since 1989...and I started for fun in a small club near my house.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
That I really love it by myself!
What does your training schedule for a week period involve?
Monday Wednesday Friday 2 times practise 2.30 hours each and Tuesday Thursday one time 2.30 hours and sometimes weekend!
What is your next big goal for table tennis?
Olympic Games in London
What do you think is the most important thing in table tennis for becoming a successful player on the international stage?
Many hours of practise first and then physical, cleverness and good psychology!
You have an interesting style in that you chop on your backhand and switch between slow return and offensive play on your forehand. What inspired that style for you?
When I was young my coach said that I must be a defender because in attack I was not so good...but this style with attack in forehand I first try it 21 years old because I understood that for making a bigger step in my career I must be more aggressive player so I must attack more to compete with the top players...and I did it!

Why do you think China currently dominate the sport?
Because they start very young and they have very good organisation for this sport. They work a lot for this and the coaches are top.
Do you think Greece has a strong future in European table tennis compared to other nations like France and Germany?
I think in Greece is not so easy like these countries because table tennis is amateur and the children first look to study and then to find the time for table tennis...but the federation and the coaches are trying a lot.
Off the topic Questions
Who's your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Lionel Messi
Favourite food?
What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
Football on Playstation
Dream Car?
Ideal Holiday Destination?
Exotic Island
First thing you would do if you won $1million?
I buy one very nice house
Your Team Mates

Who's the funniest player in the training hall?
Leuteris Makras
Who trains the hardest in the training hall?
Kalinikos Kreanga
Who has the best nickname?
Tasos Riniotis (peroukas)
And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
That if you want to reach a top level player only the talent is not enough...need a lot of work and many hours of practise!

Gionis defeats Bastian Steger in the Euro Team Quarterfinals

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Oceania Champ set to Enter the Fray at Intercontinental Cup

Karen Li (NZL)
Image from WTTA
It will be our sporting hero Karen Li (NZL) who will tangle with 3 others in the Intercontinental Cup Competition in Singapore starting this weekend. Those 3 are Wu Xue (Dominican Rep.), Dina Meshref (EGY) and Ariel Hsing (USA) who also qualified in their respective continents. Although not entering the competition as favourite, that is left with Wu Xue who has a world ranking of 56, Karen is the only competitor to have experienced the Intercontinental Cup before and in last year's competition in Kuala Lumpur she excelled in her match against the eventual winner Yang Feng, who she defeated, but unfortunately slipped into 4th position after losing her other two matches. Although now 176th in the World, Karen is a strong contender for the win if she hits that devastating form we all know her well for here in Oceania. Having won the 2010 Oceania Championships and 2011 Oceania Cup, Karen will be fighting hard for New Zealand to try and win her spot in the main Volkswagon 2011 Women's World Cup.

With Wu Xue the top contender, a left handed pengrip player from the Dominican Republic, it will be a tough task for Karen who also represented Oceania in the 2006 Intercontinental Cup. First she will have to beat her other two youthful opponents, 17 year old Dina Meshref from Egypt currently ranked 242, and of course the young United States Champion Ariel Hsing ranked above Karen now at 164th. We will all be sitting and watching eagerly to see if Karen's experience of international table tennis can pull her through.

Best of luck to Karen!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

U.S Comeback Queen Carving Path to Olympic Qualifiers

Kim Gilbert was a player I just had to interview after seeing the first picture of her standing on a table at SPiN Milwaukee's Opening. Kim has a fantastic image as a table tennis player, that die hard passion for the sport which is hard to find these days. Kim in many ways is like the great fighter Jean Michel Saive, she's in the sport for life and competes hard and fair and aims for the highest pinnacles. Thanks so much for the interview Kim, she has put a lot of thought into her answers, hope you all enjoy. Please also take the time to visit Kim's site

Full Name: Kim Gilbert
Age: 46
Date of Birth: 12/13/64, Los Angeles, CA
Nation represented: USA
Highest US Ranking:

Highest US Ranking #11 – Women’s Singles at USOF

Highest US Ranking #1 – Women’s Doubles at USOF

Highest US Rating 1964 in TT Topics and 2013 at USOF

Equipment Used?
Blade: Butterfly Coubertin 7 Ply Double Carbon
FH Rubber: Tenergy
BH Rubber: Tenergy

Your Career:

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?

In 1979 at the age of 14, my father was having lunch with a business partner who had just returned from Sweden where he had competed at the World Senior Table Tennis Championships. A few months prior, my father had purchased a ping-pong table for my mother and me to play on, so he surprised me one night by taking me with his business partner to the Hollywood Table Tennis Club to play in a tournament, kind of as a joke! A top player at the club (Lim Ming Chui) pulled my father aside and told him he thought that with a little coaching I had potential. I took lessons at this club for 3 years and then won the CA State Junior Title. I then travelled to England and France to train further. I competed in the US and Canada up until my accident in 1992 when I was forced to retire due to a shattered right arm with severed nerves.

You were gone from table tennis for quite some time and in 2010 launched a comeback tour, what brought the new motivation and drive back?
In 1992 I suffered a horrible slip and fall injury that shattered my playing arm into 15 pieces, requiring years of surgeries and rehabilitation. The first surgery required an external fixator to be implanted to fuse my bones that ended up severing a main nerve causing partial paralysis in the arm. The doctors told me that I would never be able to compete again. I tried to play once 6 years after the accident just to see if I could, but it was so painful that I gave it up for good. Almost two decades went by without giving another thought to table tennis until I was hired as an executive and marketing assistant by Dial800 in 2009. Dial800 specializes in helping advertisers to optimize their direct marketing campaigns. Their management believes in a balance between work and life and even though I am a full-time employee, they understand the unique opportunity that table tennis and the Olympics represent for me. They are totally supportive as my corporate sponsor, for which I am eternally grateful.

Shortly after being hired, all Dial800 employees were given lifetime membership cards to 24 Hour Fitness because they had a fitness center in our building. So after being sedentary for so long, I really no excuse not to get some kind of exercise program going! On my first day at their facility I could have passed out from the smell of the place. I tried to endure it but I ended up returning the card (graciously) to our CEO. He suggested (jokingly) that I try ping-pong again, so I figured okay what could I lose? So I went for the first time to the Gilbert TableTennis Center and to my surprise I could play without experiencing too much pain. It really just snowballed from there! I was asked to host weekly events for SPiN Hollywood as a professional table tennis player. Soon after that, several other corporate sponsors wanted in the mix. I am currently the only US table tennis athlete (that I am aware of) that has secured corporate sponsorship (5 times) outside of our sport. I truly believe that this “Out of the Box” approach to marketing and advertising of table tennis is a major key for the growth and future of our sport. As a matter of fact, I recently finished filming a Dial800 commercial with Soo Yeon Lee that is soon to be released featuring table tennis in the mix with their marketing. It’s kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, nice individually - but explosive together!

What has been the highlight of your table tennis career so far?

I have a fire burning in my gut these days that keeps telling me the best is yet to come with my second table tennis career! Out of the first career highlights listed below, I have one memorable highlight that really stands out:

2011 Hawaii Island Open Women’s Champion

2011 U.S. Open Semi-Finalist Women’s Singles (O-40)

2010 U.S. Closed National Semi-Finalist Women’s Singles (O-40)

1991 Olympic Festival Coach (Women’s Team) 

1990 Olympic Festival Gold Medalist (Women's Doubles)

1989 World Corporate Games Women’s Champion

1989 Olympic Festival Bronze Medalist

1988 Olympic Trials Quarter-Finalist, Cedar Rapids, IOWA

1987 Olympic Festival Gold Medalist

1986 KCOP-Los Angeles Sports Star of the Year

1986 Olympic Festival Silver Medalist

1986 ESPN Olympic Record for Fastest Reflexes

1985 U.S. Closed National Champion (U-1800)

1983 Pacific Coast Open Women’s Table Tennis Champion

1983 California State Women’s Table Tennis Champion

1982 National Sports Festival Gold Medalist

1982 California State Junior Champion (Boys and Girls)

I made the 1990 US Olympic Festival team as an alternate player (as I was ranked 17th) and slated only to compete in the singles event that year in Minneapolis when there was an injury to a player who was scheduled to play in Women’s Doubles. By filling in for her, I knew this was my big chance and took it! After battling close match after close match, we finally made it to the finals at about 10pm!! It was a very close match that went to a final and deciding game. Our match point was a long one until I finished it off with a powerful smash that won us the title! I remember when I was called over to the media area for an interview after the match; I excused myself for 5 minutes in need of time to cool off. I ran out of the building into a thick wooded area of their campus and uncontrollably let out a yell that I will never forget. At that moment I finally knew what true victory felt like!

You regularly appear in SPiN clubs in the US, how successful do you feel they have been in promoting table tennis and what was your involvement with SPiN Hollywood?
After the Grand Opening of SPiN Hollywood in the summer of 2010 I was asked by their management to host weekly events at their Mondrian Hotel location, as well as off-site events and parties. There were a lot of private parties, corporate mixers, and celebrity events that I hosted there. SPiN franchises have served as an excellent platform that has successfully generated a social, corporate and entertainment industry buzz for table tennis. Making ping-pong chic and trendy is what our country needed as a catalyst to create awareness of table tennis as an amazing Olympic sport.

Holding a corporate event with ping-pong at one of the SPiN locations can benefit an entire company by enjoying an activity together that is not work-related and not just another boring company mixer or dinner. It is also ideal for networking with clients, vendors and new prospects. A lot of new business can be created at these events and they offer an ideal place to fundraise, entertain, mingle, socialize, exercise, unwind, and of course eat and drink! They are also perfect for your next corporate competition or group lessons for beginners and serious players.

SPiN clubs are a fun place where anyone can feel at ease socializing with friends, strangers, competitors, business associates, or even a blind date!! It’s a place where you can be yourself, whether that is a novice or professional player, a young person or old person, male or female. I am completely behind all the efforts of SPiN Galactic franchises. As a matter of fact, I have a corporate event to host and perform at coming up at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for a media company throwing a posh mixer for their entertainment industry clients and prospects. You see the media firm knows the party attendees personally, but the client and prospects do not know each other. My job is to get everyone acquainted and comfortable around the setting of a ping-pong tournament. It works like magic, because all of a sudden people have a lot to talk about and become amalgamated through the love of the game! This event is direct result of business generated from an event at SPiN last year, which I am ever so grateful for AGAIN!

You have recently announced you will be participating in the U.S Olympic Trials, how do you feel about your chances there and what are you hoping to achieve?
At this point in time, I am focused on surviving the training and staying healthy for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials! The last time I tried out was 25 years ago, so just making it this far has pretty much surpassed anything that I dreamed of achieving, much less thought was even possible. I have a chance to make it through as a wildcard this February at the Qualifying tournament, but after that it will surely be an uphill battle. Or as I have been teased about lately... an over-the-hill battle!!! Whatever happens I am honoured to be a participant again in what I think is still such an amazingly intricate and exciting sport!

What do you think is lacking in women's table tennis around the world in terms of numbers and image?
Clearly our greatest lacking is that there are too few women who play table tennis seriously in the United States, much less worldwide.This is not just an image issue; there is a huge difference between earnings between men and women as professionals in the table tennis. Today some top women players can earn good money, but it is mediocre compared to that of men in table tennis and mere peanuts compared to that of women in other popular sports. Another major problem is that young players in many countries aren't exposed to table tennis growing up in schools. However, in countries like China table tennis is part of their culture and everyday well-being for their society as a whole. Now they have exemplified power in numbers for women's table tennis! Early exposure is the only way to increase the numbers, which will then produce a marketable image.

You have been strongly involved in promoting table tennis since your return to the sport, what kinds of things have you been doing and what do you think is needed around the world to put table tennis in cement on the map?

Since 2010 I’ve had a renewed passion to help table tennis, especially where it is needed most...right here in the USA. I think that my role today is to help show that it doesn’t matter what age, gender, size, or culture you are because table tennis is for everyone. I have exposed thousands of people to the thrill of top notch and fast paced table tennis so they can experience it live, up close, and in person. The more people that we expose to experiencing table tennis this way, the more fans our sport will have for life. The more events and exhibitions we provide with a wide variety of exceptional players, the broader the audience can become. We desperately need a bigger audience and these two types of marketing events can help get us in cement on the map.

What is the best thing about table tenis as a sport for you?

The best part about table is that it is fulfilling in so many different ways. It not only promotes outstanding health and growth as a person, but in general a life in sports provides an abundance of magical moments for both the athlete and the spectator. Table tennis is very unique from other sports because it also can improve your vision, coordination, and even cognitive thinking. At high level of play all parts of the brain are active, which seldom occurs in other sports. Several years ago a Japanese study conducted by Dr. Teruaki Mori and Tomohiko Sazto demonstrated that "table tennis" uniquely activates as many as 5 separate portions of the brain simultaneously - thus producing an increased awareness, an improved state of cognition, improvement of motor function, attentiveness, concentration and endurance. Other health benefits of ping pong are an increased and effective cardiovascular blood flow and an improved cerebral blood flow to the cerebellum and brain stem. It's a sport that (especially when played at a high level) involves both the body and brain to interact at much higher levels and as a matter of course, players utilize their eyes, develop a heightened reflex function, and improve their balance and coordination skills. Additionally, Oprah's favorite physician, Dr. Oz, dedicated a prime segment of his television show on the benefits of ping pong, describing it as his favorite "brain sport". With all these benefits I think my favorite thing about table tennis is that it is a sport played for life by everyone.

You mention you would like to create a full time career out of table tennis, do you think in the near future that will become a more viable option for more players globally?
It already is an option for some countries, the rest of us are still catching up!

Off the Topic Questions:

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Michael Phelps

Favourite food?
Sushi, hands down!!
What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
Like most table tennis players, I work a full-time job too. I’m lucky that I just happen to work for my one of my corporate sponsors when I’m not playing table tennis. When I’m not working or playing table tennis (or pong as I refer to it), I’m still a California girl at heart and enjoy the beach and water at all other times. Beyond that these days, I am used complaining about how sore I am from training!!

Dream Car?1994 Ferrari 348 Spider Convertible

Ideal holiday destination?
FIJI, FIJI, FIJI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First thing you would do if you won $1million?

Open a SPiN franchise, preferably in Los Angeles to keep the ball rolling so to say!

A video in Tribute to Kim Gilbert's Table Tennis Career

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
The key to success as a player in table tennis is positioning, precision, power, and poise. You put these qualities together and you will succeed for sure at table tennis and much more.

Would you like to add any advice for female players in table tennis?
You are not alone! There are other women just like you around the world with a great love for the sport but no way to make a living at it. My advice is to do what I did. Work hard in other areas so that you become valuable to your employer. An employer is more apt to fund an employee as an athlete, than a random athlete asking for a donation to their cause. Also, connect with other female players because even though other women represent the competition, we all are in this sport together as a whole group.

Thursday 20 October 2011

World's Fastest Table Tennis Serve?

William Henzell brings footage from the Werner Schlager Table Tennis Training Academy of Japan's young speedy server Asuka Sakai. Check this serve out! Thanks to William for providing the video and this slowed down edit so you can see what sneaky tricks Asuka is up to with this serve.

You can follow William's journey to the Olympics and his training at the WSA on his youtube channel at:

Thanks William and best of luck with the training!
For a link to William's site TTEdge, see the sidebar link to the right.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Final Medal Opportunities not Taken Lightly

Mark Page rips out his devastating backhand loop
Photo by Matt Hetherington
The final day of the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships was an interesting one to say the least. With celebrations from the previous day dragging on into the night there was an absence of a couple of players in the Under 21 Mens Singles draw this morning. Tony Liu the Men's Singles winner made an appearance in the morning but was forced to withdraw with an ankle injury, while Auckland teammates Ollie Scarlett and Zhiyang Cheng withdrew from the event. This left plenty of opportunities for the remaining players in the draw. In the Under 21 Men's Singles the quarterfinals saw Thom Nguyen beat Matt Hetherington 3-0, Phillip Xiao account for James Harter 3-0, Myles Collins take out Aaron Page 3-0 and Mark Page narrowly scrape by a 3-2 win over Mitchell Barker. The semifinals saw Thom Nguyen fight an enduring 5 set battle with Myles Collins with plenty of loop to loop rallying and some very intense points which left both players exhausted by the end of the match and I'm sure Thom relieved to walk away with the victory and a place in the finals. Mark Page put up a hard fight against the second seed, Phillip Xiao, now the event favourite with Tony Liu out. Phillip showed his true class and outplayed Page with a 3-1 win. The final of the event saw Phillip Xiao fully assert himself as the favourite for the event by out-shining opponent Thom Nguyen in a straight sets victory. Congratulations Phillip.

Vicky Yang, Winner of the Under 21 Women's Singles
Photo by Matt Hetherington
In the Under 21 Women's Singles four players emerged from the two round robin groups. Manawatu's homeside champion Natalie Paterson and the previous night's Women's singles finalist Vicky Yang qualified in the first group while the Women's champion Jenny Hung and Auckland's Jennifer Tseng were victorious in coming through the second group. This set the players up for straight semi-finals. The two women's finalists proved to be far too skilled for their opponents with Vicky Yang beating Jennifer Tseng 3-0 and Jenny Hung accounting for Natalie also 3-0. So the two women's finalists returned to a final scenario yet again. With such a close open women's final the 21s match could have gone either way, both were determined to earn the gold medal for the event. Yang proved to be a dominant force in the final and avenged her loss from the previous day to lead a clear 3-1 victory of Canterbury's star to confirm the win.

In the Under 21 Doubles events with the top seeds having withdrawn , Waikato were dominant among the semi-finalists for the event with all but one of the players in the pairings hailing from Hamilton. One semifinal saw brothers Mark and Aaron Page with a walkover to the final, while the other semi was the finish of last year's finalists Matt Hetherington and James Harter, also from Waikato. Mitchell Barker (North Harbour) and Myles Collins were the party responsible for this, swiping a 3-0 victory and setting them up for a medal appearance in the final. They proved to be too strong for the Waikato brothers and led a convincing 3-1 victory over to two to take a gold medal in the event. In the Women's Doubles for the Under 21s Vicky Yang and Feng Jie and the pair of Jenny Hung and Natalie Paterson both won their semifinals 3-0 to clash together in the final. The Auckland pair of Feng and Yang were too strong for the World Uni Games pairing and completely dominated them in a straight sets final where Paterson and Hung struggled to find rhythm and control over their opponents. The Under 21 Mixed doubles was a relatively straight forward Gold Medal chance for the dominant top seeds Phillip Xiao and Jenny Hung, they cleared way to the final with a 3-0 win over Matt Hetherington and Jessica Macaskill while their final opponents Thom Nguyen and Jennifer Tseng took out the local pairing of Natalie Paterson and Nathan Watson who had done well to defeat Mark Page and Lisa Yue in the round previous. The Final was a great battle with a 4 set win for the top seeds to add another gold medal to their growing collections.

Sabine Westenra
NZ Veteran Player of the Year and National O30 Champion
Photo Courtesy of Catherine Zhou
The Over 30 Singles Events hosted some fantastic matches. Sabine Westenra, awarded the night before the national award for NZ Veteran Player of the Year was the champion of the Over 30 Women's Singles with a very close and entertaining 5th set victory over Manawatu's Tessy Fautsch. The absence of Kadia Keller-Rice removed one huge barrier for Westenra in taking the gold medal for the event. Congratulations Sabine on your award and gold medal, your teammates around the country are overjoyed for your achievements!

The Over 30 Men's Singles were won by North Harbour's Craig Dye who overcame Eberhard Kleiser and Depak Patel both 3-1 to make a finals appearance. The other finalist was Wellington's Lyndsay Ward who beat David Kilmister 3-1 in the quarterfinals and Manawatu's Charly Talumepa 3-0 in the semifinals. The final was a great showdown between Dye, who was ranked 10th in the National Men's Rankings in 2009 and Ward, a former top New Zealand player and National Men's Singles Semifinalist in his time. Dye took the match 3-1, with Ward winning his single set 11-5, while Dye won his 3 sets 11-9 in all of them, an indication of how close and intense the match was. Congratulations Craig on showing us all that you're over 30 but can still play with the energy of a youth when the medal chances come around. In the Over 30 Mens Doubles the opportunity arose for Andrew Hubbard to walk away with a medal, and not just any medal, but a gold one. He teamed up with David Kilmister, both players hoping to create a profile for Taupo's table tennis club by claiming the national title. They met a team hoping to do the exact same thing in the final. Heath Murdoch and Stephen Hirst were there flying the banner for the recently revived Belmont Table Tennis Club. It was a well fought out battle between the two pairs who were both determined as ever to claim the victory. The superb control of Kilmister combined with Hubbard's dominant forehand attacking were the victors of the day as the Taupo pair took the gold medal. Heath Murdoch and Sabine Westenra combined to win the Over 30 Mixed Doubles Round Robin and took another gold medal for Wellington in the doubles.

The tournament was a huge success for Manawatu with the Manawatu Standard discovering how instrumental Manawatu Table Tennis have been in procuring National Events for the sport of Table Tennis in 2011. It is my final wish here to congratulate Table Tennis Manawatu, not only on this National Championships, but on organising also; the ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course, the North Island Individual Championships, the North Island Team Championships and the National Secondary Schools Championships. They will also host 2012's National Veteran Championships. The workload has been huge. My special thanks to Shona Cudby for her ongoing hard work for the sport and her endless dedication and work ethic when it comes to organising these events, as I always say Shona Cudby is a true legend and deserved all our praises. Also thanks to Joachim Kusche for his tournament refereeing and organising of matches, congratulations to him for his National Award as Official of the Year for 2011. John Stapleton operated as an excellent Tournament Manager, thanks must be extended to him for ensuring the timetable ran smoothly which it most certainly did. Thanks too to Jason Poon for helping in the tournament and taking some great photos to help me in my publicity role. Finally, thanks to all the players who supported the tournament and participated, keep playing hard and fair and most important of all, keep in touch over the season break!

Videos of matches during the NZ Champs will become available on here as they are processed and edited by Win Nguyen and myself.

Saturday 15 October 2011

New Zealand Champions Made and Dressed in Gold

Phillip Xiao prepares his assault on Tony Liu in the Men's Final
Photo by Matt Hetherington
The end of the Men's and Women's Singles Events at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships signalled the making of two brand new national champions. The class act and legend of Tony Liu was too much for the competition in the Men's Singles event, he overcame opponents at every obstacle. At the same time it was the die hard determination of Canterbury's Jenny Hung that kept her on track to saving multiple match points in order to win the national title. Teng Teng (Tony) Liu, having already cleaned up all opposition in New Zealand so far this year to win the North Island Championships and the Counties, Auckland and Waikato Open Competitions. His form was unquestionable as he sailed through the opponents in his group. He hit a tough spot when a determined Josh Alexandre stole 2 sets from him as he attempted to knock Tony out, it was not to be and Tony advanced, beating Josh 4-2. Matthew Ball also had a crack at the top seed after having defeated Simon Wallace in the seventh and final set in the quarter final round. The semi final could have proved to be more substantial in problem causing with the Japanese player Taka Shimokawa and his short pimple rubber appearing on the scene. Tony showed no hesitation in wiping the score board and printing his name all over it, he sent Shimokawa packing with a 4-0 win and made his foundations to appear in the final. The Final had potential to be very interesting, at Auckland Open in the Under 21 Event Phillip had pushed Teng Teng to the 5th set and had even shown signs of having the upper hand. At the North Island Championships it had also been a very close matchup. What could Phillip offer to the table this time? Well Tony Liu was beyond determined to claim the national title and claimed the first set, then the second and then the third and Phillip found himself with a huge deficit to cover if he were to claim the title. Phillip launched an admirable attack and swiped himself a set, but in the end Tony outclassed Phillip on the day and won the 5th set, claiming the victory 4-1 and taking the National Men's Singles Title in the process.

Tony Liu, NZ Open Men's Champion
Photo by Matt Hetherington
In the Women's Event it was also a very hard fought battle and a nervous one for many on the sidelines. Jenny Hung took on the defending champion and top seed Fan (Vicky) Yang and between the two of them they hit winners and rallied, placed awkard balls to attack and generally out-hit each other at high speed. Jenny struggled in the beginnings of each set but she managed to claw her way back to win at the end of the sets and end up 3-1 up. It all looked like things were going in the favour of the Cantabrian and number 2 seed until Vicky Yang sprung back and led a high paced assault against her highly skilled opponent. Before the confident sideliners all knew it the score line was 3-3 and we were all starting to wonder if Jenny Hung could hold on and win the title against odds of the determined defending champion. There were multiple match points to and fro between the two players who wouldn't forfeight their chances of taking home gold. Hung tried time and again to hit through her opponent at match point up but Yang always had an answer for the endless assaults and even claimed some match points of her own. The match was incredible exciting and supporters were ecstatic when Jenny Hung converted her Championship Point finally and took her first ever New Zealand Open Women's Singles Title, one which a large proportion of players, myself included felt she finally deserved after so much experience building and committment to the sport over the years. Congratulations to Jenny Hung and Teng Teng Liu the New Zealand Table Tennis Champions and of course to Vicky Yang and Phillip Xiao for applying the pressure and skilled opposition from which those champions were really born, the silver medalists of the two respective events. 

Jenny Hung takes Control in the Women's Final
Photo by Matt Hetherington

A Day of Surprises and the Making of Champions

Today brought about the end of the Men's and Women's Events at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships and what a spectacular day of competition with some amazing matches. There were of course upsets for those dreaming of reaching the top spot. Before the day started Peter Craven, 4th seed, withdrew with a injury leaving space open for someone to fill. In the group stages Yi-Sien Lin's 2-0 lead against Myles Collins wasn't safe and he clawed back to a fifth set thriller where he came back from 9-7 down to claim the last set and go through the group first. Josh Alexandre was also claimed in the maelstrom, being beaten 3-1 by Simon Hoey-Burns. There were a number of other great group matches to be seen during the morning and certainly as the day moved on.

My Player of the Day, Zhiyang Cheng
Photo by Matt Hetherington

Upsets were the story of the day, a player showing incredible mental focus and determination who cannot go without mention today is Zhiyang Cheng. Playing out of his skin in the Round of 16 he defeated the highly experienced number 2 seed and former New Zealand Champion, Andrew Hubbard by a 4-2 margin. In the quarters he continued his run against successful New Zealand players by beating Malcolm Darroch also 4-2. Both were incredible matches for those lucky enough to be watching them, especially in the pressure situations. Zhiyang continued his form into the semifinals where he met teammate Phillip Xiao and fell victim to him 4-1. Another player who showed great form was the Japanese member of the Auckland contingent, Takaomi Shimokawa who also made a semifinal appearance. Beating Hayden Tapp in the Round of 16, he continued on to take out Thom Nguyen, 4-0, in the quarterfinal and book his place in a semifinal with Tony Liu. His semifinal appearance defied his original 8th position in the seedings. He demonstrated great close to the table play with his short pimple backhand and forehand counterloops which earnt him a bronze medal for the men's singles event. Josh Alexandre sprung back from his group match defeat to take Aaron Page out 4-1 and then play an amazing match against Tony Liu where he found the drive to rob 2 sets off the top seed and leave him worried.

Podium for the B Grade Mens Doubles
Photo by Jason Poon
The Graded Doubles were a side-event to the main Open Singles. The B Grade Men's Doubles saw Aaron Page and James Harter of Waikato defend their 2010 title. Taking out the Wellington pair of Heath Murdoch and Hayden Tapp in the semi final, they cemented their place among the medals and awaited the result of the other semi final. Matt Hetherington and Mark Page emerged from it, battled scarred from an incredibly close tussle with the home side's best doubles pairing, Tim Seaholme and Matthew Ball. That semifinal was won in the last moment of the 5th set, a hard fought match (if I don't say so myself). So it was left for the Waikato pairs to fight each other. It was a tight match played by James and Aaron and they managed to edge the win in just three sets over their teammate opposition.

Waikato also managed to steal the B Grade Women's Singles title when Armindeep Singh and Jessica Macaskill beat Lisa Yue and Natalie Paterson by a 3-1 margin and then finished affairs by defeating Sue Shirriffs and Gemma Buzzard in straight sets. The C Grade Mens Doubles Gold Medals were awarded to Bryn Lindsay and Wiremu Thompson who were able to bet Jeffrey Chin and Delano Lam 3-1. Aside from that there was only the D Grade Mens Doubles left to be awarded and Manawatu took the prize with brothers Dean and Zac Lochhead taking the win in the final with a 3-1 win over Jae and Terry Lee.

Friday 14 October 2011

Seeds Overturned for Sweeter Victories

Thom Nguyen half of the Gold Medal Combination
Photo by Jason Poon
It was a great day of table tennis today in Palmerston North, especially for Wellington coach Stephen Hirst who was overwhelmed when a gold medal opportunity game Wellington's way. An incredible feat of team work and great skill shown by the combination of Thom Nguyen and Hayden Tapp who defied all odds to win gold in the Open Mens Doubles. Dispatching 3-0 the Waikato pair of James Harter and Matt Hetherington they quickly moved on to immobilise the highly skilled Canterbury team of Yi-Sien Lin and Simon Wallace. While heads turned to Auckland's Aaron Gong and Takaomi Shimokawa putting up a great fight to eliminate the illustrious Tony Liu and doubles partner Zhiyang Cheng also of Auckland, it was Tapp and Nguyen working quietly in the background to defeat the strong pairing of Josh Alexandre and Phillip Xiao, setting themselves up with a guaranteed medal. Tapp and Nguyen were able to battle it out with Gong and Shimokawa in a well fought final where the Wellington pair settled a year of hard work and earned some piece of mind with a National Title and Gold Medal, coach Stephen Hirst and the other Wellington team members were ecstatic, it was a great effort, congratulations to them both and to finalists and silver medalists Aaron Gong and Taka Shimokawa for a great final performance. 

Gold Medalist Mark Page in the B Grade Mens
Runner Up Craig Dye
Bronze Medalists Matt Ball, James Harter
Photo by Jason Poon
In the B Grade Mens Singles it was a show of force on the bottom half of the draw from which sprung Mark Page from Waikato. After the group stages the draw was set, although Matt Ball had been upset in his group by Shinji Izuka from North Harbour he still pressed onwards in the draw. Avenging Ball, Matt Hetherington lead a 3-0 victory over Izuka in the round of 16. Team mates, Aaron Page, James Harter, Mark Page and Simon Hoey-Burns joined him on the bottom half of the draw and after the quarter finals where Mark Page pushed aside Hetherington and Harter dealt to Simon Hoey-Burns and Aaron Page, it was guaranteed to be a Waikato player in the final as Mark Page stung Harter with a 3-0 win in the Semi-Final. Meanwhile top seed Craig Dye had left Manawatu for dirt as he defeated both Jerry Zhang in the quarterfinals and Matthew Ball in the semi finals, bringing the 2nd seeds hopes to an end. That left Dye to face the talented and rising force of Mark Page. Page with a solid record at Manawatu in 2011, having won 100% of his matches at the Manawatu hosted North Island Team Championships and also having won the Under 21 and Open Mens Singles Events at the Manawatu Open was looking comfortable with the conditions. Craig Dye took off to a flyer with Page struggling to adjust to the high variation in Dye's game. It was quickly 2-0 to Dye. Page changed the pace and started hitting some big shorts and we saw him claw back a set, and then another set. Driving into the 5th set there was huge pressure and some huge point displays to match with set pieces and massive 3rd and 4th ball attacking plays. Dye looked in control, winning the first 3 points, but Page soared back to switch ends 5-4 up. The final set continued locked, point for point. At the end Dye played an amazing set piece with a fast serve and a devastating 3rd ball forehand attack, Page seemed to have no answer. He found one quickly and sealed the deal, claiming the gold medal for the B Grade Mens Singles. Congratulations Mark on a well played event!

In the B Grade Women's Singles the semi final brought Lisa Yue face to face with Natalie Paterson who stole a quick 3-0 victory, while Waikato's two top women battled for a finals place. Armindeep Singh beat teammate Jessica MacAskill 3-1 and progressed to the final to pitch her strength against Paterson. It was not to be and Paterson's local reputation held as she won the B Grade Women's Singles title with a 3-1 win over Singh. Well done Natalie.

Gold Medalist Daniel Lowe in the C Grade Mens
Runner Up Bryn Lindsay
Bronze Medalists Liam Young, John Lea
Photo by Jason Poon
It was a determined Daniel Lowe who staved off competitors and flipped the seeds over to take the C Grade Mens Singles title. The two big seed names Miko Kirschbaum and Ebehard Kleiser were both dismissed early in the round of 16 by John Lea and Rodney Bygrave respectively. Daniel made a great effort in winning an entertaining match with John Lea in the semi final and then proceeding to defeat Bryn Lindsay in the final. Bryn was the silver medalist and Liam Young and John Lea were bronze medalists. The final score was 3-0 to Daniel against Bryn. In the C Grade Womens Singles, Manawatu's Tessy Fautsch came out on top of Gemma Buzzard in the final with Emily Kan and Sue Shirriffs falling on the way in their path. 

The Men's D Grade saw local junior Dean Lochhead score a gold medal as he combatted a determined Matthew Solt who had some outstanding results over the event to make the final. Overcoming Wellington's Delano Lam and Max Rogers in the semi final, he was brought down in the final by Lochhead who had taken out top seed Hamish Rennie. Congratulations to all medalists in the event. Kelsey Amor and Max Rogers both from Waitemata won bronze medals in the event.

The Open Mixed Doubles claimed no surprises with Jenny Hung and Tony Liu, the top seeds, dominating the field all the way to a 3-1 victory over Auckland's Josh Alexandre and Feng Jie. They also eliminated the locals Tim Seaholme and Natalie Paterson and Wellington's Catherine Zhou and Stephen Hirst, while Alexandre and Feng defeated Sabine Westenra and Heath Murdoch and Malcolm Darroch and Sue Shirriffs to make the final. Well Done Tony and Jenny. 

The Women's Doubles draw was strong with Vicky Yang and Feng Jie steaming the competition. They claimed wins over Armindeep Singh and Jessica Macaskill and Jenny Hung and Natalie Paterson to win the event. Paterson and Hung had beaten Sabine Westenra and Cath Zhou to make the finals. Congratulations to the Auckland girls for winning the Open Women's Doubles.

A big congratulations to all of the days medalists, great matches from all and with the Open Singles draw starting tomorrow, the promise of some of the best matches we expect to see so far in the tournament and of course some more videos. Highlights of Mark Page vs. Craig Dye B Grade Mens Final will be available at a later date also. See you all again tomorrow!

Thursday 13 October 2011

Auckland Stand Proudly Behind Championship Shields Again

The second and final day of the NZ Senior Championship team events drew to a close with three matches to complete for the day, a final group match and then two crossovers for semi final and final placing matches. There were some very exciting games between very skillfull players. We got our much anticipated matchup of Brad Chen vs. Tony Liu which went 3-2 in the latter's favour (full highlights will be available soon), also the nailbiting 5 set matches between Malcolm Darroch with both James Harter and Peter Craven of Waikato, the home sides Matthew Ball unhinging Auckland's Josh Alexandre and then pushing Phillip Xiao to the 5th set and Jessica Macaskill leading out a 2-0 lead on Auckland's Feng Jie before she fell victim to a 3 set catchup. A superb day of matches but of course it was Auckland who retained the men's and women's A Grade team shields, a joyous day for Josh Alexandre who got to hold the shield yet another time.

Winners of the Mens A Grade - Auckland - 
Josh Alexandre, Phillip Xiao, Tony Liu, Zhiyang Cheng, Julian Wootton

runners up Canterbury - Malcolm Darroch, Simon Wallace, Yi-Sien Lin

Winners of the Womens A Grade - Auckland -
Fan (Vicky) Yang, Feng Jie, Jennifer Tseng

runners up Wellington - Catherine Zhou, Sabine Westenra, Lisa Yue

Winners of the Mens B Grade - Manawatu (2) -
Charly Talumepa, Miko Kirschbaum, Stew Hickford, Dean Lochhead

runners up Wellington (2) - Bryan McConnochie, Phillip McConnochie, Depak Patel, Paul Solt

Winners of the Mens C Grade - Otago -
Andrew Marr, Luke Johnstone, Ricky Kim

runners up Hawkes Bay - Alan Keighley, Matt Brider, Hayden Wong

Congratulations to everyone.

Below are some highlights and photos from the 2 days of team competition, video footage was all done by me, photos were done by Jason Poon. Had some issues with video but fixed, still some minor pixelations but hope you enjoy!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

No Major Surprises on Day One of NZ Open Teams

The first day of the NZ Senior Open Table Tennis Championships for 2011 got off to an early start this morning with North Harbour Mens 2 ascending into the Mens A Grade division after beating Wellington's 2nd Mens team with a winning margin of 4 matches to 1. 

Auckland's Feng Jie (near)
vs. Manawatu's Natalie Paterson (far)
Photo by Jason Poon
With the new seven match team format the Auckland women's team took off to a flyer by stinging the home side with a 7-0 victory in their first and only team match of the day. Natalie Paterson put up a good fight against Auckland's Feng Jie but couldn't manage to draw things to a close in the 5th set where Jie kept her cool and claimed the win. Wellington is also on top form with Cath, Sabine and Lisa stealing 6-1 and 7-0 wins against Manawatu and Otago respectively. Waikato started and ended their day slowly with a 4-3 victory over Otago, their first and only match of the day. So with a lot of ground to make up going into day two it's the home side of Manawatu and the visitors from way down south, Otago, while Auckland look to hold their spot at the top and Wellington continue their assault for the crown.

Auckland vs. Waikato
Photo by Jason Poon
In the Men's team draw the A grade had some great table tennis matches with Auckland dominating their half of the draw beating both Waikato and North Harbour 2. While Peter Craven accounted for Josh Alexandre and had a great match against Phillip Xiao which he narrowly lost, team mates James Harter and Mark Page couldn't really stand up to the combined skill of the top seeds. Canterbury also skillfully claimed wins over Wellington and North Harbour, Brad Chen's superior form not enough to carry the team to beat the determined Cantabrian's. Waikato 2 suffered two losses 5-2 and 4-3 to North Harbour and Wellington, they are joined on the opposite side by Manawatu who were beaten by the promoted North Harbour 2 Men's team.

   Jeffrey Chin taking a big swing
Photo by Jason Poon

In the Men's B Grade the two Wellington teams and the Manawatu 2 team are sitting at the top half of their draw posting 2 wins each so far against the bottom three teams Wellington 4, Waitemata and Manwatu 3. Waitemata posted some close results losing both of their two matches so far by 4-3 margins. It looks like it's going to be the clash of Wellington and Manawatu for the B Grade shield so far with tomorrow being the conclusion, that's a very familiar clash for the two associations who compete with each other regularly.

In the Men's C Grade it's Otago firmly at the top of the draw with three outright wins against Waitemata 2 and Manawatu 4 and 5. Hawkes Bay and Canterbury 2 posted two wins each and sit equally on the table in 2nd position. With three matches played there are still two matches remaining for tomorrow to change results but presently Otago is looking solid at the top.

Quite a safe day for the big seeds today apart from Canterbury's dismantling of North Harbour in the Men's A grade, North Harbour 2 cementing their right to play in the A Grade by defeating the hosts. Tomorrow will bring more great matches and more action and of course everyone will be watching for the crossover to see if Brad Chen will meet Tony Liu, a match everyone is talking about.

Video highlights of teams will be posted at the end of tomorrow. Rest well and be ready for tomorrow!

Sunday 9 October 2011

Killerspin Krew Interview 1 - Georgina Pota

I got a great opportunity from Killerspin to interview an attractive and talented ambassador and player of table tennis. Gina Pota was a gold medalist in the 2007 teams event at the European Championships in Belgrade and made the 3rd round of the 2008 Beijing Games where she lost to China's Nan Wang eventual silver medalist of the event. She is a member of the Killerspin Krew, you can find more info on Killerspin's team here.

Full Name: Georgina Pota
Age: 26
Date Of Birth: 13.01.1985
Nation represented: Hungary
Highest World Ranking: 34 (46 at present)

Equipment Used?

Blade: Killerspin Diamond CQ
FH Rubber: Tenergy 64
BH Rubber: Joola Express

Killerspins' Gina Pota out at the table
Image from
You Career

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?
I have been playing table tennis for 21 years. I started when I was 5 years old. My mother also played table tennis when she was young and inspired me.

What is your next big goal for table tennis?
My next big goal is to get a medal at the European Championship.

Who is your favourite international player and why?

It is Timo Boll who has chance to win against Chinese.

What do you think is the place of fashion in women's table tennis?
It is important to look good at the tables as well because of the spectators, sponsors and media.

Are you a supporter of skirts and sports dresses for women or shorts?

I prefer skirts and dresses.

What do you think of the state of women's table tennis around the world?

The table tennis is not so popular for people to watch it rather to play for hobby. For example the tennis much more popular than table tennis because my sport is too quick to follow the play on TV.

Generally people like watching men's table tennis more than women's.

Off the Topic Questions
Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
It is Rafa Nadal because he is a very good player and fantastic sportsmen.

Favourite food?

Fried cheese, pizza.

What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
I like going to cinema and playing tennis.

Dream Car?Bugatti Veyron.

Ideal holiday destination?
Maldive, Bali Islands. I like the sea.

First thing you would do if you won $1million?
I would visit my boyfriend who has been studying in Tampa (USA). and I would buy my dream car of course. I would travel a lot.

Your Team Mates

Who’s the funniest player in the training hall?
Nobody because everybody focus on training and practice hard ;)

Who trains the hardest in the training hall?
I don’t deal with the others I am just concentrate on myself.

Who’s the funniest team player?

Irene Ivancan.

Who has the best nickname?
Petra Lovas “Moki”.

And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?Believe in yourself, work hard and enjoy the play.

A couple of great Killerspin Spinvitational
points Gina vs. Zhang Yining