The 38th Mitsubishi New Zealand Para National Champs was an eventful day for me and I'd like to take the opportunity to do as I did for the Northland Open and delve into a bit more of a personal perspective. I was the Tournament Manager for the Table Tennis Championships but at the same time I was also there to support two para players I have been involved in coaching this year, wheelchair player Shakti Krishnan and Jacob Phillips who is a standing player. Not only these two but a good friend of mine Victor Kamizona from my old table tennis club in Tauranga who I have known for over a decade was competing.
|Me coaching Shakti at the Para Nationals|
Image courtesy of John Tuki
Para table tennis is an area we should really be looking at developing, we have some very talented players and great opportunities to set them on pathways to being successful. The para nationals is a great opportunity for these players to come together in a social atmosphere and play the sport they love. For me I was requested to coach Shakti which I was glad to accept. I had spent quite a bit of time with him trying to help develop his game. He's only 13 years old and incredibly talented, great hand speed and quite agile for a wheelchair player, he has a superb ability to play angles and also to generate a bit more topspin on his shots than the other wheelchair players he had to compete with. I had also spent a lot of time feeding multiball frequently across his middle area to try and strengthen and define his shots across the weaker zone for all wheelchair players. So the groundwork was there for some results and they certainly came.
|Players and Admins at the 2011 Mitsubishi Para NZ|
Table Tennis Championships
Shakti was able to claw his way back from 3-4 point deficits in each of the 3 sets against his first opponent James Goulding to win 3-0. James is an experienced left hander and was the highest ranked player there on World standings and hence was first seed. It was a great win for Shakti who managed to get a strong focus at the end of each set when it really counted to seal the deal. Shakti also beat Irimana Kingi 3-1, although he struggled in parts to find rhythm he was able to show dominance in that match too. The big match for Shakti was against the defending champion from Otago, a player he hadn't been able to beat before, John Marrable. The match against John was a great match and caught the attention of most of the present spectators. I managed to find some areas for Shakti to exploit and in the 5th and final set, everyone was watching very nervously, probably me most of all as I really wanted him to prove he could win the match. He did manage to with some great tactics and play which left him with one match to go against Brian McLean of North Harbour. Brian is also a very experienced player and was quite to show that out on the table. He played some great wide shots to Shakti's backhand and really took advantage of key strategies which were working for him. For Shakti he was struggling a little to pinpoint the area that I wanted him to serve to and it was costing him. He led a great comeback in the match but Brian held on to win the match 3-2. With all the round robin results finalised it led us to a countback and with his wins over James, Irimana and John, Shakti was the victor and finished in 1st place. It was really satisfying for me for him to gain that result. A 13 year old and a National Champion, I think it needs to be publicised as much as Roger Rao's 2010 win.
|Para New Zealand CEO Fiona Pickering supporting the|
table tennis event down at Waikato Stadium
Image courtesy of John Tuki
Jacob performed exceptionally and drew attention to his improvements in the last year, I had numerous comments in that light. With some new serves and much more consistent strokes which I had tried really hard to repeat with him, he had really clicked the week before the competition and was playing much better and finished 4th among the standing players which I was really pleased with. Victor was the champion of the standing players and took home the gold medal, his antispin and long pimples combination no doubt difficult for the other standing players who are often restricted in their offensive strokes. So it was very satisfying to see those 3 guys achieve so much. Shakti combined with John Marrable to win the gold in the wheelchair doubles and Victor won the standing doubles with Ayush Bhatnagar who was the silver medalist in the singles for the standing players and has a very nicely developed technical game and some great shots.
All in all some great success and a great bunch of people. I would like to thank John Tuki for helping to organise the event and coming over, and of course coaching against me for John Marrable in the crucial match, Henry Redmond for his classification of the players, Fiona Pickering (PNZ CEO) for taking the time to come down and supporting our efforts in the table tennis event, the team managers, Brian Barker specifically for his involvement with NZ Para activites and for me a very important thank you to Chloe Wickman, my liason with Parafed Waikato who has been supporting the players and the event many months prior to it taking place and was great to work with. Thank you all and I hope Para table tennis will really grow further in the years to come!