Friday 21 December 2012

No Stopping for the Goal-Driven, Tiago Apolonia's Operation London

I had the fantastic opportunity to interview another amazing player from Europe. It is none other than Tiago Apolonia. My main interest was hearing from him how he was able to cope with a fairly serious operation and still continue on and recover to qualify for his dream, the London Olympics. Thanks for your time Tiago! 

Full Name: Tiago Apolonia
Age: 26
Date Of Birth: 28/07/1986
Nation represented: Portugal
Highest World Ranking: 19

Tiago Apolonia
Image Courtesy of ITTF 
Equipment Used?
Blade: Tibhar Tiago Apolonia
FH Rubber: Tibhar Evolution
BH Rubber: Tibhar Evolution

Your Career
How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?
I started when I was 5 years old. The big influence for me was my brother João.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
Difficult to pinpoint just one person. I would say my brother, my parents, coaches, and some team mates which I had until now. All of them of course in different ways.

What's does your training schedule for a week period involve?
It of course depends on different aspects, therefore it's difficult for me to give an exact answer. My coach and physical trainer and, also after my injury, my physiotherapist are working together and organising my weekly plans. Regardless of what the plan is I always work a minimum of twice a day.

What is your next big goal for table tennis?

Honestly I don't focus so much in just one BIG goal. I prefer to set every day or every week, smaller goals. I believe it's the best way to improve and then reach the bigger ones.

What do you think is the most important thing in table tennis for becoming a successful player on the international stage?
It's obviously necessary to be born with this talent, but I think most important is to work as hard as possible and of course you need support from family and coach and club etc.

You represent TTF Leibherr Ochsenhausen in the league in Germany, do you think Germany is the best place in Europe to train presently?
Yes I think Germany is the best place because there the structure is more professional and they do have the best conditions and the best league. Therefore the best training groups reside in Germany.

Let's talk Olympic Games, now you almost didn't make it. Tell us a little about your operation prior to the Olympics and your injury.
Everything happened very fast. I got injured in Qatar in mid-february playing against Chuang Chih-Yuan. Directly I expected the worst because my knee condition was really bad. When I arrived back in Germany my worst expectations were realised. I needed surgery. I was well operated on 1st March then started the countdown until the Olympic Qualification in Luxembourg which started on 11th April.

The time was too short but my olympic dream was too strong to give up directly. I did my best to recover as fast as possible and it was my decision to play in Luxembourg. Although I won many games (more than I expected to in my condition), I was not strong enough to manage the qualification. I had again one more month to prepare myself and especially my knee for the world olympic qualification in Qatar (exact same playing hall where I was injured :S).

This time I managed the qualification and won the tournament. Fortunately I had already many good and special moments in table tennis, but the feeling after the last point of the final was probably the best moment in my career so far.

How do you rate Ochsenhausen's chances in the Bundesliga with Ryu Seung Min now in the team?We are doing well so far in the Bundesliga. Qualifying for the playoff is our main and first goal for this season and we are on a very good way. Now we need to continue our way, step by step. In the end I believe our team is strong enough to beat any other team.

How is Ryu settling in to the team?

Ryu is a fantastic player and a very good person. Therefore he is very nice and is good to have as a teammate.

Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Difficult to say just one...hmm, Jose Mourinho

Favourite food?
Portugese and Italian

What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?

Internet, Playstation, Watch Movies

Dream Car?
I am not as expert as most of the boys, but Audi R8 is my favourite

Ideal holiday destination?Places with nice weather, good food and nice beaches...I must say one country. Portugal ;)

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
Try and always learn the best things from every experience you get. Enjoy every moment in the training and playing hall and always give it your best.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Sweden's Top Aims to Get Back on Par

Pär Gerell is a household name in the Swedish National Team and also in the European League competitions, both the French League and the European Champions League. Formerly top 50 in the World, that is where he aims to be yet again in 2013! Thanks for the interview Pär!

Name: Pär Gerell
Date of Birth: 23rd June 1982
Nation Represented: Sweden
Highest World Ranking :34

Sweden's Pär Gerell
Image Courtesy of ITTF 
FH Rubber: Calibra lt
BH Rubber: Boost tc
Blade: Rosewood VII

How long have you been playing table tennis for? Who or What influenced you to start playing?
I started when I was 7 years old, so 23 years.. I tried many sports and one friend took me to the table tennis hall and I liked to play directly.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? Your proudest moment.
I think silver medal in Europeans in team was a highlight.. Also when I became Swedish champion in mens singles and when we won French league with my club ASTT Chartres.

You currently represent Chatres in the French League. How long have you been with that team now and how do you feel it has prepared you for international matches?Its my third year with the club now, and I feel really good in the club.. I travel from Sweden to all league games, so of course sometimes when you go to an international tournament you are little tired from all trips and games, but normally it's no problem.

Which matches do you prefer playing, league matches or international matches and why?
I really like to play with a team, because then you are winning together and you have somebody to share it with.. But of course the most fun is to play the big championships, like Worlds, Europeans and Olympic games.

Chatres won the ETTU Cup in 2011 and you began by defeating Chuang Chih-Yuan. Would you say this is one of your most prominent victories to date?Yeah it was a big victory for me and the club, also in team Europeans 2011 I won some important games on the way to the final, and I rank this victory very high also. Is something special to represent your national team and win important games for them.

How is the table tennis situation in Sweden? Do you believe they have the potential to be the best in Europe once again? What will it take?
I believe so. We have two very good coaches now in Ulf “tickan” Carlsson and Anders Johansson, and they are now trying to rebuild little bit, so we would have a chance in the future to be the top nation in Europe again.

One of my favourite matches from the ECL

Recently you have had a bit of a slump in the ITTF Rankings due to an injury. How tough will it be to recover from that?
Yeah I lost some close games in the spring and summer this year so I fell down on the ranking.. Also I had problems with my hipp in the beginning of autumn so I couldn’t practise as I wanted. But its better now, and I start to be back in shape again, so I think for sure I will make some good results in the beginning of next year.

What do you think Europe need to do to pose more of a threat against the Chinese players in the future?
We need to work together more, like as we did before Olympics.. Then we had training camps together with all the best European teams and players.. Then I think we need to change the league system. We play almost everyweek league games or champions league, while the Chinese play their league in three month, and then after they can make longer training periods with hard practise.. In Europe at the moment, is difficult to find spaces between the games to have really long and hard training camps.

Off Topic Questions

Favourite Food: Spaghetti Bolognese
Favourite Car: Porsche
Favourite Holiday Destination: New York

Friday 30 November 2012

India's Finest Aims Back to Top 40

Perhaps the most successful table tennis player ever to emerge from India is of course the widely followed Sharath Kamal Achanta. The former Commonwealth Champion has his sights set firmly back on the top 40 in the mens world rankings and looks like he will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Thanks for the interview Kamal and good luck with your goal to return to the top 40!

Full Name: Achanta Sharath Kamal
Age: 30 yrs
Date Of Birth: 12/07/1982
Nation represented: India
Highest World Ranking: 39 as on Aug 2010

Equipment Used?
Blade: Joola Flame Fast
FH Rubber: Joola Pheonix
BH Rubber: Joola

Sharath Kamal Achanta, India's finest
Image courtesy of ITTF
Your Career

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?My father and uncle are my coaches and they were running a club even before I was born. So it was quite obvious that I should start to play Table Tennis and I started playing at the age of 5.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
I would say my uncle who is my coach also has influenced me especially in my early stages of my career and he was one of the main people who pushed me to turn Pro and work harder.

What is your next big goal for table tennis?I would like to get back into the top 40 in the World Ranking which is my immediate goal.

What do you think is the most important thing in table tennis for becoming a successful player on the international stage?
Hmmmm…. There are a lot of factor at the international level as there are a lot of players playing at this level and the competition is quite high. But as far as I am concerned it is all in the head, which is attitude, belief and determination. This is what is going to take you to the top.

Why do you think China currently dominate the sport?
Their training regimes are harder and longer and technical, they are very sound. They also have a very strong tradition and many players are playing table tennis at a very high level there. 

Kamal's recent victory over Patrick Baum in Poland

You previously played league competition in Spain and more recently in Bremen, do you still participate in a league competition anywhere in the world?
This year I am playing in 2 leagues, one in Sweden and the other in Denmark, after the club in Italy closed down due to financial reasons.

Tell us about your numerous Commonwealth Games Gold medals. You must be incredibly proud of them, is there one which stands out as being most memorable to you?
Well, I won the Commonwealth Games Singles and team title in 2006 at Melbourne and the doubles title in 2010 at New Delhi. Both have their own charm and value as 2006 was my first international victory and the I was very overwhelmed with the way people were following the Games and the recognition I got from this Games. And in 2010 it was in home grounds where I completely broke down into tears when I heard my National Anthem on the podium. I still have goose bumps when I see that video as I was playing my best table tennis at that time and also I just lost in the singles semi-finals from a situation where I was completely dominating. So before going into the match I told the coach that I would like to hear our national anthem at least once and it was quite an emotional moment. It was a mix of too many feelings and I broke down.

Commonwealth Gold Medalist 2006 & 2010
Image courtesy of ITTF
You were the first Indian player ever to win a singles title on the ITTF Pro Tour, do you think India will produce another player in the near future who will be able to compete at your level?
India has a lot of young players who are doing very well at the international arena, players like Soumyajit Ghosh , Harmeet Desai and a lot of younger players behind them. So I am quite sure that they will only have my achievements as a benchmark and they will raise the bar higher.

At the recent Polish Open you were able to beat Patrick Baum, would you say that is one of your top results to date?
It was long time since I beat a top 30 player, so I was happy to come back to my winning way and I hope I continue.

Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Roger Federer

Favourite food?
Of course, Indian ( I started to like it more since I am away in Europe for a long time now and I miss it quite often.)

What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?I could say that I would be a entrepreneur or something else but I would be a big lie as in the first place I had no option and secondly I just love this sport that I can’t imagine myself without it now.

Dream Car?
Chevy Camaro

Ideal holiday destination?
ny place with a beach, there is so much peace at the beach.

First thing you would do if you won $1million?
I would give it to my wife.. :P

And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?I always keep telling this to young players that they must aim high and work toward their goals. And at the same time they need to do what they love otherwise they will have to be satisfied with loving what they are doing.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Feedback From NZ's Top Ranked

The NZ National Rankings have been released for 2012 after a year of hard work from our best. We decided to ask some familiar faces a few questions about their top spots on the rankings and also check in with some new faces to the NZ Rankings and get to know a little more about them!

Phillip Xiao - Ranked NZ Number 1 - Mens

Phillip Xiao Ranked Number 1 Mens
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch 

You are ranked Number 1 in NZ again, congratulations. Do you think your efforts over the year deserve the top spot?

Thanks! I’m extremely proud to be NZ number 1 again. I’ve been ranked number one for three years now from 2010 up until now. It’s great knowing all the hard work and training has paid off, this includes paying my own way to go China and Korea during the winter every year since I was 13 and balancing training with study or work full time during the year. I’m proud to have achieved the results domestically and internationally this year which would warrant me being the number 1 New Zealand player. Some of the highlights are qualifying for the Olympic Games and also winning three Under 21 titles at the Oceania Championships in Fiji earlier this year.

In New Zealand we are fortunate to have strong international players such as Johan Axelqvist and Liu Teng Teng. Although I am not of their level yet it is great to be able to learn as much and try chase them.

This year was a breakthrough year for you against some top Australian players. What is it that has changed for you to be able to beat the likes of Justin Han and David Powell?
I spent 3 months training in China and Korea before the Olympic qualifiers thanks to my coaches Jiang Weizhong and Mr Han. This definitely helped my game a lot. I was consistently training with players in the top 250 in the world and being exposed that sort of level 7 hours a day speeds up improvement exponentially. Some of the players in China will be less well known but in Korea I was lucky enough to train once or twice with rising Korea star Jung Young Sik who is ranked about 60 in the world at the moment. A good friend whom I’ve known since very young and he was able to share some of his experiences and thoughts albeit pretty broken English!

I learnt a lot about how to approach the game. In the past I was guilty of just trying to hit the ball as hard as possible and get as many balls on the table. I tried to focus more on constructing points and to be able to change the rhythm of the game when necessary. These were the key things and I felt like it helped a lot especially in the crucial stages of the game.

I respect both Justin and Dave immensely and it was great being able to beat both those players. Beating both those players definitely pushed me up into the group of top players in Oceania whereas in the past I was more just a fringe top player.

How did it feel to qualify for the Olympic Games and having not met the NZOC criteria, has your hunger to represent NZ at the Olympics increased? If so what will you do to prepare for Rio?

It was extremely disappointing after doing so well at the Oceania Olympic qualifiers earlier this year. The NZOC has set the bar pretty high for their criteria and it’s always going to be tough. At this stage no one outside of Asia or Europe can meet the top 16 in the world criteria.

However, in saying that I am always motivated to train hard and try get as close as possible to meet their criteria. Anything could happen and may let athletes go if they met the international qualification standards. That would be a dream come true!

For me, one of the ultimate goals would be to represent New Zealand at the Olympics and wearing the silver fern proudly. From what I have heard, the Olympic Games is an unreal experience, the atmosphere, the village, the games, everything, it is only a select few that ever get to experience it. Many of my close friends who I have grown up with through the junior ranks were at the games and it would have been amazing to be amongst it. I’m still only 21 and so anything could happen!

How difficult has it been to start full time employment and balance your schedule with table tennis training to a high standard?
It’s been extremely challenging balancing work and full time employment this year. I see it as a new chapter in my life and a really tough challenge.

Surprisingly, I feel like training this year has gone really well and the level of training in New Zealand that I get has been a lot better. The first reason for this would be that I know time is pretty restricted and so every time I do come into training, I would make sure that I get the most out of it and train as hard as possible. During the summer months, I would fit in training sessions before work starting at 6:00 a.m then go into work and train from 7pm till 9:30 pm. There were a few times where I was questioning why I was doing this and putting myself through this but I was adamant that it would all work out in the end.

The second reason is that this year, New Zealand has been extremely lucky to have Johan Axelqvist, a former Swedish national team player. Although he has stopped playing professionally for 18 months, he still plays occasionally once or twice a week. This has benefited my game a lot and he is always happy to share his expertise and knowledge! It’s great to be able to have someone to chase and aspire to. He’s a great asset to all players in New Zealand and having more competition in New Zealand is always great for the game. I think we all a great match at the Auckland Open earlier this year. He's also been a great friend off the table and I'm really thankful for his help this year.

This year you won both the Manawatu and Wellington Opens. This represents a new philosophy of sorts for you, as it was the first time you had played both tournaments. What enticed you to play them and what will it mean for you in the future?
There were a few reasons to play those tournaments. Firstly, I think it is really important to support the local tournaments. It was great to be able to travel and show the locals some quality matches. I think the final at the Wellington Open against good friend John Cordue was a good example showcasing the top local players and the crowd really enjoyed watching that match.

Another reason was to try and give back to the local community. There aren’t many role models in Table Tennis New Zealand and so the top guys really need to step up and put their name forward After the Manawatu Open, I ran a training camp for the local juniors and tried to share some of my expertise and thoughts on the game. The juniors really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. Coaching is something I really enjoy as I love working with people and being able to see the improvement over a period of time is really satisfying. It would be great to be able to develop in the future.

In saying that, what are your main goals for 2013?

There are quite a few opportunities in 2013 internationally which will contribute to the overall goal of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The biggest tournaments will be the Commonwealth Championships in India, World Championships in France, Oceania Cup and the Australian Open. I hope to be able to go and get the results I want to meet the criteria of the Commonwealth Games.

Furthermore, if TTNZ has the funds I would love to be able participate more on the ITTF World Tour, this includes the GAC Tour and the Euro – Africa Circuits for 2013.

I’m looking forward to the 2013 season!

Sarah Her-Lee - Ranked NZ Number 1 - Womens

Sarah Her-Lee at Number 1 on Women's List
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch

First of all congratulations on your first ever Number 1 NZ Ranking. What do you think has been the biggest contributing factor to your position here?

Wow, it is quite unbelievable to me! there are a few players whom I think deserve the top spot too. I think this year I have played well and I have had a lot of help from coaches and other players training together. My experiences training and competing overseas have also helped me to improve. But I think one of the biggest contributing factor to having good tournaments this year was that I learnt how to play even when my form was not at the best.

You have played for a season in Germany, is that something you are considering doing again in the future?

It was a very nice experience both for table tennis and life experience, it is something I will never forget! (Thanks to my lovely club - Borussia Munster)! I would love to return in the future but right now I am focusing more on my law career so I will be staying in NZ.

Now that you have been ranked number 1, what further goals do you have for high performance table tennis?

I would like to set other goals other than just representing New Zealand and winning medals. I would like to set goals on making table tennis better, at social levels as well as at the high performance level. Also I would like to be able to contribute to bringing more girls into the sport competitively. Overall to use the experiences that I have to help make table tennis better.

You have created a very feminine image for yourself in table tennis. Do you have plans to continue promoting fashion and women's table tennis? What kinds of ideas do you have?

Yes fashion is fun and everyone has their own style, they should be able to express themselves even when playing table tennis. I particularly loved Timi's (NZ champion) fashion throughout the NZ Open this year. When I was in Europe I saw a lot of feminine and very stylish female players. I have had some ideas in the past - for example changing our NZ women's teams uniform. Currently we still wear the men's uniform when we represent NZ and during National Champs the women's teams for associations wears the men's uniform as well. But it is difficult because currently the table tennis brands have mostly male clothing. So the ideas needs to be worked on with others involved and It would be nice to create new ideas with other players and officials too.

You will soon start working full time. How do you think this will impact on your table tennis and what will you do to solider through it?

Working full time can be physically and mentally demanding, just like table tennis. It would take the body some time to get used to it. I think it is important to eat well and get plenty of sleep. It is hard to train when you are tired, and the training becomes ineffective. I remember reading an article William Henzell wrote about how he maximise his training time when he was working full time - so I will go back and read it again!

Ruofei Rao - Ranked NZ Number 2 - Womens

Ruofei Rao Ranked Number 2 Womens
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
What is it about table tennis that makes you choose it over other sports and activities?

Well, table tennis is better than any other sport in many ways. I've tried tennis, swimming and badminton. Tennis is outdoors so the sun just kills you and also, the court and racquet is so much bigger which I don't like. And if it was raining, you wouldn't be able to play. Swimming is just plain boring, no offense. All you do is just swim and swim and swim. You don't swim with others like you play against someone in table tennis. I also don't like how it's a sport in the water because it's cold and it damages your hair. I had no talent in badminton, I could never hit the shuttlecock to the other side because shuttlecocks aren't round and I just found it hard. Another thing is I don't like team sports like netball or soccer or basketball. I don't know why. When I started playing table tennis, I apparently had some natural talent and potential. I liked it alot aswell. From the start, I had always won games and competitions. This boosted my spirit heaps and so I continued. So here I am today.

What other hobbies do you have in your spare time? Do you play any musical instruments?

I have art classes every week where I paint, draw and sketch things like animals and scenery and other things aswell. I play the violin and participate in one of the orchestras at school. Also, digital technology which is animating with programs like Flash Player and using Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator to edit photos and create book covers, cards, draw cartoons, etc.

What ambitions do you have for yourself, in table tennis and school etc.?

I want to achieve many things in table tennis. Representing New Zealand to go overseas and play tournaments and more. Aside from table tennis, I want to attend a university away from NZ. Haven't exactly planned where but I wanna take designing and art as my career because I think I have alot of potential to achieve great things and I like it which makes it even better.

What kind of food do you enjoy eating? What makes it so great?

Well to be honest I don't mind any kind of food as long as it tastes good hahaha. Actually I find that I like sweet food more. Like fruit. Can't survive a day if I don't eat any fruit. And I'm always eating chocolate and lollies. My mum gets a little annoyed sometimes when she sees me eating sweets but I never listen to her so there's not much she can do ahaha.

Where is your favourite travel destination so far? Where is somewhere you would like to visit and why?

I have been to alot of countries around the world. But out of them all, I think I like Japan or France the most. I went to France for World Hopes Team in 2010 and Japan for a School Exchange in 2010. Well. I would really like to visit England or Germany. New Zealand is pretty small and far away from the rest of the world. Sometimes, home just gets a little boring. I really like travelling, leaving home, and seeing what it's like in other places in the world. It's fun and adventurous, and I love shopping too. You can see and experience new things and understand a little bit more about the country's culture.

Victor Pollett Ranked 1st in Under 15s

Where were you born, when did you come to NZ?

Born in Israel, came to NZ when I was 4 in 2001

Did you play table tennis before you came to NZ?
I hadn't played table tennis before I came to NZ, only started playing when I was about 9 at Li Chunli's club

What is your training regime in North Harbour?
At North Harbour, I usually train about 4 days a week, I go to the high performance training and elite trainings.

What do you credit your outstanding results in 2012 to?
As it was my last year of U15 I set myself a goal at the start of the year to do my absolute best at the junior nationals and trained hard before the junior nationals. I think that setting this goal for myself really made me try hard and in the end helped me win.

What are you hoping for in 2013?
In 2013 I hope to improve my game and to try claim North Harbour the U18 Boys Junior Nationals Teams Title.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Malta gets Aerobic with Table Tennis

Steve Rowe's passionate efforts have taken his brain child, Aerobic Table Tennis, all the way across to Malta where it has been welcomed with much enthusiasm. Aerobic Table Tennis has been a great success so far with Steve having altered and modified the programme to make it the best it can be. Promotion for females in our sport has always been necessary and Aerobic Table Tennis is taking us a step closer, by offering a fun and active way to keep fit, while reminding those ladies that table tennis is a fantastic sport for many reasons.

Aerobic Table Tennis

Female Fitness




After being contacted by Joe Borg Cardona, President of the Maltese Table Tennis Association, Steve took on a massive committment. On the 30th August he left the UK after months of developing Aerobic Table Tennis to great success, to continue his mission in Malta. Centering at MITTC in Malta, a top class facility with 15 tables and superb conditions, Steve set upon his partnership to bring Aerobic Table Tennis to MITTC.

With over 1000 girls participating in the programme and a confident estimate of 3000 to participate before Steve departs, ATT has taken off in Malta with soaring reviews. A school recently hosted 250 girls in one session, an outstanding support! See the video below!

A special appearance by Steve on a Maltese Sports Television show. The ATT programme really has had a great reception in Malta. So much so that Steve will return to Malta again in January, where Aerobic TT will be part of a large sports award ceremony with over 8000 guests.

Steve has a global goal for Aerobic Table Tennis and for that to occur he requires the cooperation of clubs and associations around the globe who have an interest in increasing female numbers in table tennis. His next focuses are in India, Greece, back in the UK and of course continuing with his efforts in Malta. Steve has just finished his instructional video featuring French League player Viktoria Lucenkova, this video is in it's final stages and will soon be ready to download online or for purchase by clubs or associations, to begin a global franchise with a uniform format.

Aerobic Table Tennis at a special Breast Cancer Awareness Event in Malta the Queen of the Planet Beauty Contest, it is a great way to provide more publicity for this great movement for our sport, taking place in the town square at Valletta.

Steve is taking ATT from strength to strength, it is a growing movement and one with positive reviews and not a bad word to be heard. He is passionate to the end and will give everything to promote his mission, this I know from speaking to him on countless occasions. Best of luck Steve! 

For more information on Aerobic Table Tennis see or hit the link on my blog sidebar.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Young Star Claims First Senior Title

Liam Young's journey to claiming the B Grade men's title at the 2012 NZ Senior Champs started with intruiging fashion. James Harter's loss to Phillip Sha 3-2 in his group left the field wide open for anything to happen. Liam took James to 5 sets and lost, but with a 3-0 win over Phillip Sha and a 3 way countback in the group, it was Liam who went through first, with James following in 2nd.

Liam Young wins B Grade
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Victor Ma and Malcolm Lowe also produced upsets to qualify 1st in their groups. James Harter was the first of the top 4 seeds to fall from grace, losing in four sets in the round of 16 to Hoa Ngo. Craig Dye and Ben Collins made easy work of their opponents in the quarterfinals. Victor Ma beat Hoa Ngo 3-1 while Liam Young beat Matt Hetherington in straight sets. 

Craig Dye had a scary rematch of his open group in the B Grade semifinals against Victor Ma, and in similar fashion it went down to the wire again. The end result 12-10 in the 5th set for Craig Dye. Meanwhile Liam Young had started to turn heads, holding a 2-1 lead over top seed Ben Collins. The final set was fought hard point for point and ended 11-9 in Liam's favour. He moved into the final, to face a player he had never found victory against before.

The final began and Liam was quite to take the first set, 11-8. Craig turned up the heat though and although the next 2 sets were close they both fell in the favour of Dye, who won the Over 30s event just days earlier. Young hadn't given up yet though, he stole away the 4th set 11-9 and then made a sprint for the homeline in the 5th set to win 11-4, an incredible margin. Liam Young took his first national title and after being a bronze medallist in the C Grade at nationals last year, winning gold in the B Grade this year shows what progress Liam has made in the past year. Congratulations Liam! 

Nai Xin Jiang also emerged champion in the women's after beating Zhiying Cheng 3-1 and winning the final against Jessica Macaskill in straight sets. Well done Nai Xin :)

Saturday 13 October 2012

World Class Newcomer Claims Women's Title

Throughout the team event one player had dominated the women's field. New to the Canterbury team, having moved the Christchurch from Serbia, Timea Tapai has formerly been among the best in Europe, ranked in the top 300 in the world and had only dropped 2 sets during the team event.

Sophie Shu back in the Mix
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
With Chunli's withdrawal from the event, Michelle McCarthy paved her way into the top spot with a 3-1 win over Sophie Shu. With both players beating Zhiying Cheng, Sophie qualified 2nd from the group. Kadia Keller-Rice made it through 2nd on a countback after losing her match narrowly to Armindeep Singh, but Armindeep's loss to Ola Ratka made the outcome far less favourable for her, finishing 3rd in the group. Jessica Macaskill qualified over Si Zhuo Huo in her group after beating Grace in straight sets.

The round of 16 saw Kadia Keller-Rice end Michelle McCarthy's run in a very tight and exciting 7 set showdown, long rallies and desperation emerged as both players gave it their all with Keller-Rice ending it 14-12 in the final set. In the other round of 16 match Catherine Zhou won in 6 sets over Ruofei Rao, some tense moments in the match but Catherine steadied to take the win.

Kadia's next match put her face to face against Timea, whose chopping appeared to be almost unliftable by any form of topspin, with no real plan of how to return the heavy chop and many variations it was inevitable for Timea to emerge the winner in 4 sets. Sarah Her-Lee also won in straight sets over former Waikato and NZ teammate Jessica Macaskill. Sara Hu moved into the next round with a 4-1 win over Sophie Shu, with Shu having chances to go take a second set towards the end. Vicky Yang left nothing to chance with a 4-0 win over Catherine Zhou.

The Women's Singles Podium
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Timea showed her dominance against Sarah Her-Lee in the semifinal with a 4-0 win, no set scoring higher than 7. The heavy backspin proved to be a huge problem even with Sarah's overseas experience over the last year and Timea took the match 4-0. Vicky Yang joined her in the final, winning her match against Sara Hu also by 4-0.

Having won a set against her in the teams, Vicky Yang was out to avenge her narrow loss to Jenny Hung in last year's national championships. Making an effort to vary the speed and spin of her attacks seemed to be an idea, but Timea adjusted accordingly and Vicky found frustration setting in as she struggled to form tactics and win the necessary points. Timea chopped consistently both close and far from the table and also threw in the odd backhand punch to end points early. Congratulations Timea! :)

NZ Men's Title Successfully Defended

At the ending moments of a long few days of exhausting matches, the open men's singles drew to a close and a champion was decided. The 2 days of qualifying and main draw matches were filled with the highest standard of table tennis, put on show for players and spectators alike.

A rematch of the 2011 Final
The top group saw Jonathan Wang qualifying over Mark Page after beating him 3-1 and a withdrawal from Li Lewei saw Roger Rao qualify first in his group and Craig Dye go through 2nd. Kevin Wu came out top of his group with Xiaojian Sha dropping into 2nd and Roger Wang was the surprise 2nd qualifier in his group behind Oliver Scarlett.

Josh Alexandre played exceptionally to win 4-0 over last year's bronze medallist Zhiyang Cheng in the back-round, while Matthew Ball held on in the tight spots to win 6 sets over Ben Collins. 

The round of 16 saw Teng Teng Liu take out Xiaojian Sha in straight sets while Matthew Ball exercised extreme control and patience to defeat the all out attacking force of Yi-Sien Lin. Powerful shots on both wings proved not to stack up against Ball's close to table gamestyle. 4-1 in Matt Ball's favour and a fantastic result for him. Oliver Scarlett claimed a 4-1 win over Craig Dye, his big windmill forehand proving to outplay Craig Dye's chopping even in the most extreme circumstances.

Malcolm Darroch, awarded Veteran of the Year award for 2012, held a 2-0 lead on 3rd seed Chang Bo but the rapid attacking Bo came back in fashion to close the match out 4-2 in his favour. Yuansen Yao also advanced 4-0 over Roger Rao, though each set shared a very tight scoreline. Kevin Wu dispatched Roger Wang in straight sets and Phillip Xiao ended his match in 5 sets against Jonathan Wang. John Cordue also moved into the next round in 6 sets over Josh Alexandre, a match packed with loop to loop rallies and angle plays.

Into the quarters and Phillip Xiao made short work of Kevin Wu, platforming off his Under 21 gold medal yesterday to take a 4-0 win over Wu. John Cordue fell victim to Yuansen Yao 4-1, Chang Bo defeated Oliver Scarlett by the same margin, despite Ollie having multiple chances in each set. Teng Teng Liu wasted no time in bringing an end to his match with Matthew Ball in straight sets. 

Men's singles podium
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
The semifinals brought the most entertaining matches of the night. Yuansen Yao faced a rematch of his under 21 final from the previous day. Having been too passive in that match against Phillip Xiao he came out attacking this time and took a 2-1 lead. Phillip however was looking to return to the final to have another crack at winning the national title and performed superbly to win 4-2, the last set a solid 11-3. Tony Liu had more serious problems on his hands with his match extending extreme pressure. The incredibly paced flat driving technique and top service from Chang Bo with his pengrip short pimple rubber style left Tony needing to work very hard to secure each set. Thankfully he managed to do so to keep his hopes of defending his NZ National title alive and was able to narrowly win out the last 2 sets to win 4-2.

The final proved to be quite a one sided contest, despite the best efforts of Phillip Xiao he could not compete point for point with the blindingly fast attacking of Teng Teng Liu. Determined as ever to make it 2 in a row, Tony played to his usual exceptional standard and set balls up for his crazy 3rd ball attacks. Phillip managed to block some back with pace to win some outstanding points, but Tony was eventually the victor in straight sets and was not afraid to show his emotion at having won the event. Congratulations Tony :)

The Mens doubles saw Johan Axelqvist and Phillip Xiao pair up to claim the win 3-0 over Yuansen Yao and Teng Teng Liu. Ryan Zhu and Nathan Lowe also came out of retirement to claim a bronze medal in the event, a pleasant surprise for old friends in the sport.

Friday 12 October 2012

Do or Dye Gameplay Ends in Gold

The Over 30 events saw some newcomers to the table this year, but it proved to be the steady old timer in the mens who saw it out, do or Dye style. Top seed for the 30s event was Canterbury's Yi-Sien Lin, the hot favourite with his all out attacking on both wings and inspiring backhand looping and punching.

The group stages in the mens were a complete shambles, seedings upset in groups left, right and centre. Hoa Ngo emerged 2nd in his group after a 3-0 win over William Weinstock, Rong Chen upset Xiaojian Sha to go through first in his group, Craig Dye won his group after beating Zhang Nan 3-0 and Bozidar Zutic surprised his group's Chinese top seed with a 3-2 win.

Yi-Sien Lin top seed, ousted in O30 semifinals
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
Being the 30s event ironically 3-0 was the number on everyone's minds. Xiaojian Sha and Xue Feng emerged through to the quarterfinals by that exact margin, straight sets over Boz Zutic and Hoa Ngo respectively. It didn't stop there, all of the quarterfinal matches were also won 3-0 with Yi-Sien Lin beating Zhang Nan, Xiaojian Sha beating Zhang Lin, Craig Dye toppling Xue Feng and Rong Chen taking out Tomasz Koscik.

Craig Dye continued the trend with a 3-0 win over Rong Chen to book his place in the final. The other side of the draw proved to be the truly entertaining battle in the semifinals.

Yi-Sien Lin held a 2-0 lead early on, some lucky saves coupled with great short play and superb opening and follow-up shots allowed him to capture those sets 11-9 and 12-10. The match heated up and continued to be ridiculously close, in fact the next 3 sets were won also 11-9, 12-10 and 11-9. They were won by Xiaojian Sha as he held on and fought back. The points towards the end of each set were crucial to the match and the Chinese opponent played some spectacular shots. Despite Yi-Sien's best efforts the match just pulled away from him and he bowed out of his over 30s debut in the semifinals.

The event was far from over however. Xiaojian Sha went head to head with Craig Dye. Do or Dye was the motto, Craig played amazingly. Committing to a fine balance of high risk and finesse, it was Dye who assumed control in the match, causing issues for his opponent with his long pips, while also combining that with devastating attacking shots, even flipping his bat to move in for winning backhand loops. Leading the game 2-0 we waited to see if the same fate would come to Craig Dye as had to Yi-Sien. For a moment it looked like the match could head that way, with Sha taking a set 11-4, but Craig held steady and played even harder in the final set to win it 11-6. 3-1 the final result and the Over 30s Gold Medal and title for Craig Dye! Congratulations Craig!

Catherine Zhou wins the Over 30 Women's Singles
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
The Over 30 women's event comprised of just 3 players, a tight knit group of Catherine Zhou, Kadia Keller-Rice and Gina Liu. It was Catherine who led out early winning her first match 3-1 over Gina Liu with some nervous moments in the beginning and the end of the match, but overall Cath looked confident as ever. The second match saw Gina Liu claim a 4 set win over Keller-Rice to level the playing field and see an all important 3rd match to define the results.

Catherine went out without looking back and played decisively and with confidence, sticking to her fast attacking strokes which are best known for finishing points for her. She took the match against Kadia in straight sets and took the gold medal in the over 30 women's singles in her first appearance in the event at the NZ Open. Congrats Cath! 

The mixed doubles went down to the wire with Julian Wootton and Kadia Keller-Rice narrowly missing out 11-9 in the 5th to a determined Stephen Hirst and Catherine Zhou while in the men's doubles it was Rong Chen and Tomasz Koscik who took the crown for the event. Well done guys! 

Phillip Xiao and Vicky Yang Claim Under 21 Crowns

In a day of fantastic matches, the Under 21 Mens Singles provided some of the most quality matches. Starting with the qualifying groups early in the morning. All groups went to plan save for Victor Ma stealing qualification away from Daniel Lowe with a 3-1 win and a countback in the last group after Victor Pollett won in 5 sets over Roger Rao, leaving Zhiyang Cheng to qualify first with Roger in 2nd.

Michael Fong-Ross in the Under 21 event
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
In the opening rounds of the main draw Victor Ma continued on his run with a narrow 3-2 win over Jonathan Wang, while Michael Fong-Ross beat Mitchell Barker by the same margin. All other players had bye rounds into the quarterfinal stages.

Kevin Wu and Oliver Scarlett were the big casualties in the quaterfinals. Kevin lost 3-1 at the hands of Roger Rao, while Michael Fong-Ross carried on his fantastic form to beat Oliver and go through to the semifinals. Phillip Xiao won 3-0 over Victor Ma while Yuansen Yao managed to overcome Zhiyang Cheng after a solid fight from his opposition which lasted 4 sets.

In the semifinals Phillip continued to show consistent performance on attack winning in straight sets against Roger Rao. The match quality in the semifinals provided great entertainment, particularly Michael Fong-Ross'  match with Yuansen Yao. 3-1 was the end score for the higher seeded player but it was a tight and competitive match with some class action and well played points. Fong-Ross played some dazzling counterloops but in the end Yao's consistency and tight service awarded him the win and a finals showdown with Phillip Xiao.

Phillip Xiao wins Under 21 Mens Singles
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
In the final it was a case of passive vs. aggressive. Phillip Xiao continued to play confidently as he had during the whole event. Being the aggressor brought results and with Yao playing slightly passively, perhaps due to finals nerves, it was Xiao who took the early advantage. That advantage never faded and though Yao fought back to win one set it was Phillip all the way, committing to early openings off the service and following through with strong attacking shots. 

Congratulations to Phillip for an outstanding performance. He also claimed a gold medal with Si Zhuo Huo in the 21 mixed and a silver medal in the Under 21 Mens Doubles with Kevin Wu, that event was won by the combination of Yuansen Yao and Oliver Scarlett in a 4 set match.

Vicky Yang wins the Under 21 Womens Singles
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
In the Under 21 women's event the only stranger to the draw from the original seedings was Nai Xin Jiang, her 3-1 win against Angel Huang secured her the 2nd qualifying position from the group. 

In the main draw Ruofei Rao won 3-1 against Natalie Paterson to advance into the semifinals while Si Zhuo Huo also won over Nai Xin Jiang in 4 sets. The semifinals saw Vicky Yang beat Ruofei in straight sets with relative comfort while Sara Hu closed out some very close sets against Grace Huo to win her match in 4 sets.

The final between Sara Hu and Vicky Yang was a quality match, Sara having the lead on a few occasions but failing to close out the sets as Vicky overpowered her opponent. The second set saw Sara take her most substantial lead but still Vicky clenched on to defend her 2011 title and win the final 3-0. A comfortable win for the top seed. Congratulations to Vicky on both her gold medal in the singles and in the Under 21 Women's Doubles with Si Zhuo Huo!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Team 1 is Number 1 in Auckland vs Auckland Women's Team Clash

The Women's team event at the NZ Senior Championships hosted a quality group of the best players from around the country. With no Wellington or Manawatu teams this year the best of those regions were drafted with Natalie Paterson joining Otago and Catherine Zhou joining Waikato.

Auckland 2's Nai Xin Jiang
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
No doubt the strongest team was clearly Auckland 1 with Vicky Yang, Sarah Her-Lee, Sara Hu and Si Zhuo Huo. They wasted no time in making that point clear. Their opening match against Auckland 2 was sealed 5-2, aside from the doubles and a great win for Nai Xin Jiang over Si Zhuo Huo, it was smooth sailing for Auckland 1 after a bumpy 5 setter to open with Ruofei Rao (Akl 2) putting up a fantastic fight against Sarah Her-Lee.

Natalie Paterson put up a great fight when Otago and Waikato clashed, winning both her singles against Catherine Zhou and Armindeep Singh. Waikato cleared the way in the rest of the matches all in straight sets to win 5-2. Natalie proved to be leading the way for the team, claiming their only win against Angel Huang in a 6-1 loss to Canterbury. The former World Ranked 156 defensive player, Timea Tapai forming a solid base of wins for the South Island team. 

Waikato went on to lead the way against Auckland 2, leading 3-2 after Jessica had a great 3-1 win over Sarah Sandley and Catherine won her 2 singles. Auckland 2 held steady and Sarah Sandley's win over Armindeep Singh and Nai Xin's win over Jessica ended in a 4-3 win for the second Auckland team.

Canterbury's Timea Tapai
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Auckland 1 dropped just a single match to Waikato, Catherine Zhou beating Sara Hu. With Vicky Yang stepping into this match there was more than enough skill on board for the top Auckland team, winning her 2 singles and a doubles with relative comfort. 

Auckland 2 won their next 2 matches, 4-3 over Canterbury, a tight fought battle with Timea again proving she had a skill level competent enough to win her games with relative ease. With the doubles also in the bag for Canterbury it was a hard fight for Auckland to come through in the end. They also beat Otago 6-1 with Natalie stepping up to beat Ruofei Rao.

Auckland 1 win Women's Team Event
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Auckland 1 were able to defeat Canterbury 5-2. Timea beating both Sarah Her-Lee (3-0) and Vicky Yang (3-1), a sure sign she will be out to win in the individual events. Angel Huang pushed Sara Hu to 5 sets in the final match of the round but was beaten when the pressure came on. Following that match, Waikato were also able to beat Canterbury 4-3, winning all the matches remaining after Timea had finished winning her 2 and the doubles with Angel Huang.

Auckland 1 danced into the final with a 7-0 win over Otago and were set to face Auckland 2 in the finals.

Despite their best efforts, Auckland 2 didn't get off to the start they may have wanted. Vicky Yang started off with a straight sets win over Sarah Sandley, followed by Sara Hu also winning her match against Nai Xin Jiang also 3-0. Ruofei Rao led Sarah Her-Lee 2-1 and held 4 match points in the 4th set before Sarah came back to win in the defining moments of the 5th set. With 3 matches in hand Auckland 1 proceeded confidently into the doubles and were able to win it 3-0. The end score 4-0 for Auckland 1.

Auckland Sweep NZ Men's Team Title

Once again at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships it was Auckland who claimed both the men's and women's team shields after convincing wins in the finals over opposing teams, Canterbury in the men's and Auckland 2 in the women's.

John Cordue for Canterbury 1
Photo Courtesy of Murray Finch
The road to the final was no stress for Auckland 1 with the strongest team in the country. They claimed a 7-0 win over Waikato in their first matchup, showing they were ready for business. Canterbury also won 7-0 over Wellington while Brad Chen saved 1 match for Xi'an to beat North Harbour 6-1. Manawatu who had won their grading match over Canterbury 2 fell 5-2 to Auckland 2, with Matt Ball leading a 3-0 win over Ben Collins and the reliable old team of Tim Seaholme and Matt Ball combining to win the doubles over Oliver Scarlett and Josh Alexandre.

Auckland 1's first appearance against Canterbury ended quickly with Teng Teng Liu, Phillip Xiao and Kevin Wu on good form, winning the initial 3 singles in straight sets then finishing the match off by winning the doubles. Kevin Wu was the only player not to substitute after the result and fell into the trap with a 3-1 loss to Yi-Sien Lin.

The outstanding result came from Auckland 2, Josh, Ollie and Wayne Gear combined to lead a 5-2 win over the visiting team from Xi'an, China. All 3 players shared a 3-0 win in one of their matches with Roger Rao subbing in for the doubles to win that and then Oliver winning his 2nd singles 3-1. A top result and a crucial one for the finals draw. Following that, Auckland 2 suffered defeated by North Harbour 4-3. Brad Chen won his 2 singles comfortably while Mitchell Barker won the final match against Josh Alexandre 3-0 to seal a 4-3 win for Harbour.

Teng Teng Liu for Auckland 1
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
In the semifinals it was Auckland 1 sweeping Xi'an winning the first 3 singles, afterwhich the visiting team decided to call it quits. A 4-0 result and a place in the final. Canterbury 1 won 4-1 over Auckland 2, Josh Alexandre took his win over Malcolm Darroch in 5 sets.

The finals were a one way street for Auckland with plenty of fight from Canterbury. Malcolm Darroch lead out strongly in the start of each set against Phillip Xiao but was unable to close out towards the end, Phillip held himself confidently to win 3-0 and take the first match for Auckland. The 2nd match was pure entertainment, Yi-Sien Lin put up a great fight against Teng Teng Liu, losing 3-1 but having plenty of chance to go to 5. Unfortunately a fault serve at 11-10 up in the 4th cost him and despite having played some amazing backhands and putting some pressure on his opponent it was still Auckland who led 2-0. John Cordue bit back with a 3-1 win over Kevin Wu and in the doubles, 2 common partnerships clashed. John Cordue and Yi-Sien Lin being well known for pairing in Canterbury teams in the past, however the fresher team of Kevin Wu and Teng Teng Liu took the game with ease 3-0, Auckland needing just one more for victory. Phillip Xiao was the man to finish Canterbury off with a smashing 3-0 win over Yi-Sien Lin, a far cry from the 4-3 win months ago at the North Island Championships.

So again it is Auckland who hold the Men's Team Shield. Teng Teng Liu, Phillip Xiao, Kevin Wu, Zhiyang Cheng and Daniel Lowe (Auckland 1) are the winners of the 2012 NZ Senior Championships Men's A Grade Teams.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Draws out for NZ Champs, Seeds Poised to Strike

Just days away from the start of the team event for the New Zealand Senior Table Tennis Championships for 2012 and the Auckland Table Tennis Association have made all the preparations for the event, with the team draws, seedings and individual draws released to the players. The clash will begin for the individuals after the teams events and there will be hot competition.

Top seed Teng Teng Liu
In the mens seedings the top spot is held by defending champion Teng Teng Liu, who showed his class by dominating the field in Palmerston North last year. Phillip Xiao heads up the list at number 2, no doubt he will be looking to make a strong attempt to secure his first national men's title this year, after making the final in 2011. The first of the chinese players enter the seedings at number 3, Chang Bo and at number 4, Yuansen Yao. These players are bound to provide some exciting matches and a tough challenge for the top 2 seeds. It was almost surprising to see them in 3rd and 4th positions on the listings, we will have to see if they can project themselves even further up on the day. 

Without a doubt there will be other players outside the top 4 seedings looking to make a good case for the win also. John Cordue, coming back after time spent playing in Germany, has already won this year's Otago and Waikato Opens and made a great fight for the Wellington Open. Looking much sharper and more experienced out on the table, he is sure to have a fighting chance at cracking the top 4 if things go his way. Oliver Scarlett is also one to cause upsets and will be looking to do the same again, having had success this year at the North Island Championships where he won the under 21 Mens Singles and also in Nelson where he became the South Island Champion, he has played fantastically so far this year, having only lost a minimal number of matches in singles events. The field also comprises of Yi-Sien Lin, a NZ rep at the Olympic Qualification and top 10 rated player and a number of other quality opponents including more chinese players and last year's bronze medallist Zhiyang Cheng.

Cath Zhou
The women's field was headed by Commonwealth Champion Li Chunli who appears to have since withdrawn from the event for reasons unknown. Timea Tapai will move in as the tournament favourite . A defensive player formerly from Serbia where she had been top 200 in the world rankings, even had Chunli been in the draw, Timea would have posed a strong threat to her and all other opponents. Vicky Yang is the next challenger in the seedings. The winner of the Counties Open and Auckland Open, 2010 National Champion and runner up in 2011. With a strong gamestyle Vicky has a strong chance of making a great finish and having a go at winning the title again in 2012. Sarah Her-Lee is the last player to be seeded in the top 4, with her experience from playing in Germany and also her victories in Waikato and Otago, will she be able to make the distance to the final and beyond? Other competition comes from all corners with former Commonwealth Games rep Sophie Shu back in the field along with 2009 Commonwealth Championships representative Michelle Mccarthy, Catherine Zhou also joining the fight with other top 10 ranked women, the likes of Natalie Paterson, Jessica Macaskill and Armindeep Singh to make appearances. Sara Hu and Si Zhuo Huo are 2 new players from China who have proved they are tough opposition also, they have strong chances of progressing through the draw and should be watched closely.

It is positive to see a draw full of amazing table tennis players, especially in the women's draw this year, the competition will be fierce and the results unknown. Wednesday marks the start of the teams event and the excitement begins. Good luck to all competing, I look forward to seeing you all there :)

Saturday 29 September 2012

Teams Set to Clash at New Zealand Senior Championships 2012

Once again we reach the pivotal event in New Zealand's Table Tennis calendar, the New Zealand Senior Table Tennis Championships 2012, to be held in Auckland, one of the ITTF Hotspot locations and a quality venue. Defending champions, Auckland, have entered a strong combination of players in their hopes of capturing the title again but will no doubt face stiff competition from the other associations who are hungry to remove them from their usual top spot on the podium.

Phillip Xiao (Auckland 1)
This year sees the inclusion of a small team from Xi'an, China. Will they be able to produce a threat to the local champions? Most likely, we shall have to wait and see what tricks their dedicated training can bring to the foray. The grading matches for the top grade are between Canterbury 2 and Manawatu and between North Harbour 2 and Wellington, no doubt a close knit battle will ensue with these teams being relatively even in nature. 

North Harbour have had great results in the teams previously especially in 2010 when they made the finals. "If we put our best foot forward and Brad  Chen is able to get the results we know he is capable of achieving then I have high hopes for North Harbour to do well" Liam Young. Canterbury are also a team which have produced quality results, entering a strong team this year led by four of New Zealand's highest quality players; John Cordue, Yi-Sien Lin, Malcolm Darroch and Simon Wallace. "Our team is quite balanced and strong with myself, Yi-Sien, Malcolm and Simon. We aim to make the final and ultimately beat the favourites Auckland 1 there." John Cordue.

Auckland boast a strong first team of Teng Teng Liu, Phillip Xiao, Zhiyang Cheng, Kevin Wu and Daniel Lowe. With the top 2 players in the country they no doubt have the ability to repeat last years win of the event with a similar combination. Their second team with Josh Alexandre, Roger Rao, Oliver Scarlett, Ben Collins and Wayne Gear also poses a strong threat to other teams trying to make it to the top. 'Auckland have a strong field of top players in all their teams, the opposition is tough but we should be confident that we have prepared well enough to make the finals and try and win in 2012' Roger Rao.
Waikato's top team is crammed full of talent and proven ability also. Led by Peter Craven, the 5 man team also includes James Harter, Mark and Aaron Page and Daniel Delbourgo an handy player previously from across the ditch. Having placed 3rd in 2010 Waikato will be hoping to improve on their success there where they were forced out of the final on a countback. 

A moment in time for Bay of Plenty who have entered their first team at the New Zealand Championships in many years, John Lea, John Tuki, Xavier Lea and Geoff Martin will head to Auckland as the first Bay of Plenty team since before the association hibernated in 2004. With all these quality and surprising teams, the mens event promises to be exciting and packed full of action and determined players!

Feng Jie (Auckland 1)
Auckland are again the favourites in the women's team event with a strong combination in their number 1 team of Vicky Yang, Sarah Her-Lee, Feng Jie, Si Zhuo Huo and Sara Hu. These players are the hot favourites in any circumstance with a well balanced and high level team all with proven track records against other top players. Waikato sneaks in a surprise with Armindeep Singh and Jessica Macaskill drawing Wellington's Catherine Zhou from the draft pool to make up a handy team of tough players. Their results will be interesting to see, all players have achieved great results in the past and have the potential to do so again in 2012!

Manawatu's Natalie Paterson slips into the Otago team as a draft, combining with Gemma Buzzard and Emma Paton. No doubt Natalie will be looking for the best results she can to help her team achieve to their potential.Canterbury also field an interesting team, Angel Huang and Ola Ratka combine with a new face. Timea Tapai formerly from Serbia will be a player to watch in the women's team event. Having previously been ranked in the world's top 200 players. We will have to watch carefully to see how she performs against the other teams and see if the young and talented Angel Huang and Ola Ratka can keep up with the pace to convert the team matches against the other teams. 

Friday 7 September 2012

Post-Olympic Interview with William Henzell

My third interview with William Henzell, a player I continually like to go back to and hear more from. He always gives me the quality of answer I am looking for so that you guys can enjoy your read and learn from him. Thanks again for the time William and congratulations on breaking the top 100 players in the world and winning your 10th Australian National Singles title!

Hard work pays of for William Henzell in London
Image from ITTF

Well you certainly left a great impression on spectators around the world William. Let's start at the beginning. Your first match against Adam Pattantyus. You had played him just weeks ago at the Challenger Series and the result had been quite different, how did that weigh on your mind? I imagine you must have analysed his game quite carefully, did you do this for your other opponents as well?

I had lost 3 times to Adam in the past 8 months and hadn’t really had much of a chance in any of them. Twice in Austrian league and once at the Challenger Series. The Challenger Series was very, very important for that match as I played three matches against defenders (1 against Adam and 2 against Chtenttinine) and lost all of them. I played better and better though and lost the last time against Chtenttinine 11-9 in the 5th set.

I did video analysis of all my opponents before the matches and I felt it worked very well. I walked into the match with a good idea of what tactics I would need to use and what patterns of play I needed to avoid.

Now the Monteiro match was huge. Training with Joao at the WSA, did you think you had a reasonable chance of winning the match?

I knew it would be very difficult. Playing against training partners can distort the relative levels of the players – sometimes the better player can have an advantage if they have a big mental edge from training and sometimes the lower player can have an advantage from having gotten used to the better players strengths. I hadn’t played enough against Joao in Vienna for it to have much of a difference I don’t think.

I felt I was in good enough form to have a chance against anyone in the tournament so I just gave it a go. Rankings don’t always mean that much – I mean Mizutani barely got 5 points in any set against Maze so I didn’t worry about who was expected to win.

Would you say beating Monteiro was a career high win? I know you beat Jens Lundqvist in Beijing.

Monteiro is a career high win (in singles anyway). The highest ranked player I’ve beaten (WR39) and he just came off a fantastic season in Germany last year.

How did you feel during the match with Monteiro, after losing the first set by such a large margin what did you have to do to bring the game back?

I got killed in the 1st set, but felt I was trying to do the right things, just missing, so I continued. It paid off. I felt he became unsure and lost confidence when my shots began going on in the 2nd set so I knew I had a good chance to come back and take out the match.

The problem is that players of that level give so little away for free so you have to maintain such a high level throughout the match.

Your celebration at the end of that match was ecstatic. What were the final moments of the match like?

They were very tense. I was leading 3-2 in sets and was up by a few points in the 6th set, 6-3 maybe. He played very well for a while and turned it around to lead 9-8 and 10-9. I kept on using the same tactics that had worked well up until then.

I tried to be aggressive against his serves and make the most of my backhand sidespin flick which is one of my best shots. I needed to be decisive and go for my shots – it can be quite difficult to find the courage to keep on pressing forwards when your body has the involuntary reaction of tensing up.

When his last shot went long, it was a surreal moment. There is so much adrenaline pumping thorough the body that it feels like you are flying. I remember jumping very high a few times so maybe I came close!

Henzell celebrates a career win vs. Monteiro
Image from Zimbio

How did you feel about drawing Samsonov as an opponent in the next round?

I felt I could beat anyone in the tournament at that stage so I didn’t really care who I was playing. Vladi is a tough player with more experience than almost anyone else.

It was important to play tactically well – I didn’t think I’d have much of a chance if I got stuck playing long, medium paced rallies or if I had to move around too much. His placement is too strong and he would outmanouvre me.

He had a 3-2 lead in sets against Zhang Jike in the next match so he was in decent form.

Ok here's the big question everyone would probably like answered, a 6-4 lead in the final set and you unfortunately lost a long string of points in a row. What happened?

I think it was 4-1 and 5-3 in the 7th set. It is not as though much needs to change for him to start winning many points in a row. Leads are won and lost in every match.

I overhit a couple of shots and he landed some important counterspins out wide to my forehand. That was enough to change the momentum of the match. He has been in that situation (close in the 7th against a guy ranked 130) dozens of times and I have never been in that situation (almost beating an icon of the sport) before.

Some casual questions

Who have you been enjoying watching so far?

When I am playing I do not feel like sitting down at the hall watching the matches. It is important to get away from the hall and from table tennis when possible.

Will you be watching any other sports?

Didn’t get a chance to watch any other sports. We were very busy training, doing massage/physio and recovery sessions. The transport was slow at times so the hours of the day went by very slowly. I left London a couple of days after we lost in the team event to go on holiday and I am happy I got out and got away from Olympic emotions.

Your chance to thank people publically if you want:

From a table tennis point of view, the coaches at the Werner Schlager Academy, Richard Prause and Dirk Wagner have done a huge amount for my game. I have found it almost impossible to find coaches who are as passionate about improving my game as I am, so it was fantastic to find these guys. Their daily discipline, hard work and energy make it easier to really push yourself and get th emost out of the training. My footwork and forehand topspin have improved a great deal in Austria.

On a personal level, I would not have been able to perform well in London without the support of Danni, my fiancee. I quit work 18 months ago (no small decision when you have a mortgage) and spent 8 or 9 months in Austria playing full-time out of our savings. She spent 6 months over there with me. We are both very happy that we did it.

Thanks for everything William, you just showed Oceania that it's possible to be world class :)