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 :) 

Sunday 2 September 2012

Post-Olympic Interview with Adrian Crisan

Once again I revisited an interview with Adrian Crisan, his journey through the Olympics was one I particularly found interest in after a lot of talk about his potential to beat Europe's best hope, Timo Boll. I wanted to find out how it felt to have carried that through to reach the quarterfinal stages! Thanks Adi :)

Victory for Crisan 

How happy were you with your Olympics Campaign overall?
Overall I was very happy with my performance at the Olympic Games.

How were you feeling in your match against He Zhiwen? There were some tight moments especially to get to 2-2, what changed for you to take the last 2 sets to win 4-2?
Against him I felt good to play. I won against him last time but it was a close match, I started off playing not so well but after winning the second set I felt good about being able to win.

How did you feel when you knew you were going to face Timo in the round of 16?
I knew I had a chance against Timo we played close sets just a week before in the pre-olympic tournament.

You were able to beat Timo Boll 4-1, how do you feel about that result?
Yes I won 4-1 against Timo and in this match everything went in my favour, I was in good shape and got a bit of luck in the 3rd and 4th sets. I don't think it was Timo's best day.

Were you confident about your chances against Timo during the match?
After I won the 4th set I felt I had a really good chance to close out the match, I tried not to think about the result and just concentrate on my tactics during the match.

What was your key tactic which you felt won you that match in the round of 16?
My key tactic was to play risky and hard with my backhand, try and be aggressive receiving serve and make sure I change my service variation often.

You and Chuang Chih-Yuan have had some close matches in the past, how did you rate your chances to get through that match?
Unfortunately against Chuang my performance was quite bad, he was much too fast for me and I was not ready to follow. 

Things didn't really seem to go your way in the match with Chuang, what do you think happened to give him the edge in the match?
My service and receive started quite weak and I was very disappointed I could not make a fight in the match against him.

Will London be your last Olympics or do you think we could potentially see you again in Rio in 2016?
Of course I hope I can play in Rio, it will be hard though.

What are your plans now that the Olympics are over for the medium term?
Now my biggest goal is to win a medal in the singles at the European Championships.

Other Questions:

What was your highlight of being in London?
Highlight was definitely my win against Timo Boll.

Did you attend the opening and closing ceremonies? How were they?
I attended the opening ceremony and it was a very nice feeling and super atmosphere.

What was your favourite thing to eat whilst in London competing?
Italian food was my favourite during the games.

Who was your favourite athlete to watch during the games?
Ma Long was my favourite to watch during olympics