Tuesday 29 October 2013

Breakdown Blog: Samsonov Ends Boll's 5 Year Run

Vladimir Samsonov, while a solid performer among the European players, has always fallen under the shadow of Europe's great hero Timo Boll and since 2008 the German player has outperformed Samsonov at their every meeting. In Belgium at the ITTF Leibherr Men's World Cup 2013 however it was Samsonov who finally turned the table on Boll to claim an outstanding 4-0 victory in the semifinal stages. What stood out tactically in the match? The breakdown blog returns to analyse the performance of Samsonov and Boll in this classic clash of European greats.

First off it is important to note that Timo is looking quite a bit slower and less consistent than we have seen in previous years. Samsonov on the other hand is looking smooth as ever, no less consistent and still with a great sense of angle play.

Samsonov targets shorts balls to the middle and opening flicks to the backhand in his service return and even off Timo's receive of serve. The pivot zone is his main port of call outside of the tight play, with his first attacking balls usually finding themselves in the backhand half where Timo's consistency really failed him in this match. Vladimir seems to realise that he certainly doesn't need to hit big shots to win the match or play with too much risk, given the number of unforced errors Boll makes it is simply a matter of who returns the most balls, this is a situation which suits Samsonov well.

While Timo tries to create some unpredictability by his range of placements out of the pivot zone, Samsonov has most of these balls covered and even reaching for the wider balls where he returns a ball at 50% pace, he is still in the point. Samsonov mixes up the pace quite efficiently, some points he presses the attack and counter and moves the ball out to the forehand side earlier in the bounce while others he plays more patiently into the backhand and crossover. Essentially he is attacking at 60-70% into the backhand side, even picking the ball up a little later at times, there really doesn't seem to be as much pressure on him from Boll. Samsonov's opening ball is not overwhelmingly strong, he picks it up after the peak of the bounce on a lot of occasions where Timo's serves or pushes drift to medium length, this is a strong area for Samsonov and gives him the advantage of being first opener.

What is important to note is the key tactics Samsonov is playing. He knows that Timo's forehand attack is well placed and has a high amount of spin, so he tries to time the ball earlier when playing to the forehand in order to reduce the reaction time for Boll. Given Boll's decrease in speed and movement time this is highly effective on a number of occasions. He also tries to get the ball as close to the outside line and as deep on the table as possible. Some points we simply see Samsonov blocking without much pace, he looks very much in control and again is pressing the ball across the backhand side where Timo's errors are stacking up. Even forced back from the table, Samsonov wins a large proportion of points simply from lobbing.

While it becomes difficult to analyse tactics when Boll is clearly not in amazing form, there is still a clear game strategy for Vladimir. In the beginning we see he tries to press the ball wide into the pivot and then force the next ball out wide, but then realises that he doesn't need to execute at such a high risk level to win points given that he is able to hit more balls on that Timo in this match. We also notice that some of Timo's serves drift long, seemingly unintentionally, it is far from a good performance for the German player and Samsonov takes advantage of the situation perfectly, this is the key reason for the straight sets win, as well as Timo's high number of unforced errors, even when he is in a dominant attacking table position.

An interesting match to watch, purely on account of the result and the scale of the victory for Samsonov. Make sure you check it out!

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Doubles Events Top off Fantastic Tournament

The Doubles Events provided some incredible entertainment, firstly in the form of Oh Sang Eun who competed in the Open Men's Doubles with Phillip Xiao and the Open Mixed Doubles with Angel Huang. There were plenty of surprises though and the first came in the form of the overseas arrivals. Jesper Villadsen and Mirek Janča represented Otago and made a strong show of force in the doubles. The combination from Denmark and the Czech Republic started by upstaging Dean Shu and Roger Wang and quickly moved through to dispose John Cordue and Myles Collins. In the semifinal stage they met 2nd seeds Tony Liu and Kevin Wu and reversed their team result to win 3-2 and advance to the finals stage.

Oh Sang Eun and Phillip Xiao
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Oh Sang Eun and Phillip Xiao never looked troubled and I know exactly why. With Phillip's tight play and swift opening attacks and Oh Sang Eun's freakish sense of misdirection and control you could never really get a grasp of where the ball might be going. They not only won the men's doubles event, they didn't drop a set, not even in the final. They eliminated myself and Yang Lun Zhao with ease (video to come), Malcolm Darroch and Lyndon White, even the experienced pair of Yi-Sien Lin and Stephen Hirst couldn't claim a set. In the final it was a display of pure dominance all over again as Oh Sang Eun and Phillip took the title. Despite some great attacking moments from the Otago pair it never looked like it was going their way and after the first 2 sets dropped 11-3 it was clear that the top seeds were going to be victorious.

In the women's doubles Jung Mi Kim and Vicky Yang headed the seedings with Timea Tapai and Cath Zhou in hot pursuit. Sophie Shu and Natalie Paterson started off their campaign with a win over Mariam Seif and Mimi Walle but were stopped dead in their tracks by the Auckland based top seeds who won in straight sets in their semifinal encounter. Kadia Keller-Rice and Sara Hu took 4 sets to advance to the semifinals over the Waikato pair of Armindeep Singh and Jessica Macaskill but again were prevented from going any further by the very skillful and interesting combination of Timea and Cath. 

Cath Zhou and Timea Tapai win Gold
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Into the finals and it was defenders combined with attackers, Cath Zhou standing out as the sole left hander and pengrip player and with pips on her forehand and it proved to be a difference which stood out. The combination worked well, Vicky Yang struggling with the heavy chop of Timi while Cath hit some stunning forehand smashes. For the second seeds it was a display of sheer force and finesse combined and the top seeds seemed to have no definitive answer. For Cath and Timi it was their first time playing together and they were awarded with a gold medal after a straight sets win. No doubt we will see these two great players combining again and not only showing off their skill but a fantastic dress sense out on the table, didn't they look presentable!

In the mixed doubles event it could have been anyone's win, the defending champions Timea and Yi-Sien Lin entered the draw as second seeds behind Korean ex-pat's Jung Mi Kim and Jong Eub Han a doubles pairing not to be taken lightly. Otago Open champions Cath Zhou and Ben Duffy were the first to fall to the veteran pair in 3 sets as they took control of the top half of the draw. The true wild cards in the event were Kadia Keller-Rice and Mirek Janča who came seemingly out of nowhere to upset Vicky Yang and Aaron Gong 11-9 in the 5th set after trailing 2-1. They met the defending champions who had won in 4 sets over Sophie Shu and Matt Hetherington in the quarterfinals and the match which ensued was particularly exciting. Another 5 set thriller for Kadia and Mirek but this time not the same result. Through the immense pressure on the defending champions they managed to escape narrowly, having led 2-0 and facing the daunting situation of a 2 set catchup by their opponents. In the final moments of the 5th set they just managed to pull together in the final 2 points after a huge moment of pressure at 9-9.

Three Gold's for Timea Tapai, the Open Hat Trick
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch

That may just have been the preparation they needed for the finals, they continue to battle hard against Jung Mi and Jong Eub Han in the final and took the match with relative comfort and by relative comfort 11-3, 11-6, 11-2. Perhaps a result that was far from expected, the Canterbury pair who won the mixed doubles in Auckland one year ago were again crowned Mixed Doubles Champions of NZ with a display of teamwork and skill which left their opponents far behind and dazzled spectators in the sheer dominance of the win, much like the women's doubles final the second seeds had risen to the occasion without hesitation.

A special congratulations to Timea Tapai who achieved the hat trick in the Open Events, winning the Open Women's Singles, Open Women's Doubles and Open Mixed Doubles. Joining her with 3 gold medals was Lucy Lu who repeated the effort in the Under 21 Events and of course Oh Sang Eun took away 2 gold medals in the Men's Singles and Doubles and a Bronze in the Mixed. Well done to all competitors for great displays of teamwork!

Monday 7 October 2013

Experience Prevails in B Grade Events

In a tightly packed and competitive draw it was Simon Fenwick who came through to the gold medal position in a semifinal draw full of young rising junior players all but a third his age and clearly no match for his experience. Armindeep Singh was the victor in the B Grade Women's singles overcoming her team mate and regular opponent Jessica Macaskill.

Simon Fenwick winner of the B Grade Men's Singles
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
The B grade men's draw saw the absence of Jonathan Wang and Bryn Lindsay which gave an extra chance for some 3rd seeded players to come through their groups. Mike Wolloner qualified over Roger Wang in the first group, coming back from 2-1 down to win in 5 sets. Dinyar Irani rescued himself as he fought for his second place spot against Kelsey Amor. Kelsey held the advantage in the final set as frustration set in, but sheer focus brought Irani home and through the group 2nd. Manawatu's Lei Zhang was perhaps the luckiest player of the day to keep his first position through the group after he suffered a 4 set defeat at the hands of group 4th seed Matthew Solt. Victor Pollett having dropped 2 sets to Berdy Fang went through 2nd.

Into the main draw and top seed Lyndon White made an early round of 16 exit to Dinyar Irani. Some great consistent and heavy chopping from Lyndon was causing big problems for Dinyar but once he found rhythm he looked unstoppable, winning the last 2 sets 11-4 and 11-9. Perhaps the closest 2 matches of the event were between Dean Shu and Victor Pollett and Jon Jon and Victor Ma. Both 5 set duels, Dean held a 2-1 lead in the round of 16 and with great effort sealed the deal 11-9 in the 5th, Jon Jon on the other hand played his match in the quarterfinals and was trailing 2-1 before he came back and won the last 2 sets. It was only fitting that after 2 such close matches that the two winners met and repeated the intense process all over again. The semifinals saw Dean win 14-12 in the 5th set over Jon Jon who had beaten him 3-0 in the under 21 draw, the perfect revenge which took Dean Shu to the finals.

B Grade Men's Silver Medallist Dean Shu
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Kevin Lin moved into the semifinals with a tight win over Jerry Zhang from Manawatu, another 5 set duel. Simon Fenwick was rapidly moving across the bottom of the draw, reversing his open men's group result against Myles Collins. The men's match had seen Myles take off to a 2-0 lead and Simon develop some stronger tactics to bring it back to 5. Despite losing that match, the tactic building continued into the quarterfinal match and Simon won in straight sets. Moving into the semifinal he didn't seem to have too much trouble with Kevin Lin, while he dropped one set 11-9 the 3 sets he won gave a lot of space and the pressure was all on the younger player to step his game up. 

Moving into the final the sets were tight and plenty of chances arose for Dean Shu but Fenwick showed his experience and a combination of consistency and attacking play to win in 3 sets 11-9, 11-8, 11-8. A great show of table tennis and a lesson for the upcoming younger generation.

In the women's singles it seemed fitting that Jessica Macaskill came through first in her group despite being seeded second behind Canterbury's Helen Beumelberg. Macaskill won in 4 sets and followed up with a 3-0 win over Hyunjee Yoon. Armindeep Singh claimed two 3-0 wins while despite a great fight from Gemma Buzzard, Angel Huang claimed the win to go through 2nd. 

B Grade Women's Singles Winner Armindeep Singh
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Straight semifinals and it was Waikato through to the finals after Jess Macaskill won 3-0 over Angel Huang and Armindeep won in 4 sets over Helen. The final would prove to be another interesting matchup. Armindeep was out for vengeance having lost on the last two occasions at the Waikato Open final and Waikato Closed Championships final. Now in the B Grade women's final at the NZ Open, Armindeep was out to win her first B Grade title and she did just that. It was a 4 set ordeal but Armindeep looked much more confident than in the former 2 situations. Jess and Armindeep combined to win the women's doubles while Matt Hetherington and Craig Dye successfully defended their national title also with a 3-2 win over top seeds Simon Fenwick and Lyndon White.

Rising Champ and Newcomer Take Under 21 Titles

In the Under 21 events Oliver Scarlett entered the draw as the top seed in the men's singles and didn't look back once on his way to the finals. With reasonably comfortable wins in his pool he advanced to the main draw. Zhiyang Cheng was saved by countback after losing 3-1 to Bryn Lindsay who later withdrew with a shoulder injury after going through 2nd. Kevin Wu qualified first but was the last of the top group seeds in the 5 groups to do so, Victor Ma and Victor Pollett both losing to their 2nd seeds. 

It was Yang Lun Zhao and Dean Shu who respectively overcame Ma and Pollett to go through their groups first and for Pollett it was nearly the end of the road, trailing 2-0 down in his match against Michael Zhang he scraped through the match to win the last 3 sets and still qualify 2nd.

Ollie Scarlett wins the Under 21 Men's Singles
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
In the first round Alfred Dela-Pena got walkover against Bryn Lindsay and Victor Ma beat Kelsey Amor from Waitemata who had upset Roger Wang to go through his group. The rest of the players advanced straight into the quarterfinal stages. Ollie Scarlett comfortably overcame his younger training partner Alfred in 3 straight sets, and Jon Jon won by the same margin over Dean Shu, reversing the double result of the recent Auckland Open where Dean had won on both occasions. Kevin Wu took revenge on Victor Pollett who had beaten him in the teams contest, this time Wu was the winner in 4 sets. While Victor Ma showed signs of a chance in his match against Zhiyang Cheng, it was the latter who seemed to be in control for most of the game and while he dropped a set it was Cheng who cruised into the semifinals.

Kevin Wu seemed to be hitting on a lot more forehands than we had seen thus far in the tournament against Zhiyang Cheng, it was a 5 set thriller and could have proved to be the perfect preparation for the final for Wu as he came back from 2-1 down to win the last 2 sets 11-5 with some comfort. In the other semifinal Yang Lun Zhao managed to steal a set away from Ollie Scarlett but the usual result between the 2 ensued as Ollie combined tactics. Heavy backspin play and a solid and well timed counterloop over the slightly weaker forehand of Jon Jon was the winning comination for Scarlett as well as his steady and controlled close to table game.

Kevin Wu in the Under 21 Men's Final
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
The final began with Kevin Wu looking like he was about to decimate Scarlett. The first two sets dropped 11-7 in favour of Wu and it was going to be an uphill battle for Scarlett and each set was a battle as Ollie worked his way back, winning 11-9, 11-8 and 11-9. Three sets in a row under immense pressure but he shifted momentum in his favour even by the marginal and crucial number of points that it was. Kevin combined with Zhiyang to win the doubles in straight sets over Dean Shu and Roger Wang in the final, but they had to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the semifinal against junior nationals finalists Michael Zhang and Nathan Watson who seem to be growing steadily as a doubles pairing. However it was Auckland who dominated the under 21 events and it was no different in the women's singles event where Auckland came out on top again.

Under 21 Women's Singles Champion Lucy Lu
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
Lucy (Guiting) Lu was the newcomer to the draw in the Under 21 Women's singles, having recently moved to New Zealand from China. It was fitting that she won the under 21s considering the following day she made the Open Women's Singles Final. In the group stage no set ventured over the 11-7 margin for Lucy with 3 straight set wins. Angel Huang came through the group 2nd, as did Mariam Seif in her group with a tight 3-2 loss to Natalie Paterson who headed the group seedings anyway. So the 4 players headed straight into the semifinal stages. In similar fashion, Lucy showed no sign of struggle against Mariam's medium pimple rubber backhand and less orthodox style, she won again in straight sets to make the final where she played Natalie Paterson who had won in 4 sets over Angel Huang.

The final was a big challenge for Paterson but as always with Manawatu's champion she invested her absolute best in the fight. Lucy showed pure strength in the topspin rallies with smooth flowing gamestyle and a top level of consistency. While Natalie showed her skill in the rallies it was Lucy that was the dominant player and after 3 sets the gold medal was her reward. In an all local draw Kyra Portis and Mariam Seif won the Under 21 women's doubles and Roger Wang and Lucy combined to win the mixed, overcoming Ollie Scarlett and Angel Huang 3-0 in the semifinal and Zhiyang Cheng and Sara Hu in the final also 3-0. Great results from all contenders!

Sunday 6 October 2013

Tapai Repeats Victory with Style

You only have to watch former Serbian representative Timea Tapai for a matter of rallies before you realise she is one classy act. Tapai headed out onto the table dressed to impress and with her usual artillery of defensive and offensive weapons, ready to defend her gold medal at her 2nd NZ Open. This time on home turf and having been defeated already by defensive opposition Jung Mi Kim in the team event, Timea knew she would have to work hard to achieve the result. 

Timea Tapai wins her 2nd NZ Open Title
Image courtesy of ITTF Oceania
The field was full of potential contenders for the finals spots. Starting out early it was Cath Zhou who turned heads when she tactically and skillfully dismantled the defensive game of Jung Mi Kim to win in straight sets and put the 3rd seed in a tough postion in the group. She then suffered a setback in a 5 set duel with Mariam Seif, who in turn was beaten by Armindeep Singh, both of whom were beaten by Jung Mi 3-0. Confused yet? It was one big mess of results. Cath came through to beat Armindeep 3-2 and on set countback it was Cath who advanced first. Throwing Jung Mi onto Timea's side of the draw.

Timi had already disposed of her competition in convincing fashion with two 3-0 wins, the first of which was her eventual finals opponent, Lu Guiting (Lucy). 

Sophie Shu came flying through her group looking untouchable with 3 convincing straight set wins. In doing so she reversed the Auckland Open result against Sara Hu and exacted the perfect revenge. Into the quarterfinals and the upsets came roaring in.

Timea came up against Jung Mi, potentially the toughest quarterfinal you could ask for really. The match could not have been tighter. Jung Mi took the first, Timea the second. The rallies were long, so long that you could see it coming. Expedite. You could guess immediately that the expedite rule would heavily favour the local, Timi, who's diversity on attacking play is more varied and more frequently used in matches than Jung Mi. For Jung Mi, the ever patient and more traditional Korean defender, it was a matter of taking chances in her hand as the expedite official counted strokes. The smooth attacking play of Timea was unmatched and while Jung Mi hit some amazing attacking strokes, it was Timea who dominated the match from that point to win 4-2.

Natalie Paterson wins Bronze
Natalie Paterson led out with the same fighting spirit she displayed at the North Island Championships this year, though the result was overthrown as she took out 4th seed Sophie Shu in 6 sets with a highly consistant pivot forehand opening ball used on numerous occasions. Lucy Lu showed no signs of weakness against Catherine Zhou, while one set came close for Cath it was plain sailing for Lucy who advanced to the semifinal. 

Vicky Yang was out to regain her national title, the 2010 champion hit a roadblock in her quarterfinal match. Sara Hu was dominant in the crucial end points of the sets in a very tight contest, 2 deuce sets, 2 11-8s and 2 11-9s. There was little room for error. Vicky with her usual fluency was slightly less consistent in the match and Sara Hu took full advantage to book her place in the semifinals.

In a repeat of yesterday's under 21 final Lucy decimated Sara Hu in the semifinals of the women's draw in 4 straight sets, while Timea taught a defensive lesson to Natalie Paterson in even more convincing terms on the top half of the draw. That was a lesson she taught again in the final.

While Lucy executed fantastic mechanics and technique during the rounds, her strength lies in counter topspin play and open rallying. Timea went out and gracefully switched between heavy spin, medium spin and no spin chopping and while Lucy produced in some rallies it was an uphill struggle for her. Without the ability to consistently generate a high level of topspin she was forced to push a large number of balls and the pressure never fell upon the defending champion for very long. Timi made the most of her attacking opportunities and made the chopping look incredibly easy. It was a great display of table tennis and great to have the locals win one of the big titles!

Korean National Staves off Staunch Offensive

The men's singles concluded at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships in somewhat the way it was expected. Former Korean National Team member Oh Sang Eun was the gold medallist after winning in the final against Teng Teng Liu, but not without some difficulty. The draw was packed, the standard of competition was fierce and no match went without it's little battles.

Yanglun Zhao makes the first surprise in the draw
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
In the group stages it was role reversal for the 2nd seeds. Of the 12 singles groups only 4 of the 2nd seeds succeeded in qualifying, the other 8 were ousted by their lower seeded competitors in the 3rd position in the groups. Yang Lun Zhao the 12 year old NZ prodigy from the ITTF World Hopes Team succeeded in defeating top 10 NZ representative Yi-Sien Lin in 5 sets, while local chopper Gregg Davey upset Danish import Jesper Villadsen to take the 2nd place spot. Dean Shu unseated Ben Duffy in straight sets and Jerry Zhang eliminated Lyndon White.

Into the main draw's round of 32 and Alfred Dela-Pena caused some trouble for Yi-Sien Lin in the opening stages, the local star Lin managing to compose himself and win in 6 sets. Malcolm Darroch drew first blood by accounting for Josh Alexandre 4-2 while Matthew Ball fought to recover a 3-1 deficit against Zhiyang Cheng to take his match 4-3. Jon Jon struck again with a 6 set win over top 10 ranked player Kevin Wu to make the round of 16.

The seeds prevailed through to the quarters with Mirek Janča having a shaky start against Myles Collins, but from 4-2 it was the Czech player and 5th seed in the event which showed his class and took out the match. John Cordue repeated his teams performance against Yi-Sien Lin, winning comfortably while Ivo Mikulec joined his Czech companion in the quarterfinals with a straight sets win over Stuart Armstrong. Malcolm Darroch stole the limelight of the round by taking a set off Oh Sang Eun, eventually losing 4-1. Oliver Scarlett had a struggle on his hands from a determined Matthew Ball who's forehand was striking at all points on the table. The Aucklander held a 3-1 lead before Ball came firing back playing a steady looping game into Scarlett's backhand half, it proved effective and even in the 7th set it was Ball who seemed to hold the momentum. Scarlett didn't back down and eventually worked hard to claim the set 11-8 and advance into the next round.

Top seed Oh Sang Eun
Phillip Xiao was looking in good form with a 4-0 win over Ivo Mikulec, while Tony Liu exercised the same margin over Mirek Janča. Local 3rd seed Jong Eub Han had a struggle against Ollie Scarlett but closed the match out in 6 sets while Oh Sang Eun made life difficult for John Cordue and won in straight sets, despite the best efforts of the NZ representative. Oh Sang Eun continued into the semifinals, showing his class in a 4-0 domination of Phillip Xiao. The last set yielded a big opportunity for Xiao who held a 10-8 advantage, but a couple of incredibly heavy backspin pushes saw Oh win the vital points and finish the match off. 

Meanwhile Tony Liu was showing absolute class against Jong Eub Han in the other semifinal, strong changes in direction at incredible pace were Liu's big weapons and Han made his best effort to keep up. It was straight sets for Tony but each set was hard fought and earned. The final would be between the top 2 seeds.

A former world number 5 from Korea against a former WR25 junior from China, Oh Sang Eun vs. Teng Teng Liu, a spectacle not to be forgotten after the 2 time New Zealand champion pushed himself to his limits. Wild attacking met with fluid blocking and countering proved to make a match which created a buzz of excitement. As Tony Liu fired up and won the first set the crowd were pumped, the defending champion giving it his all and being rewarded with a 2-1 lead which left supporters in awe and wonder, could Tony defeated his superior international opponent? For some there was no doubt in their mind that Oh Sang Eun would come flying back and he did just that, placing the ball with incredible accuracy and demonstrating incredibly supple wrist control to change the spin and direction of the ball.

Eventually Oh Sang Eun threw himself on his back with his feet in the air to celebrate and let out some relief at his 6 set victory and gold medal win of the men's singles title in New Zealand. A fantastic match and a great effort from Tony Liu. What a great event it has been and a strong field with amazing matches and a show of strong character and fighting spirit from all the competitors!  

Thursday 3 October 2013

Title Defence Led by Defence

Auckland's big title defence in the Women's Team Event at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships was led by the experienced defensive force of Jung Mi Kim who soared through the event undefeated. The team of Jung Mi Kim, Vicky Yang, Sara Hu and Sophie Shu contains 4 of the top 5 seeds for the women's individual events, a force to be reckoned with. 

Women's Team Event Medal Podium
With this strong combination it was two 7-0 wins over Canterbury 2 and Waikato in the group phase for Auckland and they advanced in first position from the pool. Waikato went through second with a 5-2 win over Canterbury 2 with the experience of Jessica Macaskill and Armindeep Singh proving to be the differentiating factor in their team matchup.

In the second pool Canterbury 1 started well with wins over Otago and Canterbury 3, 2012 NZ Champion Timea Tapai showing her international class in the matches, backed up by Mariam Seif and Angel Huang for the home side. Otago moved swiftly to dispatch Canterbury 3 with Yvonne Fogarty and Deb King showing they still have it and the young and rising Emma Paton proving her skill in the team match.

Canterbury 1's trip to the final unwound when their match order gave Manawatu an advantage. Catherine Zhou and Natalie Paterson, both strong contenders in the women's event led the team with Tayla Nesbitt from Nelson joining as a draft. While Tayla faced the tough and talented Timea and experienced some heavy backspin play, Cath and Natalie moved quickly to take advantage of their opportunity. The match extended to 7 matches but the Manawatu trio proved they had what it took to take the top spot in the pool and won the encounter 4-3.

The loss meant that Canterbury would play Auckland in their crossover match, a great challenge. While Mariam got the team off to a good start with a 3-2 win against Sophie Shu, the big result was yet to come. A match which slipped under the radar as spectators had their attention turned was the 5 set battle between the defensive giants, Jung Mi Kim and Timea Tapai. While the rallies extended and patience was tested, the 5th set was one thing which failed to extend. Jung Mi took a colossal lead in the final set and showed her true ability to stay calm and pick the right balls to attack on. The win was a crucial one for Auckland, with Vicky Yang following up with a win, the doubles being fought back from 2-0 down to add another point and while Sophie Shu fell to Timea, the Auckland team still pulled through early to win in 6 matches.

Manawatu meanwhile were dominant as ever against Waikato. Their 6-1 win a true display of determination as they overcame their opponents and continued their road to the finals. While Jess, Armindeep and Barbara fought hard, their finals battle came to an end.

Vicky Yang in the Auckland Team
Image courtesy of Murray Finch
Much like the men's final there were high hopes for Manawatu as they headed into their last matchup. Cath Zhou started out against Vicky Yang and while their were flashes of brilliance and well placed attacking balls from Cath it was Vicky, the 2010 National Champion who overcame her opponent to start Auckland off. Tayla again had to face a high level defensive player, she continued to put up a great fight and hit some incredible shots during the match, but Jung Mi gracefully chopped and attacked her way to a 3-0 win. Sara Hu came in next against Natalie. While Natalie showed the fighting form she always does, Sara took the lead and was slightly more dominant in the rallies and with point structure, using her serves to her advantage. Sara's win brought the lead to 3-0 and the pressure was all on the doubles pairing of Cath and Nat to stay in contention. 

Again a great fight by the Manawatu pair who led the match against Jung Mi and Vicky, but the Auckland pair were eager as ever to finish their opponents and take gold and they did just that. A 4-0 win for Auckland, joining the Auckland men's in taking the top spot on the podium and successfully defending their team title! Canterbury redeemed their earlier loss by taking the bronze medal position, though it took them all 7 matches with Waikato making a strong case for podium contention!

Home Side Falls to Defending Champions

The team events concluded today at the NZ Senior Table Tennis Championships with an impressive display of dominance from the defending team champions, Auckland. Two days of hard competition and intense matches saw the emergence of the gold medallists, beginning with the grading stages. Waikato and Waitemata were both victorious in their encounters in 4 straight matches while Otago 2 took theirs 4-1. Waikato headed up into A grade, Waitemata into B and Otago 2 into C grade while their oppositions took the lower road into the respective grades below.

Men's Team Event Podium
The first day in the A grade saw upsets all round, spectacular matches and great team spirit. Auckland 1 and Canterbury 1 were the dominant forces in their round robin stages, though North Harbour pressed their position by stretching the top Auckland team to a full 7 matches with Victor Pollett stepping up to take out Kevin Wu and Brad Chen leading the team as usual. North Harbour's 4-3 win over Otago and 7-0 win over Canterbury 2 helped them steal the 2nd spot going to the crossover. Victor Pollett picked up some top wins over Ben Duffy and Jesper Villadsen against Otago while Bryn Lindsay was successful in defeating Simon Fenwick and Pavel Daněk in the second match.

In the meantime on the other side of the group draw, Manawatu were making all the noise. Narrowly scraping a 4-3 win over Waikato in the absence of Tim Seaholme, they moved swiftly to put Auckland 2 back into 3rd place with Mike Tate-Davis claiming the crucial match in the 5th against Aaron Gong. Seaholme and Ball both posted top wins against Malcolm Darroch on the first day of play and continued to play strongly throughout the draw.

Otago posted two 4-3 losses with some nailbiting matches. Mirek Janča was strong in leading the team but teammates just missed out on some key wins causing some upsetting results which placed Otago 4th in their group pool. With a 4-2 loss to Auckland 2, Otago rescued themselves in their last match with a 4-2 win over Waikato to finish in 7th place of the 8 teams.

Manawatu battled hard to overcome North Harbour in their last match for the bronze medal position. With Matthew Ball and Tim Seaholme both playing well to beat Victor Pollett and Jerry Zhang saving the Palmerston North crowd's day at 3-3 with a 5th set win over Bryn Lindsay. A great result for Manawatu who upset the odds to come through into the top 4 teams and then clench a podium position. 

Perhaps two of the most incredible matches of the competition so far had been those between Oliver Scarlett and Ivo Mikulec and also between Yi-Sien Lin and Brad Chen. Ollie and Ivo had some incredible rallies and displayed awesome table tennis for spectators. With a match point at the end of the 5th set, a short dropping netball by Ollie was not going to save him, Ivo sweeping in to pick the ball up round the net and taking the point followed by two more. An immense display of commitment and a high level of table tennis from both players. Similarly Yi-Sien Lin performed incredibly to win in straight sets against 2005 national champion Brad Chen. The match saw Lin and Chen in big counterloop rallies where Yi-Sien really raised his game.

Josh Alexandre picked up a pivotal win over
Jong Eub Han, 3-1.
The Men's Team Final saw Canterbury and Auckland go head to head. Canterbury hosted a team which held a strong chance and a strong hope from the locals to take out the title. Lead by Jong Eub Han, the team also consisting of Yi-Sien Lin, Ivo Mikulec and Malcolm Darroch were hot contenders. Auckland, the defending champions, Teng Teng Liu, John Cordue, Josh Alexandre and Kevin Wu.

Teng Teng Liu was first out on the table for Auckland, showing strong form against Ivo. The big hitter left no ball unscathed and despite the Czech player's best efforts it was Auckland who took the first match 3-0. Whether John Cordue could make it 2 was an interesting question. Yi-Sien had played well to beat Brad Chen but John soon proved his level of consistency in both close table and distance rallies. While Yi-Sien continued to press the attack it was John who continued to return ball after ball and force error on his opponent, 3-0 and Auckland led by 2 matches. 

The pressure was on Han to bring his team back into the game, but there was just one problem, Josh Alexandre. Josh played possibly another of the best matches of the team event, if not THE best. With a keen eye for reading Han's serve and swift attacking on both wings, he took advantage of every loose ball played. With a few costly errors at vital moments of sets, Han fell behind by 2 sets. As hard as he fought to reclaim momentum in the match it was Josh who followed up on a fantastic start to win 3-1 and put Auckland in a very comfortable position with just one more match required to take the shield and victory.

The doubles proved to be the answer that Auckland needed. Kevin Wu subbed in to play with Tony Liu and the pair gave their best to finish the team match off. While Yi-Sien and Ivo did their best to hold on, the match was lost in the final set by the slimmest of margins, 11-9. The result, disappointing for Canterbury, another strong triumph for Auckland who continue their dominance in the team events for another year.