Thursday 3 October 2013

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. 

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