Sunday, 6 October 2013

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!  

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