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!

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