Ultimate Table Tennis 2017: Han Ying's superb performance helps Shaze Challengers clinch a thriller
Han Ying and Andrej Gacina put up a good show for their team Shaze Challengers against Dabang Smashers.
Shaze Challengers edged past Dabang Smashers with an aggregate score of 15-12 on Day Two of the Ultimate Table Tennis League (UTT) taking place in Chennai.
The tie kicked off with the men’s singles match between the most popular foreign player – Marcos Freitas, a Portuguese representing the Smashers and two-time Olympian Soumyajit Ghosh of India representing the Challengers. Freitas, ranked 14 in the world, ran off to a comfortable 2-0 lead, creating lot of problems for Ghosh with his Reverse Pendulum serve. But such is the nature of the UTT that each game plays an important role and in the third game, Ghosh managed to take the game to the end and the golden point rule — in which the game is decided by a single point at 10-10 — was employed for the first time in the tie. Ghosh snatched the winner to spark wild celebrations in the Challengers dugout. The importance of winning each and every game in UTT became very apparent then and there.
In the second match, India’s current national champion Madhurika Patkar of the Smashers was up against Han Ying – a Germany national player and the highest ranked women player at the UTT (No 9). A defensive player by nature , Ying’s main strength is getting maximum balls back on the table & deceiving the opponent using a variety of spin changes. Although Madhurika started pretty well taking a 5-3 lead in the first game, it was Ying who dominated from then on to win the match 3-0.
Madhurika was back on the table immediately for the mixed doubles match, partnering Kou Lei. They were up against Ghosh and Petrissa Solja — a talented left-handed player from Germany. The first game went pretty close with the Indo-German pair linking nicely to win it 11-9. The left-right combination of Ghosh and Solja were moving more effectively than all right-handed pairs of the Smashers, and this became more visible as the match progressed with the Challengers winning 3-0. Solja, especially, played very well against the attack of Lei while Ghosh looked dangerous while utilizing his clever forehand flicks over the table.
This was followed by the most tightly fought contest of the evening as Kou Lei went up against Andrej Gacina of the Challengers. Using an uncommon backhand serve, Lei created much trouble for Gacina in the first two games and was also aided with lucky points. He won both the games by a narrow scoreline of 11-9 with Gacina taking revenge in the third game as she won it with similar scoreline.
The Challengers held a significant game advantage leading 8-4. Enter the ‘Battle of the Defenders' – Kim Song of the Smashers vs Han Ying of the Challengers. With both players specialising in defensive abilities, it was going to be an interesting round with expectations of big rallies as the order of the play. The match didn’t disappoint with some of the biggest rallies of over 40 balls taking place.
Kim came out with a surprise package and attacked with ferocious intensity in the first game. One of her forehand shots was so powerful that it left Han in complete awe and it also helped Kim bag the ‘Shot of the Day’ award. With the match tied at 1-1, it looked like Ying would easily win the last game as she raced to a 7-0 lead, later extending it to 9-3. But from then on, what transpired was bewildering as Ying lost point after point to go down 9-10. But she showed her experience in holding her nerves and winning the match on the golden point 11-10.
India’s former National Champion Anthony Amalraj of the Smashers then took on Andrej Gacina. He hit the road running with some very quick and attacking strokes with a touch of luck to win the first game on golden point. Gacina completely dominated the second game and held a comfortable 5-1 lead in the third. It was here that Amalraj played few ferocious strokes to take the lead at 7-5 .
At 9-10, Amalraj was serving to take the match to the golden point when a bizarre incident took place. Apparently, Amalraj had broken the 10-second serve rule and the umpire awarded the point and the match to Gacina.
It must be said that at such an important juncture, it would have been easy for all hell to brake loose but Amalraj really showed true sportsman spirit and accepted the umpires call.
Kim Song and Marcos Freitas then won their respective matches for the Smashers making it 11 -13 in the game score with the Smashers needing all three games to win the tie. But Petrissa Solja had other ideas as she won the first game quite comfortably against Tetyana Bilenko. Not one to go down quietly, Bilenko used her long pimples very intelligently to create problems for Solja. It was neck-to-neck in the last game and Solja had to come back from a match point down to win 2-1 via a golden point.
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