In one of the closest encounters in the Ultimate Table Tennis League, the Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas had the last laugh as they defeated the Shaze Challengers 15-12 in the fifth tie of the league. All the matches in the tie were tightly fought and with the scores level at 12-12, Doo Hoi Kem of the Yoddhas displayed fearlessness and technical stability to get the better of Petrissa Solja in the final game.
There were battles within battles in the tie with mental fortitude being the need of the hour. The most important one though was between Kem and Solja. Kem — the not-so-silent assassin for the Yoddhas — had already got the better of Solja once in the mixed doubles event when she, along-with partner Abhishek Yadav, overcame the formidable pair of Soumyajit Ghosh and Solja in straight sets. In the final match of the evening, it was more a matter of mental stability and positive attitude that took Kem through.
While Kem appeared relaxed and prepared to return an enormous number of balls back on the table, Solja looked tense and like he wanted to finish the points quickly, often snapping at the ball rather than timing her strokes. Kem seem to take further advantage of this by varying the speed and height of the ball so that Solja missed a lot of strokes as she played away from the body rather than waiting for the ball. The last two games saw quite a lot of unforced errors from Solja as Kem beat her 3-0.
Han Ying of the Challengers was the other player whose calm and patient attitude got her through in both her singles matches. Ying, the highest ranked women’s player at the UTT, first faced Manika Batra. The Indian played probably the best match of her career as she came within inches of becoming the first Indian women’s player to win against a foreign player in UTT. Manika had a match point at 10-9 with the games level at 1-1, had to only win either one of the next two points to achieve a historic feat.
Han is a defensive player who uses both flanks — i.e. backhand and forehand — to chop the ball back on the table. She uses a short pimpled rubber on the backhand for more control and a plain rubber on the forehand with which she can choose to attack occasionally. Manika uses a long pimpled rubber on her backhand side, which does not generate spin on its own but reverses the opponent’s spin, and a plain rubber on her forehand.
In the first game, Ying faced a lot of problems as Manika used her long-pimpled rubber effectively to set up a high-ball return which she was able to dispatch using her mighty forehand smash. In the second game, however, Ying started to return the ball deep on the opponent’s court making it tough for Manika to add speed to backhand strokes as Ying was able to keep her chops low.
Ying also took a slightly more aggressive approach on the long-pimpled strokes of Manika, using her backhand counter to attack. The final game was neck to neck with scores being level throughout the game. Both the players were unable to take more than a one-point lead with Manika getting her nose slightly ahead at 10-9. It is at this point that Ying showed terrific mental stability as she smashed Manika’s centrally-placed ball, which Manika blocked but Ying was ready and followed it up with another smash.
Come the Golden Point, again she waited patiently for a loose ball to attack with a forehand and a backhand stroke to finally win the point. Manika could have tried an aggressive forehand when she got a relative high ball at the centre, which she chose to play with her backhand. It is often the case that players at such crucial junctures mistime their attacks or get too defensive but Ying was relaxed and played both the points aggressively.
Another high-pressure match ensued between Tomislav Pucar of the Yoddhas and Li Ping of Challengers. In the final game, nerves set in for Pucar as he made couple of unforced errors and botched up his serve twice — once leading to an easy high ball at 7-8 and then missing his serve all together on 9-10 to hand the game and match to Li Ping.
For the Smashers, Ghosh of India played superbly as he beat the higher-ranked Aruna Quadri by a score of 2-1. Ghosh seemed to have his strategy perfectly worked out as he placed the balls beautifully to Quadri’s forehand, especially in the last game.
It’s clear from Monday’s encounter that the players are now accustomed to the various strategies of their opponents and have done their homework properly before coming on the table. From now on the contests are going to get even closer in the UTT with the player who displays his ‘A-game’ under stress likely to gain the upper-hand for his team.
Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 14:48:30 IST