World Team Championships in Malaysia – To the Title!
Courtesy of ButterflyMag
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the 24 best national teams in the world gather to play for the title of World Champion in the Champions-Divison. Will China defend their two titles? Who can make it into the finals? We will provide answers to these questions day-by-day with our blog from Malaysia. On site are Butterfly Coach Richard Prause and Tiago Apolonia & Marcos Freitas, who are themselves on the hunt for a medal…
Sunday, March 6th
Expectation and surprise
The world Team Championships in Malaysia have come to a close and the winner is – not surprisingly – China. The Women’s team around Butterfly Star Liu Shiwen, Li Xiaoxia and Ding Ning have played a perfect tournament. Incredibly, all single matches were won, resulting in a straight 3-0 streak from the first group match up to the finals against Japan. The same streak was achieved by the Men’s team with Ma Long, Xu Xin and Butterfly player Zhang Jike. So China dominating the world of table tennis – nothing new so far. We can say already that Japan has played a fine tournaments reaching the finals in both competitions. So the WTTC 2016 was not entirely without surprise – as the details reveal.
Richard Prause summarizes:
The team from England is the surprise semi finalist of the WTTC 2016. After quite surprisingly passing the group stage by victory over – among others – Germany, they managed to improve during the round of 16 and even more in the quarter finals match against France. Liam Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker led England to its first World Championships medal since 1993. Paul Drinkhall himself was the hero of the evening after a nail-biting match against Emanuel Lebesson, failing to win one of his 4 Matchpoints at 2-2, defending a matchpoint at 10-11 and then later using his fifth in total to win 13-11. It was interesting to see Drinkhall playing aggressively throughout, choosing to serve long and attack first. Winning the bronze medal has shown us, how much is possible in table tennis as England only ascended to the Championship Division at WTTC in Tokyo 2014. It seems that much is possible between positions 3 and 13 in the World Ranking if teams play at their best – at the maximum level.
I’d like to talk one last time about Germany. Exactly this crucial “maximum level” was not achieved by the team missing its top two stars. Players ranked between 30 and 100 are almost on a similar level, and in the end the German team failed to rise up to the occasion.
Semis and Titles
China vs. Korea and Japan (dominantly beating Hongkong 3-1) vs. England was the setup of the Semi Finals in the Men’s division.
While China convincingly overcame South Korea, the more interesting semi finals match for sure was Japan vs. England. Liam Pitchford was only inches away from sensation, losing after a 9-6 lead over Yoshimura in the fifth game. Against Jun Mizutani, Liam had 4 matchpoints in the fourth game, losing again in the fifth where Jun pulled his team towards the finals. England became the big surprise in this tournament and had only very closely missed the finals. Nonetheless, the bronze medal surely is a big accomplishment for the young team of Alan Cooke.
With China and Japan also succeeding in the Women’s competition, the true surprise in my view was North Korea in the Semi Finals – eliminating Singapore in the quarter finals. The North Korean team featured two defensive player with an incredibly versatile defensive play using long pips to create rapid spin-no spin changes to which their opponents had a hard time keeping up. This particular technique is mostly seen using short pips and has proven to be quite uncomfortable for any opponent in Malaysia.
Germany reaching the quarter finals is for sure a good success for the team of Jie Schöpp. Especially the group match against Japan is worth mentioning, as is the victory over South Korea in the round of 16. They presented themselves with a fighting spirit and I am truely happy for their success look forward to seeing them in action in the future.
China vs. Japan – twice
Both Men’s and Women’s finals match was played by teams of China and Japan. The question for both matches was: Could Japan bring China into troubles?
After Butterfly Player Liu Shiwen brought China to 1-0 lead, Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa was close to sensation against Olympic Champion of 2012, Li Xiaoxia. Li, pressured by her long story of injury, became more and more secure in the game, winning the longer rallys and eventually the match with 3-2. With her team being down 0-2, pressure on the 15 year-old Mima Ito was huge. Spectators in Kuala Lumpur surely would not want to witness yet another 3-0 by China. And indeed, Ito surprised her opponent Ding Ning with aggressive Attacks early in the Rally.
Much like Ai Fukuhara, Ito is using short pips on the backhand to attack against spin. Producing very little mistakes, Mima Ito won the first game with 11-8. But then, Ding Ning switched tactics, focused more on spin, especially from the backhand corner. She also moved much more freely, putting more and more pressure on the young Japanese player. In the end, she prevailed – and once more, China became World Champion. 3-0 sounds like a clear victory, but the game was much more close than that.
Who can challenge the Men from Team China?
First of: China won the finals in the end.
Nonetheless, two surprises happened even before the match started. China did not use Fan Zhendong, and Japan neglected to call for Koki Niwa.
The first match of Xu Xin vs. Jun Mizutani featured long rallys, but most of them won by Chinas Penhold-Player. Both players relied heavily on long service to attack early on the third ball. The reward was a victory in three straight games.
Ma Long efficiently followed suit, adding to the now 2-0 lead for China. Nobody doubted that Zhang Jike would now close the deal for the Chinese Team. He started off with a lot of easy mistakes, losing the first game even against Maharu Yoshima. But he would not be World and Olympic Champion, if he were unable to recover. He turned the tide and won with 3-1 – leading China to another title in a World Championships.
China’s dominance was more evident in the Men’s Competition this time, compared to the Women’s. In the end both titles went to China – leaving them lonely at the top.
But behind China, we saw yet more countries reaching a similar level. Japan was standing out as the second-best, but without posing any real danger to China.
Using their best players, I believe Germany is able to beat Japan straight on. But overall we see a lot of developments in the ranks behind China. Even if Germany underperformed in Malaysia, I am sure we will emerge even stronger at the Olympic Games later this year.
For now, let me say farewell from the “Perfect World Team Table Tennis Championships 2016” in Malaysia, where things went a lot less “Perfect” than the title would lead to imagine..
For some more highlights in motion, check out our Video Review from Kuala Lumpur:
Saturday, March 5th
Germany’s World Championships
As we move closer to the Day of the finals and its surprises, upsets and Champions, we take a closer look at the World Championships for the Team of Germany, where especially the Men’s Team was counted among the best Teams in the World and a sure candidate for a title. Our expert Richard Prause summarizes – and finds himself.
We had high aspirations for the German team, even after it became clear that Dimitrij Ovtcharov would not be able to compete due to his injury. We were aiming for the quarterfinals, even for the semis. For sure in our group with Sweden, France and England, we believed a place at the Top 3 was most possible. But it should turn out much, much differently.
Sad for the Men…
With victory agains Malaysia and Denmark, we believed our team on track. But then Timo Boll fell ill with the flu. He sacrificed himself for the team and fought among them against France, but was unable to win against either Simon Gauzy, or Emanuel Lebesson and saw Germany losing 1-3. So then we had to beat England, but could not count on Timo Boll recovering in time, after his flu worsened it became clear he could no longer play in Malaysia at all. It was up to Bastian Steger, Ruwen Filus and Patrick Franziska to pull Germany to a victory. But on the other side of the table, Sam Walker, Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkall played phenomenally well. Only Filus was able to score for Germany, so the overall Match went 3-1 to England. It was now or never against Sweden now. Only a 3-0 or 3-1 victory would secure the third place for Germany, all other results meant elimination. Bastian Steger started off extremely determined, pulling Germany ahead with 1-0. But the next two Matches went to Sweden and he final 3-2 success for Germany meant
nothing at all. That meant we had to negotiate the Playoffs for Rank 13-24.
Overall, we have not reached our goal here, in fact we missed it by miles. We will have to work harder and more determined and learn from this experience when looking toward the Olympic Games in Rio. This goes for all players in the German national team. The other nations have caught up with us and even been able to overtake us here in Malaysia. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we will see a much stronger German team in Rio. Sometimes these sobering experiences have to be made in order to emerge stronger and more focused in the future..
… Happy for the Ladies
Our Women’s national team has played a fantastic competition. Led by coach Jie Schöpp, they even managed to triumph over Japan in the group stage with a phenomenal 3-0. This victory must be stressed, even if Germany was unable to repeat it in the quarterfinals match when facing Japan once more. But things might have gone differently, if Germany had 24 instead of 4 hours time to recuperate after the daunting, but also excellent performance over South Korea in the Round of 16.
The German girls did not win a medal here in Malaysia, but rather gained confirmation to have a firm place among the 8 best Teams in the World and to be able to compete with and even beat the best Asian Teams.
Friday, March 4th
The dream is gone…
At least in terms of the competition, the tournament has concluded for Marcos Freitas, Tiago Apolonia and Joao Monteiro. Although fighting bravely, the team lost today to South Korea with 3-1. But it was close to turning out differently.
Joao Monteiro, playing a fantastic World Championships so far, lost to Lee Sangsun with 3-1. So Marcos Freitas had to step up to equalize for Portugal. But he was unable to turn the tide, losing 3-1 against the legendary defender from Korea. With the score being 0-2, Tiago Apolonia was tasked with keeping Portugal in the match – and a great job he did. With 3-1 over Jung Youngsik, he gave Joao the chance to equalize for Portugal. Against Joo, Joao fought bravely, leading 2-1 and even close to winning at 9-9 in the deciding game. But the next two points went to Joo, who pulled a victory and carried his team to the semi finals – where China will be waiting.
Tiago Apolonia: It was a great fight, like we expected. The match was close and overall on a great level. Our hopes for the medal have not been fulfilled, but we should be happy with our performance. I myself did not so badly here, lost only matches to Japan.
Marcos Freitas: Now for the third time we were stopped at the quarterfinals in a World’s event. After Tokyo 2014 and the Olympic games, once more we were unable to win a medal for Portugal – of course we are disappointed right now. Congratulations to the Korean team, who were in great form and deserved to win today. We will now go back to working on improving and I am sure, in the future this will pay off with a medal if we keep going on the path we are now on.
I would like to thank everyone here for the great support. I was surprised how many people recognized us in Malaysia and how often we were asked for autographs and pictures. Tomorrow, we will give something back to our fans: We will be at the Butterfly booth here in the hall and signing autographs for everyone who wants to stop by!
Tonight we will go out to a Japanese restaurant with our whole team. We have been working so hard in the previous weeks, tonight we deserve a night to relax!
Let us say: Cheers to them!
Tomorrow, we will turn our eyes to other exciting results in Kuala Lumpur and will have a chance to reflect on the results of the German team, which surely deserves a few words..
Thursday, March 3rd
Our Team of Reporters secured their place among the best 8 teams standing. After a decisive victory (3-0) over the team from Korea DPR. A match against their team is always difficult to predict, since players from north Korea are relatively unknown on international level, which makes preparation even more difficult. Marcos Freitas had to admit:
Marcos Freitas: I started the match really badly, was down immediately in the first game. It was a bit surprising for me – I did not know my opponent, because the North Korean players don’t play on the world tour. It took me a while to understand how he played. But in the second game I started to feel more comfortable and confident. I lost after having game point, but I felt the match was shifting. I made my points in rallies and I was in control. I kept my focus and won 3 games straight.
Tiago Apolonia: I also did not know my opponents, but I prepared by watching videos of him on this tournament. It worked Our next opponent now is South Korea and they a placed in front of us in the world ranking, so on paper they are the favorite. But I still think the match is going to be 50/50!
Marcos Freitas: The next match is going to be hard. I think the South Korean team is stronger than the North Koreans – but we know them better! They have some young players just like us and this is going to be an interesting and close match!
As a team, we have never won a medal at a world championships. So being in the semi finals would already be a huge success for us. We would surely expect China to wait there with the currently best team in the world. But right now, we are not thinking about it.
Tiago Apolonia: Of course we are not afraid of anyone – but rather respect all opponents the same. But we are not there yet, only the next match counts!
After securing a place in the quarter finals, team Portugal celebrated by going out for dinner. Absolutely deserved.
Wednesday, March 2nd
2 Losses – but third place is guaranteed
What a tense group stage! While our reporters Marcos Freitas and Tiago Apolonia surely heard about the elimination of the German team on the next table (a 3-2 victory over Sweden was not enough to secure the 3rd place – Germany will only play for ranks 13-24), they were fully focused on bringing their own team through to the next stage. After these victories on the first two days, Day 3 and 4 meant both losing to Poland (1-3) and to favorite Japan (1-3). Counting in their secure victories so far, this meant Rank 3 for Team Portugal – enough to play the round of 32 against teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in the other groups. The quarter finals would then include the teams emerging victorious from their respective groups, but that is only step 2 in the schedule of Marcos and Tiago. For them, everything is still possible…
Marcos Freitas: I did not play my best level for sure, did not feel “inside” the game, and Koki Niwa played very well and aggressive. In this tournament I have not yet played in my best shape, but tomorrow is another day! I will do everything to help my team enter the next stage of the competition in the quarter finals..
Tiago Apolonia: Of course we are not 100% satisfied with the results, but we are still fighting and I think it was a great match against Japan!
It was for sure! For more highlight of Day 3, watch the official Butterfly Highlight reel:
Monday, February 29th
3 days, 3 videos — and some insights from Marcos and Tiago
Our colleagues from Japan produced some video reviews. Click the videos to enjoy some impressions on the Butterfly party, training sessions and matchplay as well. And don’t miss to read our interview with Marcos Freitas and Tiago Apolonia thereafter.
Heat, Air Conditioning and Early-in-bed
Today we follow our two reporters in the first line. How are Marcos Freitas and Tiago Apolonia doing?
Marcos Freitas: We stepped off the plane in Kuala Lumpur well prepared. I have had 10 days of excellent preparation at the Werner Schlager Academy in Vienna. I am on track, but we are not thinking about any medals right now. We have a tough group with Japan, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Singapore. We will need to think about this game-by-game! On our first day, we practiced twice and did an interview for Japanese TV.
Tiago Apolonia: And since our first match was at 10:00 am – it was “Early-in-Bed-Day” for us 🙂
Marcos Freitas: Our first match against Ukraine was an important victory (3:1 with Marcos winning two matches) and so far, the IMG_0094results are good. We won against Belarus and Singapore with 3:0, but they did not start with their best players against us. So far, I have won all my matches, but I still do not feel comfortable in the hall. There is a lot of air current coming from the Air conditioning, resulting in strange ball bounce. I really feel the organizers and ITTF should have thought about this before the tournament – I don’t think this is acceptable for a world Championship event.
Tiago Apolonia: Yesterday was great! 2 Games, 2 victories – and both matches 3:0! What we thought was a very difficult and exhausting day became not so bad after all, which is a good sign for the rest of the tournament since our physical condition is still quite “fresh”, despite the tropical climate. It’ raining a lot in Kuala Lumpur and temperatures are always around 30°C – very warm.
Here are the results of our reporters so far:
Portugal – Ukraine 3:1
Marcos Freitas – Kou Lei : 3:1 / Joao Monteiro – Zhmudenko Yaroslav: 0:3 / Tiago Apolonia – Pryshchepa Yevhen: 3:1 / Marcos Freitas – Zhmudenko Yaroslav: 3:0
Portugal – Belarus 3:0
Marcos Freitas – Khanin Aliaksandr: 3:2 / Joao Monteiro – Platonov Pavel: 3:1 / Tiago Apolonia – Shamruk Gleb: 3:0
Portugal – Singapore 3:0
Marcos Freitas – Pang Xuejie: 3-0 / Tiago Apolonia – Chew Zheyu: 3:0 / Joao Monteiro – Poh Shaofeng: 3:0
Monday, February 29th
Germany – France 1:3
Steffen Mengel – Simon Gauzy 2:3 (-8,-5,7,10,-3)
Timo Boll – Emmanuel Lebesson 0:3 (-7,-7,-8)
Ruwen Filus – Benjamin Brossier 3:0 (5,6,2)
Boll – Gauzy 2:3 (-13,4,-5,9,-8)
Everybody is still looking for words. We would say: “After the defeat is before the next victory”. And, of course: Congratulations to France!
Saturday, February 27th
Sweating for success
“Hot Hot Hot” – was my first thought when we stepped off the plane in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. From 3°C in Germany to 33°C in Malaysia, a big step, I am starting to sweat already..
My first impression of the playing hall was very positive, but I am sorry to say for training and annex halls it was not. These have been constructed under a tent and look quite improvised. I am not looking forward to see if they really are waterproof. Forecast says rain..
Cancellations, prognosis and the return of a legend
Some players unfortunately had to cancel the event already: Chuang-Chih Yuan (TPE), Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) Pär Gerell of Sweden are among the biggest names on that list.
What will this mean for the competition?
I think this will make China even more of a favorited team. Especially Chuang and Ovtcharov are players that had beaten or would at least be able to beat Chinese players when in Top-form. This will make the team from Japan with frontrunner Jun Mizutani the biggest opponent of China in my view. The German team will first have negotiate the group stage – afterwards who knows whats possible? It will surely depend on Timo Boll’s current fitness level and on the state of the experienced team with Bastian Steger, Ruwen Filus and Steffen Mengel.
Who else should we look out for?
Surely the team from South Korea, building a young team around the evergreen Joo Saehyuk. Of course we also must not forget Portugal and Austria, who have amazingly reactivated veteran and World Champion Werner Schlager to fill in for the injured Daniel Habesohn. Although Schlager was mostly active on the “Legends” Tour, he will be a difficult opponent for many at this event as well.
How about the ladies?
In the Ladies’ division, China is once more the heavy favorite for the main title. Interesting side-note: Chen Zhibin is now head coach for the Women’s team of Singapore. Maybe they can repeat their famous success from 2010, where they beat China in a highly dramatic and now historic finals match..
Aside from Singapore, Japan and Hongkong are among the favorite teams, so are Romania. Of course I am looking forward to seeing the team from Germany in action, although they have drawn a very difficult group stage alongside Japan and North Korea. I do not need to reiterate that Brazil and Thailand should be taken more than seriously by their opponents these days.
One more day to go – and then we’re off to see great games at the World Championships. The new Butterfly showcourts look great so this promises to be a fantastic event. After the sensation Butterfly Welcome Party here in Kuala Lumpur, everyone is ready to go!
Click here to view results, photos, videos and more from the World Team Table Tennis Championships.