(by Steve Hopkins, photo by ITTF *Remy Gros)
The top sixteen men and top sixteen women competed this weekend in Montreux, Switzerland. As a complete change from the first days of very predictable matches with few upsets, the final day was full of surprises. When the dust settled, it was Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic taking the Men’s Title and Germany’s Han Ying winning the Women’s Title.
On the men’s side, the top four seeds were Timo Boll (World No.8), Patrick Franzisca (World No.14), Darko Jorgic (World No.17) and Truls Moregardh (World No.18). Mattias Falck (No.15) and Dimitrij Ovtcharov (No.8) were the only two top European players missing from the draw – both suffering from injuries. The top four seeds advanced to the Semifinals on Saturday without issue.
The script flipped on Sunday, with the lower ranked player winning both Semifinal matches. In fact, both won in convincing fashion. Truls Moregardh topped Timo Boll, winning the first three games and then splitting the final two games for the 4-1 win. Darko Jorgic played tight games with Patrick Franziska (winning 13-11, and 11-9 before losing 11-13 in the third), but he won the final two games to close out his match 4-1 as well.
In the World Rankings, Moregardh and Jorgic are only about 100 points apart (perhaps the difference of one extra win at a tour event) – Jorgic is No. 17 (2720 points) and Moregardh is No. 18 (2621 points). Both have had great success of late, with the biggest accomplishment Moregardh’s run all the way to the Finals at the World Championships last Fall (beating Timo Boll in the Semifinals of that tournament as well). Today, Moregardh jumped out to an early lead – winning the first two games 11-8 and 11-5. The two players then traded the next two games, leaving Moregardh up 3-1 and needing to just win one of the final three games. However, from that point forward, Jorgic was clutch. He dominated the fifth game (11-1), and then pulled out 12-10 wins in both of the final two games for a 4-3, come-from-behind win. Darko Jorgic is the 2022 Europe Top 16 Champion.
On the women’s side, three of the top four seeds advanced to the Semifinals. Sofia Polcanova, Bernadette Szocs, and Han Ying (GER) are all through as expected – with the surprise being Polina Mikhailova of Russia. In the first Semifinal, it was Mikhailova who added to her list of upsets, toppling top seeded Polcanova 4-2. In the second Semifinal, Han Ying was dominant – winning 4-0 (at 5, 5, 2, and 6). The Final was more of the same for Han – a 4-0 performance for the win. Han Ying is an interesting story – a Chinese born player wo struggled as an attacker and was converted to a defensive player – mostly to be a practice partner. She left China for Germany at 19 and became a nationalized citizen in 2010. Since then, she has been a steady presence on the team – usually playing as the third or fourth player. She is clearly not an unknown player in Europe – but few expected a defensive specialist (a modern defender that mixes chop and attack) to win the Europe Top 16 Title.
The ITTF issued a statement this week about the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Apparently the distraction of armed conflict in Europe did not slow the Europe Top 16 event. And, in fact, the Russian participants arrived and competed as planned (in the case of Mikhailova, she performed well better than planned). Gazprom, a prominent Russian gas company who also is the sponsor of Dimitrij Ovtcharov’s Fakel Gazprom team, was the largest sponsor of the Europe Top 16 event.
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