German Open: Ma Lin wins Men's Singles

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Skill Secures Semi-Final Success

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. High thrown serves followed by aggressive forehand topspins has brought success for Croatia’s Tamara BOROS in recent years as she has graduated from being a high class European junior player to a senior of world renown.

However, in the semi-final stage of the women’s singles event at the German Open it was skill that won the day for Croatian star as she beat China’s GUO Yue in straight games to book a place in the final.
`My short play was good today,’ explains BOROS clearly satisfied that she has made progress when playing against Chinese players. `Usually I have problems returning the service short and preventing them from attacking strongly on the third ball; today my feeling was good and I was able to return her services short or flick when necessary.’

There does appear to be a new found confidence with BOROS; on several occasions at the German Open, a Chinese female player has looked down and out against European opposition but has fought back to win the day. BOROS gave fourteen year old GUO Yue no chance to recover, the Croatian’s backhand topspin is now stronger and against the young Chinese girl she could dominate the rallies from both wings.

Equally, coach Never CEGNAR was pleased with his charges performance: `Very good, very good indeed, the short play was first class,’ he smiles with a sense of pride written over his face.

Fan Ying Weaves Her Web of Spin

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. The classic encounter in table tennis: the attacker versus the defender, a contest that over the years has been witnessed less and less but when it happens entertaining rallies, seemingly impossible retrieving and points that keep the crowd enthralled are witnessed time and time again.

There is a groan of disappointment when either player secures a net or an edge and wins a lucky point, there is rapturous applause and cheering when the defender scrapes the ball back from all parts of the court to finish the point with a quick hit that leaves the attacker flat footed and stunned by the adversary’s fleet of foot.
The match is even more entertaining when the two players on duty are experts in their craft and despite the fact that both players are from the same country the attacking play of NIU Jianfeng and the defensive skills of FAN Ying are well received by the enthusiastic crowd in Magdeburg as the two Chinese stars fight for a place in the women’s singles final. The quality is so high that even umpire taps his left hand on the scoring table as a mark of respect and appreciation at the skill level that is on view.

Against FAN Ying the attacker has to remain dominant, play weakly and a forehand topspin in the mode of the modern day Chinese male defenders is released; she keeps the attacker thinking, when defending she is always looking for the opportunity to topspin with the forehand.

NIU Jianfeng knows she must be positive, like her Chinese compatriots she is comfortable against all styles of play able to change the amount of topspin on the forehand with consummate ease moving her opponent to all parts of the court.

`FAN Ying has a very good backhand defence, she uses short pimples which enables her to vary the amount of backspin on the ball and she can attack well with her forehand topspin’, explains LU Yansheng, coach to the Chinese women’s team, himself a defensive player of high quality who played a major role in China’s success in winning the men’s team event at the World Championships in 1975.

LU Yansheng continues: `NIU Jianfeng is very powerful, she spins the ball well’, certainly against FAN Ying she is stretched to the limit and has to use her full armoury of strokes but it is not enough.

The match, to the delight of the appreciative Magdeburg crowd goes the full distance with `Time Out’ called at 6-6 in the vital seventh games; both players return to the table; they are both composed; NIU Jianfeng continues to use a variety of speed and spin, she attacks strongly with speed and spin adding a drop shot as a variation but after gaining a 7-6 lead FAN Ying produces a faultless display, backspin play, topspin attacks and a backhand block to finish secures victory, applause from the crowd and a place in the final against the in form Croatian Tamara BOROS.

Ma Lin in Control

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. MA Lin using his racket to fan his face, then wiping the sweat away from his forehead with the shirt sleeve of his left arm, prepares to serve; the serve is usually short and a strong forehand topspin played `down the line’ secures repeated success against Russia’s Alexei SMIRNOV in the first semi-final of the men’s singles event at the German Open in Magdeburg.

SMIRNOV, no frills, attacks with his powerful backhand topspin fast to MA Lin’s backhand; it is the area where many penhold grip players are weak but MA Lin is currently the best exponent of this style of play in the world and is able to withstand the Russian’s onslaught with controlled blocks; when SMIRNOV decides to change direction MA LIN responds with a fast forehand topspin and in forehand exchanges the Chinese star is the master.
Errors from MA Lin are minimal but when they come it tends to be from the backhand topspin against a pushed ball; however, when it is crucial the topspins from both wings suddenly go into overdrive and his speed of foot enables him to dominate the exchanges with his fierce forehand.

The crowd do their best to encourage the underdog but for the undemonstrative SMIRNOV he faces an opponent who gives him little time to play his heavy topspin strokes. The Russian, poker faced, gives nothing away but the aces are held by MA Lin, who growing in confidence, concludes proceedings with a rocket like backhand topspin to win the match in four straight games and thus secure a place in the final.

`MA Lin played very well’, explains HAN Yua, the men’s coach of the Chinese team at the German Open. `SMIRNOV has a very strong backhand but MA Lin was able to control his powerful topspins; also MA Lin served well and returned service well.’

The key to any success, serve and receive service well and you are the favourite; undoubtedly MA Lin gave a master class in this art to reach the final of the men’s singles at the German Open.

Samsonov Absorbs the Onslaught

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. Sheer class, seemingly always having time to play, never rushed, never flustered, the defending men’s singles champion Vladimir SAMSONOV of Belarus duly booked his place in the final of the German Open beating Kalinikos KREANGA of Greece at the penultimate stage.

KREANGA, as dynamic as ever, threw caution to the wind as he attacked relentlessly from both wings but the stronger he played the better SAMSONOV responded. A forehand service action that appears to be executed initially in slow motion but with a fast movement of the wrist on contact with the ball prevented the Greek star from attacking the SAMSONOV service.
The new service rule has had little effect on SAMSONOV, he always served in a way whereby his opponent could see the ball. Equally his deft touch when returning service increases the pressure on his adversary and forces his opponents to play at high risk and thus make seemingly unforced errors; such was the scenario against KREANGA, relentless attacks absorbed and an error resulting.

Always under pressure, KREANGA continued to mount attack after attack but SAMSONOV, less aggressive made full use table, used the angles to his advantage, absorbed the tirade and with controlled topspin play assumed the ascendancy.

In the last six meetings SAMSONOV has won four times, he appears to have the answers to KREANGA but in a different way. At the European Championships in Zagreb earlier in the year Timo BOLL beat KREANGA in the final with speed being the key to success whilst SAMSONOV absorbs the barrage of topspins, places the ball well and when the opportunity arises increases the arm speed to produce a winner.

`It was a tough match’, sighed a somewhat relieved SAMSONOV. `I think I was more focused at the beginning, it certainly helped, winning the first two games.’

KREANGA fought as hard as ever, remained positive under pressure and saved three match points in the fifth game but he was playing at the limit whereas SAMSONOV seemingly had something to spare and so it proved with the man from Belarus composing himself, maintaining his focus and emerging victorious in six games.

Classic Combination

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. The classic combination in doubles, the right hander partnering the left hander was the order of the day in the women’s doubles final at the German Open Table Tennis Championships as the recently crowned Chinese national champions GUO Yue and LI Xiaoxia faced compatriots NIU Jianfeng and LI Jia.

The ability of both the right handed NIU Jianfeng and the left handed LI Jia to return the service short and follow with heavily spun forehands enabled the duo to take a three games to nil lead. The point of no return having been reached GUO Yue and LI Xiaoxia seemingly employed the same tactic, the pair who played the first topspin would win the point, the latter duo recovered somewhat to win the next two games in the sixth game seniority was in the ascendancy with the pairing of NIU Jianfeng and LI Jia emerging victorious.
For LI Xiaoxia it was disappointment but she was realistic: `Simply we didn’t play as well as we can, we can play better

However NIU Jianfeng was obviously much more upbeat: `LI Jia played very well, she was very positive; she created the opening for me to attack, I became a little nervous when they started to fight back after we had won the first three games but LI Jia remained cool and we came through.’

LI Jia continues: `We hadn’t played together for a long time so we weren’t that well prepared for a tough match’; however, when they do play together on the ITTF Pro Tour they do seem to do well, they won the women’s doubles at the Qatar Open earlier in the year!

New Partner, Same Outcome

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. Together for the first time CHEN Weixing of Austria and Koji MATSUSHITA of Japan delighted the Magdeburg crowd in the final of the men’s doubles at the German Open with desperate retrieving and exciting backspin play.

However, despite giving a spirited display the duo were unable to cope with the sheer power exerted by MA Lin and KONG Linghui as the latter pairing exerted relentless pressure on their adversaries with a series of devastating forehand topspins.
The pressure exerted by the Chinese duo forced the defenders in taking risks and attacking whenever the opportunity arose but MA Lin and KONG Linghui are formidable opponents and in straight games the number two seeds captured the title for China.

The match concluded with the crowd being thoroughly entertained as both pairs took it in turns to retreat to the barriers and play high topspin lobbed returns with the umpire having to take evasive action as MATSUSHITA returned the ball safely to the warm applause of the crowd.

`Now that LIU Guoliang has finished playing internationally and is now a coach I’m partnering MA Lin’, explains KONG Linghui. Certainly KONG Linghui enjoyed outstanding success with LIU Guoliang, winning World and Olympic titles and may well do the same with MA Lin. `Like LIU Guoliang MA Lin is a penhold grip player. He serves well and returns service well so it makes life easier for me; I hope to partnering him in the World Championships and Olympic Games’, he concludes.

Undoubtedly they will provide formidable opposition and maintain China’s run of success in major men’s doubles event; in Magdeburg they were sup

No Longer The Bridesmaid

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. The confidence to topspin with the backhand against the backspin play of FAN Ying added an extra dimension to the play of Croatia’s Tamara BOROS in the final of the women’s singles at the German Open.

There appears to be a higher level of consistency about the Croatian’s play; having on so many occasions reached the latter stages of a major tournament and fallen short at the final hurdle, she put matters right in Magdeburg by beating China’s FAN Ying to capture the women’s singles crown in straight games.
Equally, there was a positive determined attitude, a clenched fist and a yell after winning a vital point with her coach Neven CEGNAR equally vocal as he called her name `Tammy’ on winning a vital encounter.

FAN Ying, quiet, reserved and composed varied the tactics and on occasions attacked the third ball with a forehand topspin but BOROS reacted well, controlled the rally and forced the Chinese teenager into defensive mode. Even a `Time Out’ called by the Chinese coach LU Yansheng could not halt the tide of consistent topspins exerted on the proceedings by BOROS.

There were nervous moments in the fourth game for the champion elect as she became somewhat anxious with the winning post in sight and perhaps tried to win the point too quickly. However, self-discipline regained she worked hard for each point and success eventually came her way with FAN Ying retrieving desperately and coach Neven CEGNAR on his feet as his charge played a backhand topspin down the line to secure the title and the admiration of the crowd.

`I’ve lost in seven ITTF Pro Tour Finals’, smiled a very contented Tama BOROS. `To win here is fantastic, I didn’t know how I would react to playing a Chinese defender but I felt good and I came through.’

Three years ago she won the Croatian Open on home soil but the quality of players present in Magdeburg made her success very special indeed. Coach, Neven CEGNAR, who has been with her through all her trials and tribulations on the ITTF Pro Tour was clearly delighted and close to tears with pride: `She was unbelievable, from the start of the tournament she had a clear head, her backhand topspin was tremendous; against FAN Ying she found it difficult to control her serves but she fought hard and it’s fantastic she’s won after so many near misses.’

So often the bridesmaid, in Magdeburg she was the bride and the `best man’, her coach Never CEGNAR summoned up her performance in enthusiastic rhetoric: `The Chinese are very good but they must realise that there is a European who can challenge them, her backhand is so strong; in my view she’s the most dangerous female player in the world’.

Ma Lin Majestic in Magdeburg

Magdeburg, Germany, 20 October 2002. MA Lin of China gave a tremendous display of attacking table tennis to win the men’s singles title at the German Open beating defending champion Vladimir SAMSONOV of Belarus in five games at the final hurdle.

MA Lin, able to attack from both wings with strong topspins whilst having added dimension to his game of being able to block in the more orthodox penhold grip style won the opening game with a series of fast topspin attacks
However, as with KREANGA, one round earlier, SAMSONOV has the incredible ability to absorb the pressure exerted and react with equally strong topspins; the man from Belarus fought back, won the second game and established a lead in the third. However, MA Lin is astute, serving short he attacked with the forehand and uncharacteristically SAMSONOV made unforced errors to see the Chinese ace regain the lead.

In the third game it appeared that SAMSONOV would once again level matters as he concentrated his attacks on the MA Lin backhand and established a 10-5 lead. However, like a true champion MA Lin responded won seven points in a row and the game.

Full of confidence and attacking strongly with vicious forehands after a short service MA Lin dominated the early exchanges in the fifth game, SAMSONOV continued to attack the MA Lin backhand but once the Chinese star could release his forehand there appeared to be only one outcome. Like a true athlete MA Lin sped about the court, withstood a SAMSONOV fightback, played his forehand at every opportunity and after seeing match points disappear concluded proceedings with a backhand topspin followed by a lightning forehand to take the title for the first time in his career.

However, SAMSONOV was pleased with his efforts: `I’m happy with the way I played but against MA Lin I didn’t know how to win the match; previously he was very good at serve and third ball attack, now he’s also good in the rallies and his backhand topspin when he’s back from the table has certainly improved.’

Chinese coach HAN Hua was clearly appreciative of his player’s efforts: `MA Lin played very well, he was very consistent in the rallies and he returned service well’. Qualities that are undoubtedly necessary to win major events, in Magdeburg MA Lin was certainly the master of his art.

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