Schlager wins Croatian Open

World Champion wins first 2004 Pro Tour Event

ITTF Press Release

Poland?s Lucjan BLASZCZYK duly lost the opening game in the final of the Men?s Singles event at the ITTF Pro Tour Croatian Open when his opponent Werner SCHLAGER fired a severe forehand topspin wide to his backhand. It was nothing new for BLASZCZYK, he has consistently lost the opening game in Zagreb, then fought back and won in the vital seventh; this time it was a bridge too far.

Matters were soon levelled, just as easily as he had lost the first he won the second with his topspin attacks displaying a higher level of consistency.

SCHLAGER was faced with a tough task, in the third game BLASZCZYK never let the Austrian settle; always looking to flick the service and follow his own with quick attacks he asserted an 8-6 lead; SCHLAGER recovered and a prodigious backhand block, off balance, wide to the Pole?s forehand gave him game point, a point he duly converted as BLASZCZYK?s backhand topspin hit the top of the net and then missed the end of the table.

The crowd had come to see the World Champion. The youngsters who waived tassles and carried balloons were in no doubt as to whom they wanted to win whilst the President of Croatia, Stipe MESIC, alongside the President of the Croatian Table Tennis Association, Ivo-Goran MUNIVRANA were clearly pleased that SCHLAGER had entered the event.

The disappointment for the home crowd was no doubt that there was no Croatian player in action on the final day. Zoran PRIMORAC was absent abroad whilst the girls Tamara BOROS and Cornelia VAIDA had made early exits from the women?s events.

However, if you can?t have a local hero then a World Champion is surely more than an adequate replacement. SCHLAGER, with trademark knee support on his left leg, is not a man to shirk his responsibilities. Injury since his success in Paris and a series of indifferent result have seen him descend the World Ranking List; in Zagreb he was a man with a point to prove and the Croatian title would be a more than satisfactory start to the year.

A crucial stage in the contest came in the fourth game. SCHLAGER won 16-14 to go three games to one ahead but BLASZCZYK had been in the same predicament earlier in the tournament against both Lars HEILSCHER and Michael MAZE and had emerged victorious. Could he do it again? He made a good start to the fifth game, SCHLAGER fought back but the Pole maintained his focus and duly had clawed one game back.

BLASCZYK, hairline receding and cut short in the mode of André AGASSI trailed 4-2 in the sixth at which stage he called `Time Out.? The crowd chanted `SCHLAGER, SCHLAGER? during the one minute break but the immediate beneficiary was BLASZCZYK, he won the next two points and from there on neither player could establish more than a one point advantage until at 9-9 with SCHLAGER serving BLASZCZYK missed a forehand flick and then a forehand topspin at the end of a thrilling rally to give SCHLAGER the title.

BLASZCZYK to his credit smiled, patted SCHLAGER on the back; he had tried desperately to effect yet another recovery but this time the task proved just too great, the Austrian to the delight of the crowd was the champion.

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