by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Simple plain facts but the result does not relate the drama of the contests and the sense of déjà vu.
Earlier in the year at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with the same six players on duty England had beaten France in a full distance five match contest with Paul Drinkhall the hero of the hour. In the concluding match of the fixture he beat Emmanuel Lebesson by the very narrowest of margins in a full distance five games encounter.
In Riocentro Pavilion 3, the drama of Kuala Lumpur was exceeded; every match went the full five games; the first time that such a situation has ever happened since team events were introduced into the table tennis events at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Hero of the hour was 21 year old Sam Walker, in a quite outrageous contest he beat Simon Gauzy to seal a British victory but again the score line does not relate the drama of the contest (7-11, 11-8, 13-11, 9-11, 12-10). In the vital fifth and deciding game Sam Walker led 6-2 but then trailed 7-10 only to win the next five points and send British supporters into ecstasy.
“I really was not aware of the noise in the hall, I could hear my team mates encouraging me but I was just totally focused. Even when I was losing 7-10 in the fifth game I still believed I could win. Simon is a good player, today I received service well and I felt confident in the rallies.” Sam Walker.
The win recorded by Sam Walker came after the Great Britain outfit had been required to recover on two occasions.
Simon Gauzy gave France the perfect start by beating Liam Pitchford (10-12, 11-7, 12-14, 8-11, 11-5), before Paul Drinkhall accounted for Emmanuel Lebesson to level proceedings (11-4, 8-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6).
“I think in the past 18 months I have made some progress; for sure the fact that I beat Emmanuel in Kuala Lumpur gave me confidence and perhaps it was on his mind. He is a good player, he is very hard to beat.” Paul Drinkhall.
Matters level, France took the lead with Tristan Flore and Emmanuel Lebesson recovering from a two games to nil deficit to overcome Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker (6-11, 6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-6).
Great Britain in arrears, Liam Pitchford came to the rescue; however the outcome looked bleak for Great Britain and the Englishman lost the first two games. Quite incredibly as befitted the context of the whole engagement he recovered to record a hard earned win (10-12, 2-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-9) and thus set the scene for Sam Walker to perform heroics.
“I was 10-8 up in the first game and lost, that affected my confidence. Tristan played really well. In the fourth game at 10-9 I saved one match point; I just kept fighting. In the end I won and Sam won, watching him was nerve racking, I’m really proud of him.” Liam Pitchford.
Great Britain now meet China in the quarter-finals, the fixture will be played on Sunday 14th August.