by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Throughout her playing career, whether it was winning the Cadet Girls’ Singles title at the European Youth Championships in 1997 in Topolcany, or more recently retaining her title at the 2015 European Para Championships in Vejle; the will to win, the sheer determination is just the same.
Equally, in life; that spirit has been paramount in her recovery from the most horrendous injuries.
Qualities in evidence
On the morning of the second day of play, Friday 9th September, in Riocentro Pavilion 3; those qualities were once again in evidence as, occupying the top seeded place in Women’s Singles Class 6, she secured top spot in her group.
In her opening contest one day earlier, she had beaten Korea’s Lee Kunwoo in three straight games (11-7, 11-1, 11-4); one day later it was a totally different scenario.
Confronting Ukraine’s Antonina Khodzynska she lost the opening game and then lost the first seven points of the second before recovering to level matters. Later in the vital deciding fifth game, she trailed 2-9 before losing just two more points to secure victory (8-11, 12-10, 4-11, 11-8, 12-10).
Played fantastically well
“Antonina played great, she was fantastic; it was very tricky for me, you never know what is going to happen”, said Sandra Paovic. “I played her twice last year at the European Championships, once in the group stage, once in the final; overall I lost just one game!”
In the group phase Sandra Paovic had won in four games (11-4, 9-11, 11-1, 11-9); in the final she had surrendered just ten points as a straight games success (11-1, 11-5, 11-4) was recorded.
“Tactically today I was not good, she surprised me; when I was down in the second game I thought I was going to lose, I just played more freely, more relaxed”, added Sandra Paovic. “She played so well and it is always difficult against players from the Ukraine, they have good coaches.”
Sheer willpower, a refusal to be beaten was the key for the 33 year olds victory; determination was written across her face as we spoke, there was no bright smile, there was a task to be completed, a goal to achieve.
She displayed the same attitude as China’s Ma Long at the Liebherr 2015 Men’s World Cup in the Swedish city of Halmstad. He was a man with a mission, the aim to add the World Cup title to the World Championship crown.
The attitude of Sandra Paovic in Rio de Janeiro is exactly the same and it has not waivered; when I interviewed her at the Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, which she attended as a guest, she was clear.
“If I decide to play in Paralympic events, I am there to win”, she said.
Follow Ma Long
In Rio de Janeiro the persona has not changed one iota.
“Some people have come here just to play”, concluded Sandra Paovic. “I am here to win”
Ma Long won in Halmstad, same for Sandra Paovic in Rio de Janeiro?