by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
In fact it was the exact opposite.
Belgium’s Laurens Devos, the no.2 seed, who celebrated his 16th birthday on just under one month ago on Monday 15th August and is on Paralympic Games debut, beat Ukraine’s Yuriy Shchepanskky in three straight games (11-6, 11-7, 11-7).
The win meant that he secured first place in the group; on the opening day of action he had been equally relentless when facing Japan’s Koyo Iwabuchi, a straight games success had been the order of the day (11-8, 11-3, 11-6).
Conversely, for Austria’s Stanislaw Fraczyk, who later this year on Friday 2nd December will mark his 64th birthday, it was a very different story.
Competing in his sixth consecutive Paralympic Games, his first being 20 years ago in Atlanta in 1996, he recovered from a 5-9 deficit in the deciding fifth game against Spain’s Juan Bautista Perez Gonzalez, the no.3 seed (9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 4-11, 11-9) to start his campaign on the best possible note.
“My head was not so good today, I’ve been playing professional table tennis now for 30 years”, said Stanislaw Fraczyk who four years ago in London was the silver medallist in Men’s Singles Class 9.
Furthermore, he is quite unique in sport; he has played in the World Championships, the World Veteran Championships and the Paralympic Games.
I cannot think of anyone who can match that feat.
“Today when I was four points down in the fifth game, I changed my service, I served short, I’d tried to serve short before but I didn’t have a good feeling for the ball”, added Stanislaw Fraczyk, who had overcome an adversary with a quite fearsome rapid- fire forehand top spin.
Perhaps the forehand of Juan Bautista Perez Gonzalez is not quite that of Timo Boll but it’s in that family.
“Usually I’m fine to block the ball when someone plays in that style”, explained Stanislaw Fraczyk. “The problem is that I’ve been injured, my right leg, it is difficult to move and I can’t put pressure on the leg and bend.”
It is reason why Stanislaw Fraczyk did not player earlier this year in the 2016 World Veteran Championships in Alicante, Spain; a tournament, just like the Paralympic Games, where he is a familiar figure.
He is no stranger to the big stage and the passionate Brazilian crowd is for him water of a duck’s back.
“When you play you must be fully focused”, stressed Stanislaw Fraczyk. “It does not matter whether there are 100, 1,000 or how many people in the hall, you must concentrate on what you have to do; you must be so focused that you are not affected whatever the noise.”
Not affected by the commotion, it was very much the same for Laurens Devos.
“Yes, it’s a big hall, many people watching; the spectators are loud but for me it’s fine”, said Laurens Devos who is very cool customer, you never see a ridiculous show of body language or unnecessary emotion.
He is not the type of player who stands out from the crowd; you need to watch him closely to appreciate his skills. Equally behind the calm persona there is a real determination to succeed, a desire for perfection.
“I did not play well today, I made too many mistakes, I did not time the ball well”, concluded Laurens Devos. “However, I do feel good, I feel confident; I just hope I get an easy match in the first round.”
Top seed untroubled
Top place in the group for Laurens Devos; notably it was the same for hina’s Ma Lin, the top seed.
On the second morning of play, after having overcome Hungary’s Deszo Berecki (11-6, 11-9, 11-7); he reserved first place by overcoming Tal Leibovitz of the United States (11-6, 11-3, 11-7).