by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Earlier both Jochen Wollmert and Stéphane Messi had experienced defeat at the hands of Ukraine’s Maxym Nikolenko; Jochen Wollmert in four games (4-11, 14-12, 11-7, 11-7), Stéphane Messi in a full distance five games duel (11-8, 6-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-6).
The equation was simple; the winner progressed to the main draw, the loser was eliminated. Players finishing in first and second places in all singles events, advance to the second stage.
Furthermore, there one further factor added into the mix; they were the most recent three winners of the title.
Stéphane Messi had won in Athens in 2004 when he beat Jochen Wollmert in the final; Jochen Wollmert had won in Beijing in 2008 and had retained the title four years ago in London.
Straight games win
In Rio de Janeiro the verdict went in favour of Stéphane Messi; he won in three straight games (14-12, 11-6, 11-2).
“When we played in the final in Athens, it was much closer”, said Stéphane Messi. “I remember it was a very exciting match; today it was different; whoever lost was out of the tournament.”
Thought for opponent
The verdict went in favour of Stéphane Messi, a player who was most humble in victory and summed up the spirit of Paralympic sport.
“I feel sad, I feel really sorry for Jochen; he won in Beijing, he won in London, now he is out of the tournament”, sighed Stéphane Messi.
Now could you imagine any player at the recent Rio 2016 Olympic Games making such a remark? The sense of camaraderie in the Riocentro is such that it can bring tears to his eyes.
“Today my head was good, I was focused”, continued Stéphane Messi. “However playing against Jochen you have never won until it is over; when I was ahead 6-2 in the third game, I knew that I could not let my concentration wander for a second.”
Just one game
Meanwhile for Israel Stroh it was a quite different scenario; he needed to win just one game against China Liao Keli to be assured of progress.
One day earlier he had caused a major upset by beating top seed, Great Britain’s Will Bayley in four games (10-12, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7); however, in the morning session of play Will Bayley had responded, he accounted for Liao Keli in three straight games (11-7, 11-8, 11-7).
Just one game needed, the goal was achieved but not without nerves jangling. He lost the first two games before winning the third and jumping for joy as though he had won first place in the national lottery.
It was to be his only success; Liao Keli prevailed in four games (11-7, 11-9, 6-11, 13-11).
Thus games ratio determined the outcome; it was first place for Will Bayley (4:3) with Israel Stroh in second position (4:4) and Liao Keli third (3:4).
“I was nervous today, I knew that I had a chance of a place in the main draw; yesterday I had won an amazing match, today I did not find the right strategy”, explained Israel Stroh. “Liao Keli has a very strong forehand; if I could have won the first game, then I would have been more relaxed.”
Play in the first stage of all Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events concludes on the morning of Saturday 10th September.