13 Sep 2016

Anointed European champion in the Italian Adriatic resort of Lignano in 2013, the title retained just under one year ago in Vejle, Denmark, sandwiched in between the World Championships crown secured in Beijing; Croatia’s Sandra Paovic completed full house on Tuesday 13th September.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, she won the Women’s Singles Class 6 title; she beat Germany’s Steffi Grebe at the final hurdle to secure the precious title (11-2, 11-7, 11-4)

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

Recovering from the dreadful injuries suffered as the result of a catastrophic road accident in late January 2009, she was a most welcome visitor to the Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund.

I posed the question as to whether she would consider competing in Paralympic events; the answer was unequivocal: “If I do decide I am not going just to play, I am going to win!”

Character

The comment underlined the character of Sandra Paovic, it was that determination which had seen her become one of Europe’s leading female players and had taken her to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

In Riocentro Pavilion 3, she seized control from start to finish

“I was hoping to become a Paralympic champion but the way was not easy; here the group stage was unbelievably close, the semi-final stage was unbelievably close, which was very stressful for me”, said Sandra Paovic. “In the final I played fantastically well, which is not the first time for me, I love to play finals; when I reach the final I know I am almost there almost; the way till the final was really hard.”

At the semi-final stage, she beat Ukraine’s Maryna Lytovchenko in four games (11-6, 11-6, 10-12, 11-9)

“I’m not a calm player who can look calm and play fantastically; I need to push myself to concentrate”, explained Sandra Paovic. “I don’t move really, they all move much better than me and this is an advantage for them, so I have to push myself to be somehow movable; this is not easy as I am the only one who has a spinal cord injury.”

Determination

The movement is heavily restricted but one fact remains the same; sheer determination, the will to win.

“It takes extreme concentration, I have to fight for every ball; there is no ball I should let past, even if I don’t get it I need to go to it, because I don’t move I have to read the game”, added Sandra Paovic. “I think I am good at that, I was good at that before my accident and think this is very lucky for me; I have to say it is not easy, to have a spinal cord injury like me and to play standing table tennis is really difficult but if I wasn’t as crazy as I am, I don’t think I could do that.”

Support

Throughout the contest, the prominent Croatian contingent in the crowd applauded every move made by Sandra Paovic. Furthermore, she had one very special supporter, her husband, Danny Lavov, a Class 1 player

“He is here, fantastic support, he didn’t show he was nervous, he always shows he is so confident in me but he also understands me”, continued Sandra Paovic. “I hope I will give the same support for him for the next four years and he will qualify for the Japan 2020 Paralympic Games and play great there.”

If he shows the determination of his wife; he can book his flight now!

Sport is serious

“I have never played really for fun; when I stand at the table I am like, “I am here” but I will not be that focused on myself anymore”, stressed Sandra Paovic. “ I am 33 years old and I have some pain in my body when I play too much table tennis; I will keep playing but maybe with less stress, I will really, really try to get Danny to Japan.”

Philosophical

Defat for Stephanie Grebe but in defeat she was philosophical.

“In London I went away with nothing but here I have got the silver medal and I am delighted with that; it is the best I could do as Sandra is a very tough player”, said Stephanie Grebe. “She is just so strong around the table; she just knows what to do all the time and makes it difficult for you.”

It was the second time at a major tournament that Stephanie Grebe had suffered at the hands of the Croatian.

 “I also lost to her at the 2014 Worlds Championships; so I knew it would be difficult; Sandra was a national team player before her injury so she is just on another level to us really”, added Stephanie Grebe. “Of course my target is one day to beat her; maybe it will be in four years or three years; who knows?”

Bronze for Ukraine

Gold for Croatia, silver for Germany; by definition it was bronze for Ukraine; Maryna Lytovchenko beat colleague Antione Khodzynska to secure the third step of the podium (11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7).

Paralympics Sandra Paovic Stephanie Grebe

Match Highlights