by Simon Daish
Gillingham played host to a wonderful encounter in round three as England made a terrific recovery to claim two valuable points in Group A.
Slovenia was the visiting team for the round and being ranked just above England in November’s ITTF Team Ranking list, the travelling side entered the match as slight favourites. However, it was the English team who prevailed through a great level of determination alongside the fantastic crowd support at Medway Park.
The evening began well for the home side as Kelly Sibley defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Pavcnik with a powerful three-nil victory (11-4, 11-3, 11-3), but despite a positive display from 18-year-old Tin-Tin Ho against Alex Galic in the second fixture the visiting contestant soon brought the tie level (10-12, 7-11, 7-11) at one match apiece.
Then it was the turn of Karina Le Fevre to head to the table for England as the hosts aimed to move back into the lead, but Manca Fajmut’s three-one success (11-7, 10-12, 13-11, 11-6) put the Slovenian team two-one ahead. Yet a remarkable performance from England’s Kelly Sibley changed the complexion of the tie as the 165th world ranked player overcame world No.139 Alex Galic in four games (9-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-8) to force one final showdown.
Everything came down to the final fixture of the match and a courageous effort from Tin-Tin Ho to defeat Tamara Pavcnik (6-11, 11-2, 11-5, 12-10) sent the home fans into a rapturous applause as England edged to a three-two win over Slovenia.
There was a tasty battle in Vilnius as Lithuania and Serbia were involved in a group G thriller; Ruta Paskauskiene gave Lithuania the opening lead in the match and despite a win for Serbia’s Andrea Todorovic in the second fixture, it was the hosts who held the advantage heading into the second half of the encounter after Egle Stuckyte beat Aneta Makksuti of Serbia (11-7, 9-11, 14-12, 4-11, 11-7) in the third tie.
However, respective victories for Andrea Todorovic and Izabela Lupulesku over Lithuania’s Ruta Paskauskiene (11-7, 6-11, 8-11, 6-11) and Ugne Baskutyte (10-12, 11-7, 14-12, 11-6) saw Serbia triumph three-two over the hosts.
Elsewhere there were solid wins for the seven other away teams as The Netherlands, Belarus, Croatia, Spain, Wales, Slovakia and Sweden all picked up two group points.