by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor (Interviews by Olalekan Okusan)
Playing the crucial match, there could hardly have been a better choice than the 16 year old; no player on duty in the premises of the Grand West Casino and Entertainment World has played on a bigger stage than Laurens Devos.
Earlier this year at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, he won the Men’s Singles Class 9 title; just as in the South American city, in the South African metropolis, when Belgian progress rested on his shoulders, he was as cool as a cucumber.
“I just want to improve my game and gain some experience from playing top players in the competition”, Laurens Devos
One year ago making his debut in the World Junior Championships, he was a member of the Belgian outfit that finished in 13th place in the Boys’ Team event; a creditable outcome but it was later in the schedule, in the Boys’ Singles competition that he shone.
At the time the lowest ranked player in the group, he beat Jack Wang of the United States (11-6, 12-10, 4-11, 14-12, 14-16, 11-7) and Egypt’s Youssef Abdel-Aziz (10-12, 11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 11-6, 11-4) to secure his place in the main draw; a round where Russia’s Konstantin Chernov ended progress (11-5, 11-7, 11-9, 11-4).
“Playing my second World Junior Championship is a good experience; it provides me with another opportunity to play against the best and gain experience. I hope by competing here it will take my level higher than what it is at present”, Laurens Devos
It is for the teenager another opportunity but it is rather different scenario than the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In Rio de Janeiro, he was the no.2 seed in Men’s Singles Class 9, he was a favourite to gain a medal but with China’s Ma Lin on duty, the gold medallist four years earlier in London, securing the top step of the podium was daunting task.
However, Ma Lin experienced a surprise quarter-final defeat at the hands of Italy’s Mohamed Amine Kalem (6-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5); one round later the Italian lost to Gerben Last of the Netherlands (11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9).
“I started preparations two years ago with the aim of winning the gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Brazil; here in South Africa, I am not playing under any pressure, helping the team is my priority. We were bronze medallists at the European Youth Championships, so we want to maintain our status by doing well in this competition.”
The door had opened wide for Laurens Devos; the opportunity was seized; after having beaten Spain’s Juan Perez Gonzalez at the semi-final stage in three straight games (11-5, 11-8, 11-4), he did exactly the same in the final against Gerben Last (11-8, 11-7, 11-4).
Need a man for a crisis, need a man for a pressure, Belgium could hardly have a better choice.