by Dominique Plattner, ITTF High Performance Manager
She partnered German colleague, Patrick Franziska, the duo becoming the first European pair to gain a mixed doubles medal at a World Championships since 1995 in Tianjin when Sweden’s Erik Lindh and Marie Svensson secured the same colour.
Moreover, in Budapest the success was very much contrary to expectations
- Round One: beat Denis Ivonin / Yana Noskova (Russia) 11-7, 14-12, 11-8, 11-7
- Round Two: beat Samuel Kaluzny / Tatiana Kukulkova (Slovakia) 11-7, 11-2, 11-4, 11-6
- Round Three: beat Lin Yun-Ju / Cheng I-Ching (Chinese Taipei) 11-9, 11-7, 5-11, 11-7, 11-8
- Quarter-Finals: beat Masataka Morizono / Mima Ito (Japan) 13-11, 11-8, 3-11, 11-13, 15-13, 11-8
- Semi-Finals: lost to Maharu Yoshimura / Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan) 11-9, 11-6, 11-6, 5-11, 11-6
Few problems were experienced en route to the third round; straight games wins being the order of play against Russia’s Denis Ivonin and Yana Noskova as well as in opposition to Slovakia’s Samuel Kaluzny and Tatiana Kukulkova.
One day break
A one day break, in round three they faced Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching. Supremely talented Lin Yun-Ju is highly regarded for his qualities as a doubles’ player. Playing over the table he is one of the very best, noted in particular for “banana” return; that method of returning service is why in doubles, long services have become more common. Equally, his early timing is a factor, Lin Yun-Ju gives adversaries minimal time to respond.
The win in opposition to the no.6 seeds was a major boost; now the no.4 seeds, Japan’s Masataka Morizono awaited; for sure the Germans had in their subconscious, the thought a medal was just a step away. In a contest that lasted one hour 14 minutes they caused a major upset.
It was an engagement that had everything, a rollercoaster regarding the mental aspect, great rallies, high quality placements, amazing combinations, tremendous individual strokes. On the one hand the Japanese, especially Ito, played at high-speed, on the other the Germans, maybe not the fastest mixed doubles pair on planet earth, played with great accuracy. The placement achieved by Solja combined with the power of Franziska was a winning formula.
Japanese duo makes better start
Masataka Morizono and Mima Ito made by far the better start, Morizono, as always was very lively; they went ahead 6-1; the Germans had no solutions. However, from that moment onwards Franziska and Solja returned service effectively, trying to build long rallies. Solja’s task was to control the speed of their opponents and perform accurate placements. Franziska had to cover the whole table and work for the winning stroke, teamwork par excellence.
Also, the German pairing had to react to the high quality play of the Japanese duo. Mima Ito, returning with the backhand, the side in which she uses pimpled rubber, made life very difficult for the Germans. Furthermore, they had to be prepared for Morizono’s “banana”; they had to respond to two very different surfaces. In order to combat the “banana” return from Morizono, the float serve with minimal backspin was employed.
Fighting for every point the Germans recovered to lead 12-11, Petrissa Solja executed a deep aggressive backspin stroke. Franziska knew that the chance of a powerful and fast stroke will be very small, therefore he stood close to the table, with the racket ready, a winning block the ball down the line; first game to Germany.
In the second game Solja directed her play to Ito’s backhand; thus it increased the possibility of the returns being directed to the backhand of Franziska. He was able to create angles from what is his major strength; from that side of the racket he is both powerful and accurate.
Winning the rallies as quickly as possible was the German tactic; also when directing play towards Ito they keep ringing the changes. Morizono made every effort to cover two-thirds of the table with his forehand but the German duo gained the ascendancy; a two games to nil lead was established.
Trailing, the Japanese duo responded, accurate placement Masataka Morizono and Mima Ito secured the third game in the blink of an eyelid as the Germans made errors.
Back in the match
Morizono and Ito were now back in the match, evident at the start of the fourth game. Ito had problems, she struggled with her backhand flick as a return. She didn’t find her timing. The German’s tactic towards Ito was to play deep; towards Morizono, Franziska played wide to the forehand. Gradually, the Germans flicked more backhand returns towards the backhands of the Japanese duo.
Increasingly Morizono and Ito exerted pressure on the German pairing. Franziska was forced to play at half-distance. Later he was able to play closer to the table. However, the Germans were clever, they played short, Morizono and Ito expected flicked returns, it upset their rhythm.
Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja established a three games to two lead. At 6-all in the sixth Franziska tried to step around his backhand to execute a forehand, he missed the ball, something was wrong. He had a big problem.
He could not put weight on his foot; he was in pain. A medical “time out” followed; now more than ever, the ploy was to win the points quickly. Somehow the Germans responded; an amazing backhand from Franziska ended matters.
Question time for Patrick Franziska
In the mixed doubles you won the bronze medal with Petrissa Solja. It was an intense match of high-quality. How do you reflect on what you achieved? What did you expect before the tournament?
Before the tournament I joked a bit with Peti. I told her that we will be the first Europeans to win after a very long time. We knew that we were in a good shape and we felt comfortable having played already together so often. When we entered the round of the last 16, we had a lot of self-confidence.
What was your main tactic? What did you have to adapt within the match?
Our tactic was to keep the rallies as deep as possible. We know that we are not the fastest mixed doubles in the world, our biggest strength is our ability to place returns accurately. We had to serve without spin to avoid the unpleasant situation when Morizono performs his “banana” flick. He has very high quality flicks. Furthermore we had to make Ito think, change the speed and vary the play; that was also crucial. We wanted to challenge them in the rallies.
What are your thoughts regarding the match-deciding situations?
After a great start by Morizono and Ito, we were able to win the first game with a very active attitude, some nice rallies and a good overview of the situation.
What were the crucial moments for you?
To win the first game was extremely important for us. We were nervous at the beginning, felt a lot of pressure. At 3-2 and 6-6 I slightly damaged my toe. Afterwards we said to ourselves, now we have to risk more. In such moments it is very difficult to follow a tactic. In this moment I started to be in a flow.
What about your feelings? How were you able to stay calm, focused and confident, after you lost the fourth game?
The fourth game annoyed us. There were a lot of strange rallies but because of the high quality of the entire match we were able to stay positive. We kept pushing each other; that was important!