10 Dec 2020

A stadium devoid of spectators but with abundant tension all the same, the atmosphere was electric in the splendid setting of the Sportpark Lissfeld in Linz. Berlin Eastside went on to secure the European Champions League Women’s title on the evening of Tuesday 8th December.

In the final they recorded a 3-2 success against Linz AG Froschberg, a “sudden death” deciding game won by Nina Mittelham determining the verdict.

by Ian Marshall

Outplayed by Sofia Polcanova in the second match of the fixture (11-5, 12-10, 11-4), a contest where rallies were short, Nina Mittelham emerged the heroine for Berlin Eastside. In the deciding match of the engagement, the decisive fifth game being the first player to six points and not required to be two points clear, Nina Mittelham defeated Margaryta Pesotska (4-11, 11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 6-4).

It was a contest where the 24-year-old had to her bring mind, body and soul together. The opening game against Pesotska was very much like her battle earlier against Polcanova. She could not find a rhythm to her play, with the power of her adversary – especially from the backhand – causing a host of problems.

Advised courtside by former Russian international Irina Palina, Mittelham increased the speed of her play, played in a more relaxed and fluent manner, giving her adversary minimal time to react. She secured the second and third games before perhaps trying to force the pace of the play too much, that saw Pesotska able to exert her top spin strokes with effect to level matters.

A real task for Margarita Pesotska (©_PHOTO_PLOHE)

With the contest in balance, in a decisive fifth game, Mittelham proved marginally the more consistent. Her quality proved to be vital, and made Irina Palina and team members courtside rejoice in her win.

The loss for Margaryta Pesotska was heartbreaking. Priorly, in the opening match of the evening, she had experienced defeat in the “sudden death” fifth game. Facing the traditional short pimpled pen-hold grip Asian style of Shan Xiaona, adept in the art of the high thrown service and fast opening attack, Pestoska established a two games lead, before a recovery was mounted (6-11, 9-11, 11-6, 14-12, 6-2) to give Berlin Eastside the ideal start.

In the fourth match of the engagement, after Britt Eerland had beaten Bernadette Szocs in straight games to put the Berliners within one match of victory, Shan was totally overwhelmed by a most astute Liu Jia (11-2, 11-4, 11-4). The now 38-year-old experienced only minimal problems as she returned service with the utmost efficiency, creating angles from the backhand that left her adversary flat-footed and executing forehand topspin strokes which brought error after error.

Shan Xiaona playing for Berlin Eastside (©_PHOTO_PLOHE)

“Our matches are always so close, today they were better. I cannot do anything else but to congratulate them. It was a great final, importantly it was great tournament. We could not watch the final points; we all were so much into this match. It is hard now when we lost but we enjoyed a good team spirit; we enjoyed the opportunity to play in the final.” Liu Jia

Alas for Linz AS Froschberg it was runners up spot in their fifth final. For Berlin Eastside it was the gold medal for fifth time, maintaining the record of winning every time they reach the final.

“It is unbelievable, it is even hard for us to believe what happened. It was a little surprise that Szocs played at the position number three, instead of Liu Jia. Also, it was surprise than Shan lost to Liu Jia so easily. Usually, a match between the two is much closer. Overall, the biggest surprise was Nina’s win in fifth match. We all know Pesotska is dangerous, especially in decisive moments. I told Nina to take a risk. She had nothing to lose. It was a remarkable win; her top spin is among the fastest in the world but on this occasion, it was very difficult to use it.” Irina Palina

Berlin Eastside remain the most successful outfit in the competition since the event changed from being the Europe Club Cup of Champions to the European Championships League for the season 2005-2006. However, if they are to be the greatest of all time, they have some distance to go.

Commencing in the season 1969-1970 and concluding in 2000-2001, the Hungarian club won the title on 25 occasions. One of their most valued members of their team was a certain Irina Palina.

Linz AG Froschberg (AUT) 2-3 TTC Berlin Eastside (GER)

Margarita Pesotska v Shan Xiaona 11-6, 11-9, 6-11, 12-14, 2-6

Sofia Polcanova v Nina Mittelham 11-5, 11-9, 11-4

Bernadette Szocs v Britt Eerland 6-11, 8-11, 8-11

Liu Jia v Shan Xiaona 11-2, 11-4, 11-4

Margarita Pesotska v Nina Mittelham 11-4, 6-11, 9-11, 11-8, 4-6

ETTU Champions League Europe ETTU