03 Oct 2021

Day two at the Gazprom 2021 European Team Table Tennis Championships in Cluj-Napoca provided plenty of talking points as group stage matters continued to hot up on Wednesday 29th September.

by Simon Daish

One of the day’s tightest encounters in the Women’s Team event saw Hungary and Croatia take to the table in a pulsating Group E clash. Hungary enjoyed the perfect start as Dora Madarasz quickly dispatched Ivana Malobabic (11-9, 11-7, 11-8) before Georgina Pota made it 2-0 overall with her comeback win over Mateja Jeger (4-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6). Petra Petek and Jeger brought Croatia back into the contest soon after, beating Leila Imre (11-5, 11-4, 13-11) and Madarasz (11-9, 11-4, 11-7). However, the vastly experienced Pota delivered when she needed to the most, brushing aside Malobabic (7-11, 11-3, 11-7, 11-6) to guide the Hungarian team over the finish line.

“The match against Croatia was difficult. We knew that it would not be easy. Playing against pimples is was always challenging, especially for me and Dora. The last time I played against pimples was three years ago. Today everybody did a very good job despite the fact that we have a young team. I am very proud. It was a very good start for us, and I hope that we will win again tomorrow.” Georgina Pota

Romania is off the mark after condemning Belgium to its second 3-0 defeat in Group B. Getting the ball rolling for the host nation, Bernadette Szocs recovered from a slow start to beat Nathalie Marchetti (8-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-8) before Elizabeta Samara doubled the defending champion’s advantage with victory over Margo Degraef (11-7, 11-2, 10-12, 11-7). Daniela Monteiro Dodean then stepped forward to finish the job, coming out on top against Sara Devos (11-5, 11-5, 11-3).

“This is an excellent start for the Romanian team. It is not always easy to play at home, and we felt a little more pressure than usual as the first matches are always hard. We are not used to playing matches at home, but I believe that our team will continue to play better and better. Playing with spectators is something “new” for us as we have played many home matches without spectators in the last year due to the Covid pandemic. It is such a good feeling to have our supporters here. We have prepared very hard for this Championships, and we are ready for the big fights to come because as the Championships progresses, it will get even tougher.” Bernadette Szocs

Another significant challenger in the title race, Germany showcased its firepower for all to see with a commanding 3-0 win against Group B opponents Slovakia. Over in Group C, Austria proved just as convincing, accounting for Serbia by the same margin. Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and the Netherlands also prevailed in Groups D, E, F, G, and H.

Beaten by their Serbian counterparts twice on the road to Cluj-Napoca, England secured revenge in its first Group C outing in the Men’s Team event. Liam Pitchford led the line for the English outfit, outclassing Marko Jevtovic (11-6, 11-2, 7-11, 11-9) and Zsolt Peto (11-9, 12-10, 11-5) in the opening and closing fixtures of the match. However, Sam Walker arguably proved the decisive factor as he demonstrated nerves of steel, saving three match points to defeat Jevtovic 3-2 (5-11, 11-7, 11-7, 4-11, 12-10).

Sam Walker celebrates crucial win as England claims revenge (Photo: Rémy Gros)

“It was a really tough match for me and my team, so it was amazing to get through it. I feel relieved! It has been a while since I played in an event like this. It has been really tough; sometimes, I don’t manage the pressure well, which I have been working on. Obviously, today I managed to handle that quite well, as I saved three match points.” Sam Walker

Croatia survived a stern test to overcome Group G rivals Italy in a match that went right down to the wire. Andrej Gacina proved critical to the Croatian team’s success after he managed to beat Marco Rech Daldosso (11-7, 13-11, 11-5) and Niagol Stoyanov (6-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-8) to complete a commendable brace. Italy also registered two wins following strong outings from Stoyanov and Leonardo Mutti, but Tomislav Pucar’s straight games success against Rech Daldosso (11-7, 11-6, 11-9) saw Croatia clinch victory in the deciding match.

“I played quite bad in the first match against Niagol, but I managed to play better against Marco. Serving and receiving was the most important thing when playing against him. In the opening points, he was very good, but I managed to win the short points. Our next duel against the Czech Republic is very important for us. We will have a direct clash for a place in the quarter-final.” Tomislav Pucar.

Joining Croatia at the summit of Group G, the Czech Republic made it two wins from two following a 3-1 win against Hungary. The other teams to emerge triumphant on day two were Germany, Sweden, Austria, Portugal, France, Slovenia and Romania.

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