by Olalekan Okusan
Fourth seed Robert Gardos of Austria fell to intense pressure from Sweden’s Anton Kallberg to exit in the first round of the Men’s Singles. The Swedish star took a 2-0 (11-9, 11-3) lead, but the experienced Austrian fought back in a close game that ended in an 11-9 win in his favour to put the match at 2-1. The two players keenly contested the fourth match. When Kallberg led 10-7, Gardos held his nerves to level up at 10-10. The Swede prevented the tie from going to a fifth game by winning 14-12 to progress to the second round.
“I was nervous initially because we played doubles in the morning, and it did not go very well as we lost 3-0. I was quite aware that the match would be tough, and it turned out to be what I had expected. I am happy I could do it by keeping it close and not throwing away points in crucial moments,” said Kallberg.
Top seed Sofia Polcanova of Austria made her highly anticipated debut at the WTT Contender Series in Tunis with a convincing 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 11-5) win over Italy’s Giorgia Piccolin on table one.
“That was my first match in the WTT Contender Series. I have not played in the series before today. I like the hall. It is a new arena with four tables. I liked the way the match went. It was a good experience for me. My strategy is to take each match as it comes and do my best,” Polcanova said.
Fifth seed Sharath Kamal Achanta was stunned in the first round by Brazil’s Vitor Ishy, a last-minute replacement for the injured German, Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Achanta approached the match with high confidence after the first game ended 11-5 in his favour. But the tides turned as the Brazilian claimed the second game at 11-5. Achanta restored his lead with a close 11-9 win. But, again, Ishy fought back in the fourth game to win it 11-8. In the fifth match, the Brazilian prevailed at 12-10 to knock out the veteran Indian from the series.
Germany’s Kay Stumper showed that he has come of age in the first round of the Men’s Singles as the 19-year-old stunned sixth seed Yang Wang of Slovakia. Stumper took charge of the match from the start with a quick, two-game win 11-7 and 11-6. But the Slovak defensive player would not go down without a fight; he rallied back with successive wins of 11-9, 11-6. In the fifth game, Stumper led till 10-8, but his experienced opponent levelled to 10-10. Stumper then composed himself in the following crucial moments. This paid off as the game ended 12-10, thus adding Wang to the list of top seeds casualties in the first round.
“I won the first two sets easily. I then led every set like 5-2, 6-2 and still lost the sets. It was very tough in the last set as I was leading 6-2 and he rallied to 6-6. I was a bit lucky to retain my mental strength till the end in a closed situation. The win means a lot to me, and I know that I am at the level I should be. But it was a bit of a surprise to me that I could beat him. I am focusing on the next match by watching my next opponent,” Stumper said.
Portugal’s Marcos Freitas was among the top seeds who crashed out in the first round of the Men’s Singles. Qualifier Enzo Angles of France toppled the third-seed Freitas. Angles, who now must change his flight ticket after the crucial win against Freitas, showed his grit when it mattered as he trailed his opponent 2-1 after taking an 11-9 lead in the first game. But Angles ensured that all his shots were on targets to earn vital points. He followed through with combative strokes to triumph 11-7, 11-7 in the last two games and won 3-2.
A delighted Angles said: “I did not start fighting from the qualifying round. I have been fighting for a very long time. This is just what we see here. I don’t know what to say as I am so happy. Now I need to change my flight ticket because I had already planned to depart tomorrow morning. When the match was 2-2, I was not focusing on the score. I was focusing on the fact that at 1-1, I lost 11-0. I knew winning the next set would be hard. So, after 2-2, I won two games in a row to end at 3-2 by going active throughout the match.”
Germany’s Fanbo Meng, having fought his way from the first stage of the qualifying round on Wednesday, took down another top-ranked player in Bence Majoros of Hungary. The 235th-ranked German southpaw comported himself throughout despite losing the first set at 8-11. He took the following sets at 12-10, 11-5. The 61st-ranked Hungarian fought back in the fourth set at 11-9. In the deciding set, Meng was cautious yet tenacious to put the match beyond his opponent at 11-9. The German followed the victory with a cry of celebration.
Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu was on the brink of an early exit. Still, the World Championships silver medalist recorded one of the day’s significant recoveries to remain in the Men’s Singles draw. Croatia’s Frane Kojic handed Ionescu a two-game deficit, but the Romanian bounced back to win the following three sets and edged out the Croat 3-2 (8-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-7).
Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz marked her return to international competition after the Tokyo Olympic Games with a smooth 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 victory over France’s Leili Mustafavi.
Before WTT Contender Tunis started, a confident Diaz said: “It is a good feeling competing again after the Tokyo Olympic Games. I missed regular competition.
“The Olympic Games is a different tournament entirely, but now I feel more relaxed and not under any pressure to compete now,” said the world number 19.
Monaco’s Xiaoxin Yang had to fight back from 2-0 down to beat France’s Jia Nan Yuan 3-2 (8-11, 9-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9 in one of the last matches of Day One of the main draw.
Egypt’s Dina Meshref avenged the loss suffered by compatriot Marwa Alhodaby against Indian Selena Selvakumar in the qualifying round, with an emphatic win in the first round of the Women’s Singles. Meshref, the only surviving African in the Women’s Singles, wasted no time dismissing the Indian 11-8, 11-3, 11-4.
India started their campaigns in the Men’s Doubles on an encouraging note as
Sharath Kamal Achanta and Manav Vikash Thakkar maintained their composure to beat Austria’s David Serdaroglu and Alexander Chen 12-10, 5-11, 11-5, 11-5.
In an entertaining match on table three, another Indian pair, Harmeet Desai and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran beat number three seed Germany’s Kilian Ort and Tobias Hippler. Despite being stretched by the Germans, the Indians held their nerves to claim victory at 15-13, 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 12-10.
Number one seed Adam Szudi and Nandor Ecseki from Hungary showed their class against Puerto Rico’s Brian Afanador and Daniel Gonzalez after coming back from the brink of defeat to beat the Latin American pair 7-11, 11-6, 11-13, 15-13, 11-5.
The Puerto Ricans were one point away from upsetting the Hungarians in the fourth game, but spirited efforts by Szudi and Ecseki saw the Europeans through to the quarter-final. Another Hungarian pair, Bence Majoros and Patrik Juhasz, held sway to beat Finland’s Alex Naumi and Olah Benedek 11-9, 12-10, 6-11, 11-9.
Second seeds and Russian Federation’s duo of Maksim Grebnev and Lev Katsman were shown the exit in the first round of the Men’s Doubles by Czech Republic’s Jiri Martinko and Tomas Polansky. The Czechs made their intention known in the first game with an 11-6 win, but the Russians restored parity with an 11-9 triumph in the second game. Not intimidated by the status of their opponent, the Czechs dominated the last two games at 12-10, 11-4 to cause the biggest upset in the Men’s Doubles on Day One.
Belgium’s Florent Lambiet and Martin Allegro bossed the tie against Sweden’s Anton Kallberg and Truls Moregard with an emphatic 11-5, 11-4, 11-9 win. France’s Alexandre Cassin and Emmanuel Lebesson avoided a stern test by Italy’s qualifiers Jordy Piccolin and Daniele Pinto as the Frenchmen ran away with a 13-11, 11-4, 11-8 victory.
The Women’s Doubles was a close contest between Italy’s Giorgia Piccolin and Debora Vivarelli against number three seeds, Egypt’s Marwa Alhodaby and Mariam Alhodaby, in the Women’s Doubles. However, the European prevailed with a narrow 7-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-13, 11-9 win to qualify for the quarter-final. Sweden’s Karoline Mischek and Filippa Bergand beat Serbia’s Sabina Surjan and Tijana Jokic 11-5, 9-11, 11-8, 11-4.
Second seeds Swedish pair of Christina Kallberg and Linda Bergstrom endured a strong challenge from the German duo of Yuan Wan and Chantal Mantz in the first round of the Women’s Doubles. Their endurance paid off as they came back twice to overcome the Germans 10-12, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 11-7.
Top seeds Emmanuel Lebesson and Jia Nan Yuan were tested by Hungary’s Nandor Ecseki and Dora Madarasz, yet the French pair triumphed with a 12-10, 12-10, 8-11, 11-8 win.
Second seeds Indian Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra face a stern challenge from the Argentine duo of Horacio Cifuentes and Camila Arguelles after going down 9-11 in the first game. But the WTT Contender Budapest champions progressed after winning the next three games at 11-9, 11-8, 11-9.
Austria’s Robert Gardos and Sofia Polcanova also moved to the last eight after a convincing 11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7 win over Brazil’s Victor Ishiy and Bruna Takahashi.
Day two of the main draw promises to be exciting, with top-notch matches lined up in the Singles event of WTT Contender Tunis.
In the second round (round of 16) of the Men’s Singles, top seed Patrick Franziska of Germany will face Russian Federation’s Maksim Grebnev. At the same time, Senegal’s Ibrahima Diaw will take on India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
German teenager Kay Stumper will face experienced Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu, while another German, Fanbo Meng, takes on Sweden’s Anton Kallberg.
Qualifier Enzo Angles of France faces Germany’s Dang Qiu, while Brazil’s Victor Ishiy battles Croatia’s Filip Zeljko.
In the Women’s Singles, top seed Sofia Polcanova of Austria takes on Russia Federation’s Mariia Tailakova, while ITTF Europe Top 16 champion, Nina Mittelham, faces Hungary’s Dora Madarasz. Second seed Adriana Diaz of Puerto Rico will clash against Sweden’s Linda Bergstrom.
Quarter-final matches of the Men’s and Women’s Doubles and the Mixed Doubles take place on Thursday.
Number one seeds Hungary’s Nandor Ecseki, and Adam Szudi will continue their campaign on Thursday in the Men’s Doubles quarter-finals when they take on India’s Manav Vikash Thakkar and Sharath Kamal Achanta. The Indian duo of Harmeet Desai and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will face Hungary’s Patrik Juhasz and Bence Majoros.
France’s Emmanuel Lebesson and Alexandre Cassin will come up against Belgium’s Martin Allegro and Florent Lambiet. Belarus’ Aleksandr Khanin and Uladzislau Rukliatsou will tackle Czech Republic’s Tomas Polansky and Jiri Martinko.
In the Women’s Doubles, Czech Republic’s Barbora Balazova and Slovak’s Hana Matelova will play Sweden’s Filippa Bergand and Karoline Mischek, while Puerto Rico’s Diaz sisters – Melanie and Adriana – will be up against France’s Rachel Moret and Daria Trigolos.
France’s Marie Migot and Lucie Gauthier will take on Italy’s Giorgia Piccolin and Debora Vivarelli, while France’s Audrey Zarif and Leili Mostafavi face Sweden’s Linda Bergstrom and Christina Kallberg.
WTT Contender is the foundation of the WTT Series structure, offering a total prize purse of $75,000 and 400 ITTF World Ranking Points across Men’s and Women’s Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles competitions.
For event details of WTT Contender Tunis, click here.