India’s Harmeet Desai outsmarted World No 19 Panagiotis Gionis of the Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas — providing a cracking start for the DHFL Maharashtra United team on the third day of the Ultimate Table Tennis League.
Gionis is a one of the modern-day players who effectively combine defence with attack — he goes away from the table to chop the ball with his long-pimpled rubber on the backhand side and comes in to play aggressive topspin with his forehand. It was going to be an uphill task for Desai but it was clear from the initial points that Indian was prepared for it.
From the start, he intelligently used the clever strategy of making Gionis retrieve the ball away from the table and then dropping the ball short so that he had to come in quickly to play the next ball. Whenever he got a loose ball, Desai used his powerful forehand strokes to finish off the point often using a deceptive action and also playing a lot of his attacking strokes at the body of Gionis.
This made it very tough for Gionis as he was unable to maintain the quality of his strokes. These tactics helped Desai comfortably win the first game 11-6. In the second game, Gionis started off a bit more aggressively, trying to attack more from his forehand side. He was also able impart a lot of spin on his chops from the long-pimpled rubber. Desai reacted by using consecutive drop shots in rallies to keep his opponent guessing when the attack was going to be unleashed.
Gionis probably could have used more of his backhand to cover the forehand side, as he was unable to generate much spin or power in his forehand strokes against Desai’s combination of attack and drop shots. In the end Desai won the match 3-0 to gain a vital early lead for the Maharashtra United.
Wong Chun Ting from Hong Kong, was the other star performer for Maharashtra United as he won both his men’s singles matches. In his 1st match he overcame strong resistance from India’s Jubin Kumar. Wong — the highest ranked men’s player at UTT with a ranking of 8 – was easily the favorite in this tie but Jubin surprised him with his early play and backhand winners. Jubin won the second game to level the tie 1-1 but Wong ultimately proved too strong as he clinched the third game comfortably.
Wong’s second match was against the formidable Nigerian Aruna Quadri. Earlier, partnering with Manika Batra of India, Quadri had demolished United’s pair of Monteiro and Pooja with some amazing forehand display. He seemed to carry that form into his match against Wong as he started off with a bang hitting a couple of very powerful forehand topspin winners.
This was easily the most entertaining match of the day with fast-paced rallies and powerful strokes from both the players with attacking intentions. Each player was trying his utmost to push the other player away from the table so that they could use their powerful strokes and create wider angles. Wong especially used the strategy of playing the ball on the forehand side of Quadri and then counter-attacking or strongly blocking the next ball to get the upper edge in the rally.
Quadri was not able to create as much power on his forehand topspins from the forehand side of the table as compared to his pivot forehand stroke from the backhand side and Wong took full advantage of that whenever possible. Both players also used the shovel serve to great effect varying the spins so as to get a high ball, which can be attacked upon. It needs to be said here that at this level keeping the receives as low as possible is very important, especially in the men’s game, as the players are adept at exploiting any kind of height to the ball to their advantage.
Wong, though trailing in points in the first two games, came back strongly to go 2-0 and taking the game score of the tie to 10-13. If Wong would have won the last game, United would have clinched the tie making the last match redundant, but Quadri kept it alive by winning the last game on Golden Point.
Fu Yu ensured that there were no surprises as she saw off Polina Mikhailova of the Yoddhas by a score of 2-1 and win the tie 15-12 for the DHFL Maharashtra United.
In other matches, Batra, India’s highest-ranked female player in the world, fought very well for the Yoddhas against Liu Jia of Australia and could have even won the match had she been able to convert a strong 6-1 lead in the first game. For the Yoddhas it was their female foreign player, Doo Hoi Kem, who won both her matches against Liu Jia and Krittwika Sinha Roy 2-1 and 3-0 respectively.
Going forward, the mixed doubles is definitely a key area of concern for the Maharashtra United and they need to either improve upon the understanding of Pooja and Monteiro or even look at changing the pair. Pooja especially has been a fabulous doubles player and there is no doubt that she will perform well in the forthcoming matches. As for the Yoddhas the form of Gionis will be a cause for concern as he was not able to get on the scoreboard against either Desai or Monteiro losing out in straight sets.