Friday, September 12: We wake to the sound of the grass being mown outside. After more rain in the night the complex is shrouded in mist and it is very still and quiet as we head over to the sports hall for the start of the day’s competition.
Our first match is Kim and Aaron against Japan. This is a must win match for the boys if they are to keep their hopes of going through from the group alive and Aaron starts well against the class 9 Koyo Iwabuchi to take a 2-0 lead. The Japanese number two comes back to take the next two sets and then goes 4-1 up in the third. Matt calls time out and it seems to work as Aaron starts to inch his way back into the set.
There is a great buzz in the hall – the Polish horns are blowing and Spain are taking on Indonesia on the table next to our match accompanied by cries of “Vamos!” from the Spanish.
At 6-9 Aaron is two points from defeat but he responds brilliantly and a good serves takes him to 8-9. Time out for Japan but it works in Aaron’s favour as he takes the next two points and has match point at 10-9. His attempted winner just misses the table and there is a shout and a fist pump from Iwabuchi but his joy is short-lived as he then mishits the ball high into the air and Aaron has another match point.
Aaron goes long: 11-11. Iwabuchi misses his return: 12-11 and match point number three which is saved by Iwabuchi when he catches the edge of the table: 12-12. Iwabuchi nets: 13-12 and match point number four which is saved by Iwabuchi but a great forehand from Aaron gives him 14-13 and match point number five. He goes long with his forehand but a missed return from Iwabuchi gives him match point number six: 15-14. Aaron goes long again but a great serve gives him 16-15 and match point number seven.
We can hardly bear to watch now – it is so true that the last point is always the hardest to win and as each match point goes by the tension builds.
Aaron goes long again – 16-16. Aaron wins a great rally when Iwabuchi nets and sets up match point number eight. Come on Aaron! YES! Aaron blocks his return and Iwabuchi goes long and Aaron has the set 18-16 and the match 3-2. A great win for him and the perfect start for GB.
Only the first match of the day and already our nerves are in tatters. Thankfully Kim always looks in control against Nariaki Kakita and beats the Japanese number one 3-0. In the doubles the boys take the first two sets 8 and 8 and although Japan briefly threaten at the start of the third a great shot by Kim gives them the lead at 5-4 and they pull away to take the set 11-7, the match 3-0 and the tie 3-0.
It’s a great result but on the table in the far corner of the hall Poland are playing Ukraine and to everyone’s surprise the class 8 world champion Didukh is 2-1 up against the class 10 world champion Patryk Chojnowski who has not lost a match since 2011. We watch as Didukh completes a famous victory and Ukraine go on to beat Poland 3-2. It is not a good result for Aaron and Kim who will play Ukraine this afternoon – even if they beat Ukraine progression from the group will depend on count-back now.
At 12.00 we have two matches to follow as Will and Paul take on Spain and Sara and Jane do battle with Croatia. Paul starts for GB against the class 6 world number one Alvaro Valera and makes a great start by taking the first set 11-8 but Jane is slower out of the blocks and is 1-0 down to world number four Andela Muzinic.
Valera is a great player and he comes back to take the second 11-7; meanwhile Jane is also fighting back and wins the second set against Muzinic 12-10. Paul leads 7-3 in the third but is pegged back by Valera who takes the set 11-9 when Paul’s shot finds the net and the Spaniard goes on to take the fourth set 11-3 and the match 3-1. First blood to Spain.
Meanwhile Jane has had a point to take the third at 10-9 but has lost the set 11-13 and she goes on to lose the fourth and the match 3-1 and Croatia take an early advantage.
Will looks sharp today and after taking a close first set against Morales 11-9 takes the next two 3 and 7 to level the tie for GB.
Sara loses the first set against Helena Dretar 8-11 but shouts in celebration when she takes the second 11-9. The third goes the way of the Croatian 11-7 but Sara is in determined mood and takes control of the fourth set to win it 11-6. All square and all to play for. The fifth is close and Sara has a match point at 10-9 but Dretar saves it with a great shot and goes on to take the set 12-10 and the match 3-2. The girls are 2-0 down and will need another great comeback to save this one.
Will and Paul are now involved in a tense battle with Valera and Morales. Paul fires a shot down the middle of the table to clinch the first set for GB 11-9 but a great shot from Morales wins the second set for Spain 12-10. Our boys combine really well in the third and win it 11-5 raising our hopes but luck deserts them in the fourth as at 9-9 Valera’s return hits the top of the net and just drops over giving Spain a set point which they take to level the match at 2-2.
So we have another fifth set decider and it is level-pegging all the way to 7-7 when the Spanish duo moves to 10-8 giving them two match points. Morales goes long on the first but on the second a shot from Valera once again clips the net and drops over and the Spanish take the match 3-2 and lead the tie 2-1.
Jane and Sara are one set down in their doubles but have a point to win the second and take it 11-9.
Will against Valera – class 7 world champion against class 6 world champion. Will starts well and takes the first 11-8 but the second is much closer and a shout from Will shows his relief at winning the second 12-10. There is a great rally in the third during which at one point Will has his back to the table but he recovers to win it and goes on to take the set 11-9 and the match 3-0.
The girls are fighting hard and having lost the third set 9-11 have come back to win the fourth 11-7 so we have yet another fifth set. This one is close and there is never more than a couple of points in it but Jane and Sara show their character by clinching it 11-9 and they are still in with a chance of winning the tie.
At this point one of the Japanese coaches takes up a position in the middle of our group on the seating to film the match between Japan and Hong Kong and we are treated to what we presume to be a running commentary of the match (our Japanese is not up to speed) which is only mildly irritating.
As so often in Will and Paul’s matches against Spain it is down to the final singles and Morales makes the best start taking the first set 11-3. Paul isn’t giving up and is unlucky at 9-9 when Morales gets an edge but anything on the table counts and Morales goes on to take the set 11-9. The third set starts well for Spain but Paul recovers to level at 6-6. At 6-8 at the end of a great rally another shot from Morales hits the side edge of the table and we can only feel sympathy for Paul as he goes on to lose the set 11-6 and the match.
It’s been a great battle and the boys now have to pick themselves up for this afternoon’s match against the Czech Republic which they must win now to progress from the group.
Sara is keeping our hopes alive by taking the first set against Muzinic but loses a close second 9-11. She takes a 6-2 lead in the third but Muzinic comes back and edges it 11-8 and the world number four then increases the pressure on Sara in the fourth to take the set 11-6 and the match 3-1 and win the tie for Croatia.
It is a massive disappointment for the girls who must come back this afternoon against France but their chance of a medal has gone.
An hour later we are back for the vital match in the men’s class 9-10 event between GB and Ukraine. Aaron starts against Yurty Shchepanskyy and after his heroics this morning he starts well taking a 7-3 lead but the Ukrainian comes back strongly to take the set 11-9. Aaron is up again in the second and fights hard but Shchepanskyy edges it 12-10 and then runs away with the third 11-1 to win the first match for Ukraine.
After beating Chojnowski this morning Didukh has a look of supreme confidence and takes the first set against Kim 11-4. At 2-5 down in the second Matt calls a time out but when Kim loses the next two points it is looking ominous. But Kim wins the next point and the next and suddenly he is playing well and putting Didukh under pressure and at 10-7 he has three set points. Didukh saves the first but Kim takes the set 11-8.
The third is neck and neck all the way and Kim is winning some great rallies. He reaches 10-9 and only needs one point to take the set and a 2-1 lead. Didukh was a good able bodied player before losing his leg to cancer and he uses all his skill to run away with the fourth set 11-2 and take a 4-2 lead in the fifth. But Kim levels and then takes the lead at 8-7 with a fantastic rally, turning superb defence into a blistering attack to which Didukh has no answer. Two points later Didukh goes long to give Kim two match points and he only needs one when the Ukrainian under pressure finds the net.
It’s a great win for Kim and he has really come of age in this tournament. The greater experience of the Ukraine pair wins the doubles but Kim plays another great match to beat Shchepanskyy 3-1 and level the tie again. Having lost to Kim Didukh is in no mood to lose again and he doesn’t give Aaron much chance in a 3-0 win. So the boys are out but they can be really proud of their performance this week.
Will and Paul have already started their crucial match against the Czech Republic and Paul is 1-0 down to Daniel Horut. He loses a close second 9-11 but comes back to win the third 11-7 and the fourth 12-10 before Horut takes the deciding fifth 11-4. Paul looks disappointed but he’s playing well and that will be important in the doubles.
Sara and Jane have also started their final match against France. They are playing for pride as they cannot progress to the semi-finals but we know they will try their hardest to finish with a win and Jane gives them a great start with a 3-0 win over Isabelle Lafaye.
Will is now playing the Czech number two Zbynek Lambert and looks comfortable in winning the first set 11-4. But Lambert is not to be taken lightly and wins the second 9-11. Surely this is not going to be another five set thriller? Thankfully not as Will asserts himself to win the next two sets 4 and 4 and we’re set for the doubles which we know will probably decide the tie.
The first set goes our way 11-7 but in the second it all goes horribly wrong and the Czech pair breeze through it for the loss of only one point. Time for our boys to bounce back but at 7-10 they face being 2-1 down. At 9-10 the Czech coach calls a time out but Will wins the next point for GB after a great rally and it’s 10-10 then 11-10 and we now have a set point which the boys win and there’s a loud “Cho!” from Will as he pumps his fist in celebration.
But the Czech pair are not giving up and they come back to win the fourth and we’re into a deciding fifth again. This is too close for comfort and although we have faith in the boys we know that anything can happen in table tennis. They make a good start and are quickly 6-1 up but at 7-3 Gorazd calls a time out to keep them on track. It works and at 10-5 they have five match points but they only need one as Paul hits a great forehand out of reach of the Czech pair and with a shout he hugs Will and we all realise how much it means to both of them.
The tie still needs to be won though and Horut is no pushover but Will is really on his game now and he wins in three sets 3, 8 and 9 to seal the tie for GB and ensure that he and Paul will take home a medal from the team event.
We’ve had one eye on the table next door as Spain are playing Egypt and there is drama when Rekik Eid takes a heavy fall and is on the ground for some time but he eventually gets to his feet and goes on to beat Alberto Seoane to give Egypt a 2-0 lead. Although Spain win the doubles Egypt win the tie 3-1 but it makes no difference to the group and Spain will go through as winners and Will and Paul will go through as runners up so will have to face Ukraine in the semi-final tomorrow.
Meanwhile Sara has beaten Florence Gossiaux-Sireau 3-1 and she and Jane now complete a 3-0 win over France with a 3-0 win in the doubles. It has been a disappointing team event for the girls who will not take a medal at a major championship for the first time since 2009 but they are pleased to finish with a win and will be back.
So we have another medal but will it be gold, silver or bronze? Will and Paul are prepared for a tough battle against the Ukraine combination of Nikolenko and Popov and as Will says as he heads back to the hotel for dinner and hopefully a good night’s sleep: “I’m not scared to play them and I know Paul’s not scared so we’re looking forward to it.”