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Table Tennis wrap: Table tennis taps into future

19 August 2016

TABLE TENNIS: Australia’s table tennis section may not have converted many matches into wins, but still they are pleased with their performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Coming in with the “minimum goal” not to lose any matches against any lower ranked players, the draw of entirely higher ranked opponents meant a very tough tournament for the Aussies.

Women’s singles player – Australia’s highest ranked player and five-time Olympian – Jian Fang Lay was the standout performer of the group.

Lay made it through to the third round of competition, equalling Australia’s best ever Olympic table tennis result achieved by William Henzel in London in 2012.

She eventually succumbed to Mengyu Yu of Singapore 0-4 (9-11, 9-11, 6-11, 10-12).

Coach Jens Lang said it was a difficult campaign for the six-strong team, but one they would learn and grow from.

“Overall, if we look back, we probably exceeded our expectations slightly,” he said.

“There were some pleasing performances that certainly give us hope moving forward.”

One of those he identified was the opening match for the team from Melissa Tapper who met Brazilian star Caroline Kumahara.

Kumahara had the crowd and 200-plus ranking points on her side, but still Tapper put up a fight.

“Even though Melissa probably didn’t reach her full potential she was very competitive and only lost 2-4 so that’s an outcome that gives hope for the future,” he said.

“The same for Chris Yan who played Aleksander Karakesevic (Serbia), a top 100 player who was also a top 20 player in the late 90s, early 2000s.

“Chris lost 2-4 and was competitive throughout the whole match, so that’s certainly a good indication moving forward.”

One thing about playing against such highly ranked players is the opportunity to experience their style and tactics first hand.

From strong, consistent play and ball placement to fast-paced and aggressive games, Lang said the time in Rio was vital for inspiring Australian players to try new techniques and game plans.

“I think it was a valuable learning experience to experience firsthand how the best players in the world, such as China, Korea and Japan, how they prepare for their matches, how big their attention to detail is, but also on the table during the competition how consistent they are,” he said.

“It’s about how much quality they put on the ball with every ball contact. One of the learnings is that the difference is probably not so much in that they hit the ball harder, but that the first two ball contacts in each rally, the service and return, is of a different standard.”

Singles players Tapper, Dave Powell and Yan as well as the men’s team (Powell, Yan and Heming Hu) and women’s team (Tapper, Lay and Sally Zhang) were all eliminated first round.

However all but Lay are Olympic debutants; a fact that many will be aiming to amend come Tokyo 2020.

“They’ve put themselves in the best position because they qualified for these Olympic Games,” he said.

“If they stick to their training plan, if they keep working hard toward their goals they are certainly our biggest prospects to qualify for the next Olympics.”

One team member has the opportunity to bring home a gold, silver or bronze medal before Tokyo 2020.

In September Tapper will fulfil the prophecy of becoming Australia’s first athlete to compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tapper, who was born with Erbs Palsy – nerve damage limiting movement in her arm – just missed out on the podium in London 2012, finishing fourth. She will have a medal in her sites for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Lang said she’s in a good position to achieve that dream.

“She’s prepared really well and has a good support network around her. I think she’s a great medal chance,” he said.

Candice Keller

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