European Championships | 14 Sep 2023
Knockout Matches Ignited the Malmö Arena
After a day's break at the 2023 STUPA European Table Tennis Championships in Malmö, the fights resumed with the Round of 16 matches. The knockout stage ignited the Arena, with close encounters from the morning session.
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Sweden – Austria 3-0
After a superb performance and to the delight of supporters at the Malmo Arena, Sweden overcame Austria to book a place in the quarterfinals. Truls MOREGAARD beat Andreas LEVENKO; Kristian KARLSSON prevailed against Robert GARDOS, and Mattias FALCK accounted for Maciej KOLODZIEJCZYK.
“It's always tough at this stage, but we are at a high level in our game; we are a strong team with good players. So it's nice to show this on the court. We are getting home a bit earlier this evening, but we have reached a good level and made it hard for them,” said FALCK.
How does it feel playing “at home”?
“Just a whole lot of fun, with the cheering crowd; it's extra fun to play at home. Wonderful feeling to step onto the court.”
MATTIAS beat GARDOS with 11-9 in each of the three games.
“3-0 against Gardos is more than I could expect. We had lots of tough matches in the French league last season, and it was 3-2 for me most of the time. So, a bit easier than anticipated today perhaps. So, a bit extra pleased today; winning like this is rewarding. We feel really strong,” said Kristian.
Next adversary is Hungary.
“They are players with the highest capacity, which we must be prepared to meet. Majoros BENCE can play very well, SZUDI is most often a stable player, two key players I guess. But we try to look at them, LAKATOS and ECSEKI, well, they are all very good, so good players meeting our good players, and we will make sure we come out winning.”
MÖREGÅRDH said: “I anticipated it to be a tough match, but it turned out quite differently looking at the games. But Kristians match was very close - 9-9-9; it's such small margins and can turn so fast. He's a really good player Gardos, so Kristian does it really well.”
How does it feel playing “at home”?
“Really fun, of course; I have my complete family here, a lot of friends, living 25 minutes from here. Everyone is close to the venue. So it's busy after game time, and it's just great and super that everyone can enjoy first-class table tennis. I know a lot of people have been looking forward to this event!”
Denmark – Romania 3-0
Malmö was filled with applause and cheers for Denmark as Jonathan GROTH, Anders LIND, and Tobias RASMUSSEN received overwhelming support from their numerous fans. The enthusiastic cheers were rewarded with a convincing victory over Romania's Eduard IONESCU, Ovidiu IONESCU, and Teodor ISTRATE in straight matches.
Linus MERNSTEN expressed his astonishment, saying, "Before the draw, I said we could have anyone except Romania. So, beating Romania 3-0 without losing a single game, it's unbelievable. Now we're going to enjoy this and then start preparing for the quarterfinals."
Anders LIND shared how his life transformed after a car accident: "Something changed in my mentality. Before, I was very unfocused, but now I have grown and you can say I have become an adult. In the last 15 months, I have practiced with much quality, and all my focus is on my table tennis. I also want to say that I have the best coach in the world."
Germany – Ukraine 3-0
Germany's men's team advanced to the quarter-finals of the European Championships in Sweden with a 3-0 victory over Ukraine. They will face Croatia tomorow in the match for the medal.
The defending champion, did not leave any room for error in all three matches against the 18th-ranked team in Europe. Benedikt DUDA once again defeated the opposing top player, this time the 57th-ranked player in the world, Yaroslav ZHMUDENKO, who has been a permanent training partner for Team Germany at the German Table Tennis Center in Düsseldorf since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Timo BOLL, who has been gaining momentum in the Malmö Arena, had no major issues in his 3-0 victory against the 38-year-old Yevhen PRYSHCHEPA. Ricardo WALTHER wrapped up the match with confidence, except for a lapse in concentration after a big lead in the final set, against the Ukrainian youngster, 22-year-old Anton LIMONOV.
DUDA commented, "The Ukrainians put up a good fight against us. We had to stretch ourselves a bit. Overall, it was a solid performance from us."
Duda's outlook for Friday is as follows: "I see us as favorites against the Croatians, but they have three equally strong players who can beat anyone on a good day."
This sentiment is shared by former world number one and World Cup champion BOLL: "They feel like the toughest opponent we have faced so far. Against the Croatians, we all need to perform at our best. They have been achieving good results recently. I have great respect for them. They will be fired up against us. However, we played well against Ukraine and are hopefully prepared."
Czechia – Portugal 0-3
Czechia failed to produce the game that would create pressure on Portugal, who moved to the quarterfinals without much trouble.
Tiago APOLONIA halted Czechia's Lubomir JANCARIK and set the tone for the match.
“I lost against JANCARIK a few months ago, so I prepared well for today's duel. I knew that I had to be at the top of my game to win. I moved well, and I was active – for sure I studied the game I lost last time. Now I am happy with my performance and the win that gave my team confidence for the proceedings. Beating the first player in the match is always a good advantage that you can give to your team,” said APOLONIA.
Marcos FREITAS followed suit and also recorded a straight games victory.
“It was a very tough adversary, so I am very satisfied with the win. We played recently against each other at the Feeder in Havirov, and it was very close - 3-2. That is why I was prepared for a tough encounter. However, this time I played better. I was better on service and receive. When I won the opening game, I was in control,” said FREITAS. “We await the outcome of the duel between Denmark and Romania. We will watch that match, have some rest, and prepare for the duel. In any case, it is going to be a hard one tomorrow.”
Joao GERALDO secured the third point in the duel against Tomas POLANSKY.
“I was in control from the beginning, but from the third game, POLANSKY started to play a little bit more relaxed. He had a few very good points. He managed to return to the game, and it was 50-50. It is good that I regained control and prevented him from making a full recovery,” said GERALDO.
Slovenia – France 2-3
For the second time in a row, Felix LEBRUN beat Darko JORGIC to help France secure its place in the round of eight. Slovenia lost in a dramatic five-match duel, whilest the French team will face Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Felix, who just turned 17 two days ago, opened the match with a 3-2 win over JORGIC and closed the match with a win over Peter HRIBAR.
"The coach told me that I would play in position number two, so I expected to play against Darko in the first match. I felt amazing after winning the match, although I was a bit nervous before it. However, I wanted to focus on my skills. My service worked really well, putting pressure on him from the beginning, which helped me to relax. We knew what Darko is capable of, so it's not a surprise that he could win against one of us. We were prepared for that, and I was ready to play the last match," said Felix and continued, "My morning went great, my preparation went well, and I watched my previous match against Darko. But today, things were different, so I had to adapt during the match. I wasn't receiving well today, which made the match harder. But every match is different, so I took it in stride."
Alexis LEBRUN prevailed against Peter HRIBAR and lost the fourth match against JORGIC. So far he never beat Slovenian player.
"We knew they were very dangerous with Darko and KOZUL, who plays very well too. KOZUL was particularly dangerous in position three. 'Féfé' led us perfectly with his win over Darko. It relieved some of the stress from our shoulders. When we were tied at 2-2, we had confidence in Felix to secure the last point,” said Alexis.
One big name is missing in Team France – Simon GAUZY became a father of a baby girl.
“Simon just became a father for the second time, and we are very happy for him. We will try to have a great tournament!"
Slovakia – Croatia 1-3
After a drought that lasted for the past two editions of the Teams European Championships when Croatia failed to reach the knockout stage, the boys will play for the medal tomorrow. Led by the inspired Tomislav PUCAR, Croatia beat Slovakia.
The win could have been even safer if Frane KOJIC had seized the opportunity to overcome Lubomir PISTEJ after a 2-0 lead. PISTEJ recovered to win and give Slovakia the lead.
Tomislav PUCAR was next in line. He overcame WANG Yang.
“We changed the lineup because Frane plays well against players with a defensive style. GACINA had a recent defeat against WANG, so we were looking for other options,” said PUCAR. “On the other side, I already had two wins out of two matches. One I won easily, and the other one I faced 6 match balls against me, but I managed to beat him.”
GACINA overcame Jakub ZELINKA before PUCAR faced a tough five-game encounter against PISTEJ.
“We play in the same club in Italy, so it is hard to invent something new to beat such a good and experienced player.”
Hungary - England 3-2
After five matches that went to the decisive fifth game, Hungary secured their place among the top 8 teams by defeating England. Liam PITCHFORD remained unbeaten in the match. He overcame Adam SZUDI and Bence MAJOROS, but Hungary earned their place in the quarterfinals through a stronger team effort. Adam SZUDI beat Paul DRINKHALL, Tamas LAKATOS overcame Tom JARVIS, and in the decisive match, MAJOROS overcame DRINKHALL.
Regarding his match against Liam, Bence said: "In the beginning, I thought I had a good chance, but the longer the game continued, he made fewer mistakes, and in the end, he impressed."
Speaking of his victory over Paul, MAJOROS added: "We have played three times before, and I had lost all of them. In the beginning, I was nervous, but I tried to stay calm. I thought it was important to find my rhythm, focus on my movements, and control my body language. The key, I think, was that I changed my serving strategy and targeted his backhand. During the rallies, I focused on gaining an advantage. I also managed to receive his long serves by waiting a bit."
Belgium - Poland 3-2
The advantage shifted from Poland to Belgium before Adrien RASSENFOSSE finally sealed the long-distance duel with a win in the decisive game, launching Belgium into the quarterfinals.
Samuel KULCZYCKI gave Poland a dream start with a win over Cédric NUYTINCK. Adrien RASSENFOSSE beat Milosz REDZIMSKI to level the match. After two opening duels ended in straight games, Martin ALLEGRO was stretched to a full five games, overcoming Maciej KUBIK. The next two games also lasted five games each. REDZIMSKI overcame Cédric NUYTINCK, and RASSENFOSSE was too strong for KULCZYCKI.
“I think it was a really similar level in both teams; it was all down to the fight and small details. We showed a good fight, and we knew that it was a really strong team opposing us, so we are really happy to win again because they had revenge to take on us, and it was really hard. And I think we had some opportunities to finish the match earlier, but they also played really well, so throughout the match, it was really nice to come out a winner because we could really have lost,” said RASSENFOSSE.
RASSENFOSSE promised a fierce fight from the team in the next duels.
“I am not looking far forward; it’s the present, and we enjoy it, and I really enjoyed my match, and we played quite well. We hope maybe to see Cedric play at his best level tomorrow because maybe he was not at his best today, but he is getting there, so I think we will have an interesting match against the winner from the duel between Slovenia and France.”
Czechia – Italy 2-3
In a fierce battle, Italy advanced to the quarterfinals. Led by Nikoleta STEFANOVA, who remains unbeaten in Sweden, Giorgia PICCOLIN, and Gaia MONFARDINI, they overcame Czechia's Hana MATELOVA, Zdena BLASKOVA, and Katerina TOMANOVSKA.
STEFANOVA made a remarkable return to top table tennis after a 7-year break. She is the mother of 12- and 6-year-old boys and an 8-year-old girl. Two years ago, she decided to return to the sport.
“I missed that feeling, the adrenaline rush, and all the excitement. I already have enough medals, but it was the feeling that I missed. At first, I thought it was not possible to play at the top level again, and here I am now in Sweden with wins over YUAN Jia Nan, Sibel ALTINKAYA, and tonight over MATELOVA and BLASKOVA... It is amazing,” said STEFANOVA.
Coach Elena TIMINA took over Italy two years ago and invited Nikoletta to join the team after her success at the Italian championships.
“At first, she said she was there just for fun. I invited her to the camp, but eventually, she said no. Then she called me and told me that she answered too quickly and asked to join us,” said TIMINA. “Nikoleta is important not only for the great results she achieves but also as a true leader of the team. These girls are talented, but they need someone to show them how to win, and the way that Nikoleta fits that role is incredible. She pushes them forward; she is a real captain.”
True to her role as the leader, Nikoleta won two matches tonight.
“Czech team is very strong. It is incredible how many balls they can put on the table and how long rallies they can produce. They pushed us to the limits.”
Poland – Sweden 1-3
With two straight game wins, Linda BERGSTROM led Sweden to the round of the best eight. Cristina KALLBERG set the win against Poland in motion with a victory over Natalia BAJOR; BERGSTROM beat Katarzyna WEGRZYN and BAJOR. Poland scored only in the match between Zuzanna WIELGOS and Filippa BERGAND.
Coach Thomas BERGMAN: "We are very pleased; they had basically the same team as last time that beat us."
How do you see Filippa BERGAND's effort today, in the 5-game match?
"She wasn't really tested in the group stage; this match was different with nerves and excitement, so for the future, it's only good that she also got to show her colors. I think that is important for the next match."
The win over Poland came after two defeats.
Linda BERGSTROM said: "We've lost to them before with other lineups. When Stina started well, I knew we were good today. So it was really nice to tie it up and win 3-1. It was a good day today; I was much calmer than on Monday against Spain, and I felt that I was moving better. Or, well, the calm made me feel more relaxed and able to move much better. It was fun to play, and I could really enjoy today, not feel too much pressure or stress, and that was nice."
Next in line is Portugal.
"They are good; SHAO Jieni and YU Fu are very good. It feels like they almost always play at a pretty high level. But we pushed them last year without Stina, so we should really push them tomorrow."
France – Austria 3-0
The French team defeated Austria in superb style, with Prithika PAVADE, YUAN Jia Nan, and Audrey ZARIF overcoming Karoline MISCHEK, Amelie SOLJA, and Anastasia STERNER.
YUAN Jia Nan commented, "It is the 2nd time that I have played against Amelie SOLJA, and I lost the 1st time, so I had a lot of respect for her, and I knew that it would be very difficult for me because of her unique playing style. I fought hard for every point to improve, and I supported myself a lot. I'm proud that I could succeed."
Audrey ZARIF, along with her teammates, explained, "We were the favorites, but in table tennis, you never know. The three players in front of you could surprise, so we took it very seriously from the beginning."
ZARIF continued, "I have never played against Anastasia STERNER and had never seen her before. She troubled me a lot with her high-quality shots. Prithika PAVADE put us successfully on track with very consistent plays. We are very happy to be in the quarter-finals!"
The team also revealed how both teams will relax before their big matches tomorrow.
"Well, we are playing games in the evening with the entire team (code name), and we are leading against the boys!! We are beating the LEBRUN brothers in it."
Germany- Ukraine 3-0
Even without their number one player, world ranking tenth HAN Ying, who took a precautionary pause due to minor muscular issues, Germany advanced to the quarter-finals. Also against Ukraine and following the German men's match, Team Coach Tamara BOROS team secured victory with the same result, 3-0, in less than one and a half hours of playing time.
Nina MITTELHAM faced the most challenges in her singles match on Thursday evening against the 24-year-old left-hander Solomiya BRATEYKO, who bravely and aggressively played against the favorite even at close scores, unsettling the Berliner with her varied backhand serves. Nina remained calm, saved all match points at 6-10 in the fourth game before using her third opportunity to win 14-12.
In the opening singles, 20-year-old Anastasya DYMYTRENKO was completely outmatched against Penholder player SHAN Xiaona, scoring only nine points in total in three sets against the third-ranked player in Europe from Munich. Sabine WINTER in the third position, known for her powerful forehand combined with fast footwork and excellent athleticism, excelled against Ganna GAPONOVA.
"I made five service return errors directly in the first set and didn't move well. As the game progressed, it got a bit better, and I developed a better feel for the hall," described Nina Mittelham. "In terms of playing style, BRATEYKO should suit me, but she is not one of my favorite opponents. In the end, what matters is that the team won."
Romania – Serbia 3-1
The runners-up from Cluj, Team Romania, safely reached the quarterfinals in Sweden. Serbia managed to secure one point, but an overall win was never in sight.
Bernadette SZOCS showed no mercy against Izabela LUPULESKU, but she faced much tougher opposition in the match against Sabina SURJAN. Bernadette was down 0-2 before she leveled to win.
“I am happy for my team. It is an important win for us. We were favorites, but Serbia is also extra motivated when they play against us. They came prepared very well. Sabina has a good feeling against me and good tactics," said SZOCS.
Sabina beat Elizabeta SAMARA.
“My defeat was like a cold shower. I know how difficult it can be to beat her, but it is never easy to come to termas with the defeat. She is a left-hander whose play can be compared to KARAKASEVIC's. She beat me already 4-5 years ago in the Champions League,” said SAMARA.
Andreea DRAGOMAN overcame Andrea TODOROVIC.
“After Liza lost, I became more motivated. I had already played against TODOROVIC at the European Championships, and I did not want to give her a chance,” said DRAGOMAN.
Slovakia – Hungary 3-1
With wins over Hungary's Georgina POTA and Dora MADARASZ, Barbora BALAZOVA launched Slovakia into the quarterfinals. Tatiana KUKULKOVA also beat MADARASZ, while the only point for Hungary was produced in the match between Ema LOBOSOVA and Mercedes NAGYVARADI.
“From the perspective that I did not win the match in the Group stage, this came as a surprise. We left the Group stage behind us and got fully focused on the new stage of the event. We set a good lineup for the match, so everything went well for us. The lineup with POTA and MADARASZ at positions one and two worked as we wished. We were not sure about the third player, but whoever was to play there, we were ready,” said Barbora BALAZOVA.
Barbora continued: “I had a very poor start to the tournament, and I am happy that I can bring some points to the team. However, this is also all right when we know that if one of us has a bad day, other girls are there for you.”
Round of 16:
Portugal – Croatia 3-1
Portugal was the first team to secure a place in the quarterfinals this morning. Led by the lethally accurate SHAO Jieni, bronze medal winners from Cluj, they safely moved one step closer to the medal podium after a win over Croatia.
SHAO won both of her encounters. She accounted for Ivana MALOBABIC and Mateja JEGER MAJSTOROVIC in matches that left little doubt about the winners. Mateja lost to YU FU, and Hana ARAPOVIC scored the only point for Croatia with the voictory over Ines MATOS.
“This is one of the most important Championships for us, and we are all ready for the challenge. I came to Sweden well-prepared, especially mentally,” said SHAO.
On their way to the knockout stage, Portugal beat Bulgaria and Serbia.
“We have not been seriously challenged until now, which gave us the opportunity to adjust to the venue and the conditions without major pressure. However, we feel that the pressure is increasing as we approach the closing stages. Big matches are ahead of us,” said SHAO.
Spain – Luxembourg 3-1
Spain halted Luxembourg's progress after a very close duel. NI Xia Lian opened the match with a win over Maria XIAO, but from that point, Spain took control. Sofia-Xuan ZHANG overcame Sarah DE NUTTE, and Maria BERZOSA was too strong for Tessy GONDERINGER. Maria XIAO overcame DE NUTTE. The last two matches went the full distance.
Sofia Zhang (who is celebrating her 24th birthday today) said: "This was a wonderful birthday present. I was nervous. We've played against each other twice, and our head-to-head was tied at 1-1. I tried to clear my mind and stick to my game plan. I felt like I had nothing to lose. So, I'm really happy to celebrate my birthday with a victory. Maria lost the first game, and we knew that I had to win the second game to even the score."
Maria BERZOSA added: "It was a very challenging match, and I felt the responsibility for the team. I tried to stay focused and approached every point as if the score was 0-0. I'm most satisfied with my backhand serve, which gave me an advantage and earned me most of the points."