Champions League Men | 2 Apr 2024

Fantastic Conclusion to the Champions League Men Final 4

Photo: G. QIU

At the first-ever Champions League Final 4, 4,700 spectators gathered this Easter to witness two spectacular days of table tennis at the Saarlandhalle in Saarbrücken. 1. FC Saarbrücken TT e.V. defended their title in the Champions League men in the ultimate match. The seven-time winners, Borussia Düsseldorf, were halted at the last hurdle after 3.5 hours of breathtaking rallies and extraordinary points.

The final had many twists and turns, starting with the dominance of 1. FC Saarbrücken TT e.V., who took a 2-0 lead after Darko JORGIC defeated Dang QIU and Patrick FRANZISKA overcame Anton KALLBERG. It continued with Timo BOLL changing the course of the match with a win over Yuto MURAMATSU and a superb performance by QIU against FRANZISKA. The nerve-wracking decisive match saw KALLBERG with a match ball at 2-1 and 10-8. JORGIC saved two and converted his first game point into a win to tie the score 2-2, pushing the match to a decisive game. In the last game, he maintained the pressure and won 6-3.

After the match, Darko JORGIC said: "Everyone was expecting a tough match. I started at a top level, and initially, Dang did not follow suit. He raised his level a bit after the second game. He started to control the ball at the table, and I made a few easy mistakes, but I managed to stay calm and focused, and I am proud of myself for how I handled it. In the second match against Anton, it was a real rollercoaster. There were so many ups and downs from both sides. I started well, but then he took the lead and had a match ball. In those moments, without my team, I would not have made it. They pushed me beyond my limits. They were encouraging me to fight and not to pay attention if I was up or down. I must express my gratitude for their support. We fought like a team, and I am happy we brought the title here," said JORGIC who also praised the supporters.

JORGIC reflected on the very close semifinal against TT Neu Ulm, which also ended in five matches.

"I am so happy that we managed to deliver the victory to our crowd," and then Darko added jokingly, "Our manager told us that in case of defeat, we would have to come back to the venue on Monday to sign autographs all day."

Patrick FRANZISKA said: "I played at a good level in both matches in the final, and I am happy with my performance throughout the whole tournament. Against Anton, I lost in the German Cup quite easily 0-3, so I watched a lot of videos to be prepared. I played tactically better with greater confidence and an aggressive approach, and he could not play as many forehands as he usually does. Against Dang, I started the same way as against Anton; he was a bit passive, and then he changed and reached a very high level. I struggled with his empty slow service; I could not adapt very well. He played an untypical game for him, much more aggressive. Usually, he plays very safe and does not risk. I eventually have to accept my defeat. However, I know that Darko can pull out a fantastic match when it is 2-2."

Photo: C. JOST

Borussia Düsseldorf were halted at the ultimate hurdle. Timo Boll said: "The whole story is hard to believe for us. For the second time in a row, we are losing the final after having match point. That is really disappointing and sad. On the other hand, we played at a high level until the end, and 1. FC Saarbrücken TT e.V. really deserved to win. They pushed us to the limits today, and we pushed them a little bit as well, but in the end, it all came down to one ball, and it was spectacular for the spectators and for the fans," explained Boll.

Timo elaborated further: "We had a bad start, and then the game changed in our favor. We started to capitalize on our chances, and suddenly Saarbrücken closed it out. It is also the quality of the player to stay calm and do the right things in the crucial moments. That is what Saarbrücken did this year."

Borussia Düsseldorf's coach, Danny HEISTER, gave his view. "I was in the dressing room, and we spoke after the match, and I said, 'OK, it was only two points, and anything could happened. If you made it, everything will be fine, and if you lost, it's all bad.' In the two opening matches, my players were not unbeatable there. Dang changed a little bit after two and a half games, so the comeback was great after BOLL lost the opening game against Yuto, and also Anton found his way back... there was a lot of things going on, and I am happy that next week, at least in Germany, is the time for the nomination for the Olympics. Three players out of ten will be qualified, and I hope that will take away an enormous stress from the players. Anton has the same pressure in Sweden, only maybe Darko, here, is strong in his Slovenian team," said HEISTER, laughing. "As a coach, I wished I had all my players preparing for this event in Düsseldorf."

Photo: B. PROBST