Mark Smythe Table Tennis

Australia's no. 1 coach

Heming article from World Team C'ships

Heming has provided another update, this time is from World Team Championships he played from Feb 29 - March 6 in Malaysia. 


Continuing on from the last update, I had just finished the Australian Olympic Qualifying Tournament and had the World Team Championships 5 days after this and the Oceania Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2 weeks after the worlds. I will be discussing my experience in the World Team Championships in detail, in this update. In the next update, I will talk about the Oceania Olympic Qualifying. 

Following on from my excellent performance at the Australian Olympic Qualifying and the fact that I had secured myself at least a spot in the Men's Team Event at the Olympic Games providing Australia qualifies a team at the Oceania Qualifying, it sunk in extremely quickly and within a few hours was thinking about the next challenge, World Team Championships. This felt very weird and surprising at first because beforehand, I thought that if I had done as well as I did and secured an Olympic Spot, I would be over the moon for a very long time(months) and would literally not care about anything for a while but it was nearly the opposite. Funny how in sport you have your big goals but once you achieve them you are happy but straight away you want more and move onto the next, it never ends and you never stop learning! A lot of mentors of mine had told me this was just human nature.

David Powell, Kane Townsend, Erny Tsao, msyelf and the Womens team (Jian Fang Lay, Melissa Tapper, Vivian Dederko and Michelle Beaumont) left for Malaysia 5 days after the Australian Qualifying. We (Men's team) were in the Second Division and I played mostly at second position so a lot of matches were very hard for me as I was playing the number 1 of every country most of the time. On top of this, we are considered a "weak" country in Division 2, at least on paper without our world class player and Australia's best ever player William Henzell. In division 2, there are a lot of strong countries and many many players that are in the top 40-300 in the world. I had played a few matches at number 3 position and these matches felt much easier as I would be playing the number 3 of every country, except for a few occasions where the opposition decided to play their best player at 3. I must also mention that compared to all the other World Championships I've been to, this was one to remember for how poor the playing conditions were in the hall we played in (as were the other halls from what I heard). Malaysia was extremely hot everyday and inside the hall the air conditioner was much too strong and it felt way too cold most times and sometimes the air conditioner would blow the ball in many different directions. When the air con was turned off, it was too hot and the conditions were too wet and muggy to play in. Additionally, the floors were uneven and we played in a big tent. As a result, players found it difficult to gain good feeling on the ball when playing as there were a lot of wet balls and overall was awkward conditions. The bounces were extremely bad and strange and generally players who play harder and flatter had more benefit in the hall whereas players like good friend and teammate David Powell who plays with a thin and relatively soft contact, struggled. Luckily for me my game is all-round and I play a mixture of both hard balls and soft thin contact shots. Due to these factors, there were countless upsets during the week. 

In our group, we had Spain, Serbia, Bulgaria, Puerto Rico and Latvia who were all extremely tough opponents. Spain and Serbia were the kingpins of our group and their weakest player was around 150 in the world so they were clearly some verystrong teams relative to our team/standard. We lost to Spain and Serbia 3-0 but I had lost to Aleksander Karakasevic who is still around 70 in the world at age 40+. I was competitive in 3 of the sets and lost 3-1 and was a good learning experience in my game and good effort from my side. David was also very competitive in both his matches against Spain and Serbia and got very close with them. Against Spain, I had played a player just outside the top100 and he was playing well for sure and my style did not like his so it was tough going for me, a 3-1 loss but not a close 3-1 and was outplayed almost all match. After playing these two countries, we had Bulgaria, Puerto Rico and Latvia still to go and these were the ' biggest matches' in our minds because we had already played the strongest two countries and had much more of a chance to win against these three. The next day we beat Latvia 3-1 which was very pleasing. I lost my match at second position after being up the whole match and finally losing which I was extremely disappointed about. However, David was the man in form and got the work done for us and Kane also , taking his match at 3rd position and the team got the win which is all that matters at the end of the day in a team's event. We played Puerto Rico the next day and they have 3 good players, 1 ranked about 170 in the world, another at around 260 and the other was weaker at about 400. I played this match at 3rd position, David at 1 and Kane at 2. I won my match 3-2 despite the umpire faulting me 8 times for having the ball laying on my fingers rather than on my palm on the serve whereas my opponent was doing much worse things such as throwing the ball backwards a lot, covering the ball, etc and the umpire never once faulted him.  The umpire would fault me at times like 9-9 and this was extremely infuriating and I was down 1-0 and 5-0. After some arguments, Scott Houston (the boys team coach, who did a fantastic job) would tell me to forget about things and just keep fighting. I told myself to keep fighting and not let it get to my head. The umpire would fault all different kinds of my serves and I had to find a different solution so I went to serving very simple backhands serves with no spin and just trying to keep it low.This actually worked and my opponent felt the pressure and eventually I won thanks to very good fighting spirit and a lot of thinking during the match.  I kept fighting as hard as I could and the whole match was neck and neck and I was eventually up 2-1 and 9-8 and didn't take the lead and then found myself down 5-0 in the fifth and clawed back from there to win. This win was one of my happiest wins because of the situation I was in. Unfortunately, David and Kane put up good fights but lost to the two strong Puerto Rican players and for the team this was a very disappointing experience because we were so close and this was such an important match. We needed this victory to still have any chance to finish the group in the top3 and go through to the main draw. 

Moving on from this disappointing result, we played Bulgaria the next day and I played at no3 position again but against their no1 player and lost a close 3-1. Kane managed to beat their no3 player which was a fantastic win but David(still extremely tired and mentally drained from the match against Puerto Rico) had a bad day and things didn't go our way. We finished the group at no5 position which meant we would be playing the consolation and a country that finished no6 in their group. The no4 countries of each group would get a bye in the consolation and play the winner of the no5vsno6 country that they are lined up against, in the draw. 

We drew Norway which was an extremely good draw for us as there were some groups where the no6 finishing country was a lot stronger than Norway and would have been very hard to beat. This match was extremely important and we needed to win this otherwise we would go down to Division 3 for sure and we would be playing in the Third division in 2018 rather than the second, which we really do not want to do. If we beat Norway, we would be very safe to be in Division 2 next time also depending on our World Rankings individually. Me Kane and Erny had played this match with me playing at no1 position, Kane at 2 and Erny at 3. Kane started off well winning against their no2 player 3-1 and got us off to a very good start.  I started off poorly against their no1 player who I have played before and won in a close 3-1 match. His world ranking was around 250 which was quite a lot higher than mine at 434(February 2016) and I started off poorly getting killed in the first two sets and my fighting spirit and tactics were all extremely poor. I was extremely fatigued physically and mentally from all the matches I had already played and was finding things like a nightmare. When I tried to pump myself, I tried too hard and when I tried to relax, I was too relaxed. I started to forget that and just fight every ball as hard as I could and tried to think about the game and tactics as much as I could and turned this match around to win 3-2. This was also a very pleasing win for me and was happy about this, even though there is a lot to learn about the way I start matches. Erny lost closely and we were up 2-1. I was then really nervous and pressured to win the next match against their no2 player and knew that if I had lost, there would be extreme pressure on Kane to win the last match. I played fantastic tactics and won 3-1 convincingly and was thrilled with this team win and taking 2 wins for myself this match. We played Slovenia the next day and it stood out like this, lose and we are done for 2018 world team championships, we would have to wait and see if our individual player world rankings are high enough and then ITTF decide if we are in Division 2 or 3. If we win, we stay in Division for sure. I played again at no1 position with Kane at 2 and David at 3. However, I played poorly that day and was outplayed by the no1 Slovenian and lost disappointingly to their no2 player. David managed to win against their no4 player but this was not enough for us and we lost disappointingly but Slovenia is a very strong country and is much better than us on paper so overall, lots to learn but performance as a team was ok. 

Playing the World Championships is always an essential and crucial learning experience for young players like myself and it is a good indication of where you are internationally. From the last World Championships, my results and level internationally has definitely improved. I can feel and see the improvements I've made on the world stage due to my improvements in Sweden and Denmark and hope to continue this.