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William Henzell’s Blog March 5, 2014

by on Mar.17, 2014, under William Henzell

After a long break from competition of around 4 months, I got back into the swing of things last weekend. I competed at the Australian Commonwealth Games Qualifying event on the Gold Coast for a place in the Australian team that will compete in Glasgow in July this year. The Commonwealth Games is the 2nd highest event for Australian players, after the Olympic Games. These events only come around once every 4 years so the qualifying tournaments are tense high pressure affairs with everyone battling for a few precious spots.

I took a couple of months off after the World Cup in Belgium in October last year and got back into training in January this year, which left me about 6 weeks to try to get myself into some sort of form for the qualifying tournament. My two training partners David Powell and Heming Hu had both headed overseas for training before the qualification which left me in a tough position. Fortunately I had a chat to Simon Gerada, who runs a table tennis coaching business Health Wellness and Table Tennis in Melbourne, who invited me into his group to prepare. He had brought in some sparring partners from overseas to help his squad prepare so I was able to train against good quality players. It was also nice being back in a group training environment, rather than ad hoc sessions in an empty hall.

I tried to do 2 – 3 sessions each week for the 6 weeks of preparation. The most difficult part of playing table tennis these days is accepting that I’m not playing enough to maintain a high standard. After taking 18 months off work to prepare for the London Olympics, I decided that work would have to come first and I’d fit table tennis in when I could. I don’t regret making the decision but it’s really quite frustrating but there’s no simple solution.

Several of the younger Australian players are putting in long stints of training and competition overseas and are improving well as a result. The most notable being David Powell (mostly to Poland) and Heming Hu (China). Both have improved strongly. Holding the event on the Gold Coast in February was questionable, given the hot and humid climate. We were fortunate that it didn’t rain during the event as it would have affected play significantly. The conditions would have been the same for all for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

I started my matches well taking my first 3 matches 4-0. In my next match Heming came out in blinding form, racing to a 3-0 lead. It’s not all that often you can claw your way out of a 0-3 deficit but I’ve been around long enough to know that young players can get nervous in that situation, regardless of how well they’ve played. I tried to methodically work through the rest of the match, simplifying my playing and giving him opportunities to miss. Slower, spinnier shots and high consistency. I turned the match and won 4-3.

The match left me pretty drained and with the 3 toughest opponent left to play that day, I had a feeling I was in for a rough ride. I lost 4-3 to David, who was playing well, in the next match before beating Australian # 2 Justin Han in the next match. It all came down to my last match against Chris Yan. He had some unexpected losses early on in the event but had beaten Justin and David that day. The winner of our match would go through to the Commonwealth Games team and the loser would have to keep playing the next day for one of the last spots.

I always have close matches against Chris but have managed to win all of them so far. He would have held a 2-0 lead in 3 or 4 of our matches without managing to hold on. Motivation had been a bit of a problem for me at times and my concentration was in an out. I think it is partly because my fitness has dropped over time but also because I’m not as focused on doing everything I can to play well. I would prepare mentally for days beforehand in the past whereas now I turn up and just play. I really got up mentally for my last match given its importance. I started well going up 2-0 and 9-5 before losing the 3rd set. Chris keeps a lot of balls on the table and he makes you pay if your consistency or level drops. I went up 3-1 in sets, he pegged me back to 3-2 and then took a 4-1 lead in the 6th set. I rallied, played a string of great points and took the match 4-2. Mission completed.

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