By Matt Roberts & Andrew King
Durham men’s table tennis 2nd team suffered a disappointing defeat against Leeds Beckett 1sts at Hild Bede on Wednesday afternoon. The quartet of Nick Blake, Christopher Yui, Ricky Yu and Tong Liu lost 10-7 and have been knocked out of the Northern Conference Cup at the last 32 stage.
Prior to the match, hopes were high in the Durham camp; the Palatinates are in a higher league than Leeds Beckett and were boosted by the fact that their opponents were a player short and therefore automatically surrendered four matches.
However, this self-imposed deficit seemed to galvanise Leeds Beckett and they played at an accelerated pace from the start.
In the first round of singles matches, Durham were outplayed and lost all three. Captain Nick Blake had his work cut out against Leeds Beckett’s top seed, a powerful and confident player who dominated the match to win 11-4 11-1 11-6. Ricky found his opponent’s blocking to be too consistent and was beaten 12-10 12-14 4-11 4-11. Tong fared marginally better; his match went to a fifth game and he had match points at 10-8 but he was unable to capitalise as Jamie, Leeds Beckett’s number three, held his nerve to fight back and win.
The onus was now on Durham to respond in the second round of matches. Nick led from the front with a convincing 11-7 13-11 11-8 victory, doing well to resist a second set comeback. However, Leeds then regained control with back-to-back wins. The top seed, Paul, played superbly once again. His combination of fearsome topspin and impenetrable defence saw him lose just 10 points against Tong. Meanwhile Christopher, playing his first match of the day, began confidently to win the opening game of his match 11-2 but he was unable to sustain the intensity and eventually succumbed in four games.
With the overall score 5-3 to Leeds Beckett the contest was finely poised going into the penultimate round of matches. Paul Smith quickly notched up another point for Leeds Beckett, clinically beating an unfortunate Ricky 11-0 11-1 11-5. On the adjacent table, Nick lost the opening two games 7-11 2-11 but found his feet in game three, making a tactical adjustment to slice more which helped him prevail 11-8. Nevertheless, Leeds Beckett’s Matt Patterson soon responded well to Nick’s new approach and took the vital fourth game 11-8 with a high loop that caught the edge of the table at the end of a fantastic rally. The Palatinates did manage to keep their slim hopes alive through Christopher who played well to draw a number of unforced errors from his opponent and win 11-5 in the deciding game.
Leeds Beckett now led 7-5 with four singles matches and one doubles match still left to play. There was brief hope of a comeback from Durham when Ricky produced his best performance of the day to win 11-6 11-8 11-9. However, that was as good as it got for the home side. Christopher defended valiantly against Paul but lost 4-11 8-11 5-11 and Tong lost in similar fashion despite his agile movement and strong forehands. Leeds Beckett then capped off a fine team performance with victory in the doubles.
Durham captain Nick Blake spoke to Palatinate after the fixture:
“Today was a disappointing result,” he said. “Against opposition from a lower league we fancied our chances, especially as they were a player short.
“Obviously their first player was extremely talented but we should have done better against their second and third players. This would have got us to the doubles all square and set up a nail-biting finish.”
There was some good news for Durham, though. The Men’s 1st team won 12-5 away at Sunderland to progress to the last 16 stage in the cup.
Photograph: Matt Roberts