The Oxford women’s table tennis team booked their place in the final of this year’s Bucs Midlands Conference Cup by seeing off determined opposition in Leicester last Wednesday.
Having received a bye to the quarter-finals by finishing second in their Bucs league, only to be awarded a walkover win against Anglia Ruskin, Oxford went into the semi-finals still waiting for their first taste of table tennis in the tournament.
Despite not having home advantage, the team expected to make a good account of themselves, sending their strongest squad in the form of captain Alison Cheung and second seed Katrin Harter.
Complicated travel arrangements meant that the squad arrived in Leicester an hour earlier than expected, but any suggestion that this would affect them psychologically was quickly put to bed by their early performances.
They started the day with great flair, as Harter dominated her first singles match with a killer forehand smash that proved too strong for her opponent to defend. Harter convincingly won three straight games to hand Oxford a comprehensive 3-0 victory in the match, giving away only seven points in the process.
The first game of Cheung’s first singles match was a more tightly fought affair, although she managed to maintain the edge over her opponent to secure a 12-10 victory.
Her opponent’s topspin serve had initially proved challenging, but Cheung was able to assert her superiority once she came to grips with the move, winning the next two games relatively easily by a margin of 11-8.
This meant that both members of the Oxford squad had won their best-of-three matches in the minimum number of games.
The players then swapped opponents for the next round of singles matches, but this did not impede Oxford’s momentum. Cheung used a backspin serve to get the better of her new opponent in the first game, which was decisively won 11-2.
In the second game, her opponent was well-served by a backhand block against Cheung’s aggressive forehand, making for a much tighter competition.
Ultimately, however, Cheung’s stamina outlasted that of her opponent, and her constant pressure eventually took its toll on her opponent’s defence, leading to another match victory for Oxford.
With three wins from their first three matches, Oxford were already sure of a place in the cup final by the time Harter and her opponent faced off in the final singles match of the day.
Her opponent’s signature topspin serve was too strong for Harter at first, resulting in a rare game loss for Oxford by ten points to twelve. However, coached by her captain, Harter regained her rhythm and made a confident return in the second game, utilising her signature forehand smash to win 11-5.
With one win apiece, the rest of the match was played with a tension that belied its status as a dead rubber, and Harter besieged her opponent’s consistently resolute defence before
eventually winning the match with two further victories to make it 3-1.
This gave Oxford a clean sweep of singles matches, but they were forced to concede their doubles match for fear of missing their train home.
Despite this somewhat anticlimactic ending, the day had produced some exciting and tenacious table tennis, and Oxford had done what they had to do in terms of getting to the final.
The team will be hoping that the momentum carried over from their semi-final, as well as home advantage, will help to deliver them to victory against Derby when the final is played on 7th March.