The university table tennis side met their match at varsity this year, with both men’s and women’s squads succumbing to Cambridge. Held on away turf for the first time at the University of Cambridge Sports Centre, Oxford appeared a little overwhelmed by the well-drilled and intense playing style of the Light Blues.
The women went first and it soon became apparent that Cambridge had the tactical edge, executing a series of superb cross table returns and down-the-line shots. A trickle of Oxford defeats in the opening games turned to a whitewash as Cambridge won 10-0. Credit must go to Kritica Dwivedi of Exeter College, who ruffled feathers in the Tab camp after a fantastic 2nd set in her last game, but unfortunately Oxford could not build on this momentum.
As ever, the men’s second team match was closely fought, as the teams appeared far more evenly matched. However, Cambridge clawed back from a 5-3 match deficit and, after an exciting finale, it finished in a 5-5 draw. In the penultimate doubles, the so-far lethal Dark Blue partnership of Joost van Deutekom and Hrishikesh Paranjape met their match, unable to capitalise on the opportunity to take the game. The last doubles was a nail biting encounter, going all the way to 13-13 in the fifth set. Ultimately, the consistency of the Cambridge pair won out and the Tabs snuck back in for the draw. Many of the matches were finely balanced, a couple of neat returns by Cambridge’s second team captain Martin Rohland and rising star Hampton Tao keeping them in play.
Oxford then looked to the men’s Blues match to save the day, but sadly it was not to be. A young Cambridge side played Oxford off the table, taking a 7-3 victory. The Dark Blues simply could not overcome star Tab players Joshua Bleakley and Wilson Chen who dominated the doubles and singles. Cambridge captain Harry Ness was involved in the most enthralling set of matches of the day, just about beating Oxford’s Maciej Jarocki 3-2 before narrowly losing to Dai Xi 3-1, with the last two games going to deuce, 10-12.
Nonetheless this was an encouraging performance from Oxford. For the first time since 2010, the Oxford Mens’ 1sts were able to put in individual victories against Cambridge and both Kris Hammerback and Dai Xi were unlucky not to record two wins, with both taking one of their opposing players to 5 sets.
As in the reserves’ game it was the doubles which proved decisive, Oxford needing to win both in order to achieve a draw. Sadly, it seemed the Dark Blues lacked their opponents’ composure, as Cambridge brushed aside such a spirited comeback. Oxford should not be too disheartened by this result. A successful season for both squads, including wins against Brooke’s and a new partnership with kit supplier Top Spin augurs well for the future.
In the men’s event this was the most closely contested varsity for several years and suggests that perhaps the tide is beginning to turn with the wiff-waff.