Han takes SI crown
A high-powered Auckland contingent had no open singles trophies to take home from the South Island table tennis championships in Christchurch at the weekend.
New Zealand's top-ranked men, Phillip Xiao and John Cordue, were both beaten by resident Canterbury South Korean Jong Eub Han, while the top-ranked woman, Sarah Her-Lee, lost to Christchurch-based Serbian Timea Tapai in the women's final.
The men's event on Saturday gave proof once again of the international class of Han, whose pedigree of Games training in his home country has stood him in good stead into his mid-40s.
Han overcame a field that included five of the top-10-ranked New Zealand men as well as three visiting Czech players, one of whom, Miroslav Janca, has played in the top professional league in Europe.
Xiao, who beat Canterbury's Yi-Sien Lin to advance to the final, started aggressively against Han, who accounted for Cordue in the last four. But Han's fine-touch blocking kept pressure on the Aucklander and the Korean wrapped up the first two sets comfortably.
Xiao responded in fiery fashion in a cliffhanger third set, looping to Han's backhand and romping to a 6-1 lead before Han, drawing on his bag of razor serves, clawed back to 7-7 and then took a 3-0 advantage.
In what proved to be the deciding set, Han appeared to change tactics, opening up with his forehand loop and taking an 8-4 lead. Xiao closed the gap to 7-8 with some superb backhand loops, but Han came back with fierce, angled counter-hitting that was decisive, winning 11-7 11-6 16-14 13-11.
Her-Lee fought hard in the women's final, taking the first three sets before tiring against the variation of Tapai's defence.
Tapai, rated fourth in Oceania, said she was confident she could reduce her errors and get back into the match.
"I came back and played better with my defence. In the fourth set I realised this was my last chance, but I knew I could do it."