After spending three days watching the top European Youth prospects and their supporting cast of coaches go to work in the Pavlotennis tavlo in Terni, Italy – you need to remind yourself to mentally dig deep in order to find, with a few shining exemptions , any signs of solid athletes development progress. Some individual players yes – they have improved – looking more engaged and playing, let’s say; a special European style of Table Tennis. The rally opens up with a soft inviting style of attack – the exchanges are decent and the entertainment value I guess quite OK. But, as I said to one observer this morning, against the top Asian juniors nothing of this counts. Points will be given away quicker than quick with this style of play. Quality must improve and I also mean that mentality – also from a coaching point of view must change.
In that way there are no secrets to find with this group of European prospects. Nothing really new under the sun – maybe with the exemption of Nina Mittelham from Germany and the fourteen year old Adina Diaconu from Romania . The German nr one junior girl unfortunately had to withdraw Saturday night when she smashed her elbow into the table, leaving the scene completely open for Bernadette Szocs from Romania to dance her way to another European title without breaking much of sweat. But back to the new German coming girl. I had a brief chat with coach Jörg Bitzigeio about Nina and he was generally speaking quite happy with his “boyish” looking ( and playing ..) talent.
“We spent two weeks in Japan recently for training with the Japanese top players and Nina also went to play Brazilian Junior Open for the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games qualification. In Japan, it was interesting to see how she in the beginning struggled with the tempo and the fast exchanges, but she kept working hard and it quickly improved. She needs to stay closer to the table and of course work hard now to take the next step. I hope we can manage her calendar well in the future and perhaps we need to look away from some European titles in order to free up time to play in Asia already next summer Jorg said.
Another, perhaps the most shining hope for Europe overall, presented herself in the surprisingly strong cadet girls competition which featured a number of emerging talents. Fourteen year old Adina Diaconu from Romania is already with one more year to go clearly the best cadet girl in Europe… and I also think that she was the overall best player in Terni . Adina can do everything at the table – play smart – play hard – safe – with our without spin. She finished on top of the standing without dropping one match and with a total game score of 28-6.. Impressive stuff from a girl that the other week was labelled the best player ever wearing the coveted ITTF Hopes shirt by the programme head coach Dejan Papic.
Probably the weakest event out of the four was the cadet boy’s competition. Tomas Polansky from the Czech Republic eventually won the Europe Top 10 winning seven out of the nine matches. With him you have to like the steadiness and more than anything the high quality opening shots. That was enough this time to defeat a group of young athletes that appeared to be quite unfocused and not really managing the taxing all verses all format very well. Clearly, you would have liked to see a much tougher stand from some coaches as the boys were showing far from their best attitude before- during or after the matches.
Jakub Dyjas from Poland won the Junior Boys competition with eight wins and one loss. The eighteen year old student of the “noble art of professional table tennis” – at the Masters collage in Ochsenhausen , proved already from the get- go that he was in Italy to win the Top 10 title. Best in match preparation – strongest overall game ( for sure good enough to deliver some upsets already in Vienna one week from now ) and most of all superior focus and execution gave him the upper hand this time. As for the others.. Well it somehow seems like the air has gone out of the over the last five to six years smooth sailing “French balloon “. A few changes here and there – new coaches not sharp and experienced enough and just like that some of the focus – the spirit and the attitude is out of the window . Of course we are not talking about a crash of some sort – but rather a slowly sinking ballon that soon can be caught by any association interested in going to work with young players on a daily basis.