You are here

William Henzell's Blog June 1, 2014

Last weekend I played in the 2014 Australian Open in Sydney. It’s the first time in 15 years the event has been part of the World Tour and featured the strongest field we’ve seen compete in Australia since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

My preparation for the event had been poor; a stubborn bout of the flu, the realities of family responsibilities as well as a busy period at work meant I only practiced a few short hours in the weeks before the event. I had low expectations coming into the tournament.

I was seeded 6th in the Men’s Singles and had a bye through the first 2 days of competition and into the main draw. The depth of quality in the groups was good – so in one way it was advantageous to skip the group stage however in another way a disadvantage to be coming out cold in the first round against players who already had matches under their belts.

In my former professional days I would have made sure that I at my absolute peak physically, mentally and in all the other controllable areas such as my equipment, food, etc. These days I am certainly less dedicated to all of the little areas that each can make a 1 or 2% improvement. I hadn’t played much in the 5 weeks since the last big event; the Oceania Cup so I decided to keep the same rubbers on my racket despite them being somewhat worn.

I started my campaign against a young up and coming Singapore player Clarence Chew, ranked about 200 in the World. I was following the recent World Championships and had noticed that he’d had a win against top 100 and top 50 ranked players so I knew it would be a tough match. I don’t play left handers very often so it can take some time to adjust to the different directions and spins but I thought I handled this well. 2 of the first 3 sets went to deuce and I managed to win both by staying relaxed and positive at the ends of the sets. I did actually feel my experience helped quite a bit in the close stages of the match and I was able to make good tactical decisions, like what spin and angle to put on my serves when it mattered. I found that he let me outmanoeuvre him a little too easily as well. Clarence levelled at 2-2 but I took the next 2 sets to take a 4-2 win.

Next up I faced a Malaysian Muhamad Ashraf Haiqal, ranked about 500. He was an open player with strong backhand and strong forehand attacks but a little lacking in serve, return of serve and the in-between points like effective low, slow first topspin attacks. The match was more a battle with myself in how precise I could be with my shots. I knew if I placed the ball poorly I would lose most points but if I placed the ball well I would will almost all the points. There were a couple of close sets but I ran away with a 4-0 victory.

Youtube - William Henzell vs Chun Ting Wong Highlights.

In the quarter-final I faced top seed Chun Ting Wong from Hong Kong, who was ranked number 37 in the World coming into the event. He is a pen-gripper with very strong attacks from both the backhand and the forehand side. He was especially strong at backhand sidespin flick return of serve and his flick had so much sidespin that it often just died and barely bounced on my side. Much of the match was won on return of serve. The backhand flick is also one of my best shots so we were both trying to flick at least 80% of all serves with the backhand. This meant both of us tried to vary our serves constantly, changing our serving position from the wide backhand to the wide forehand.

The match became more and more tactical as the opponent’s strengths, weaknesses and game plan became clearer for both of us. I found it crucial to put him under pressure by attacking him constantly, however it was important to continuously vary the placement, height and spin of my attacks. A player of that level adjusts quickly to patterns so I had to keep him guessing. I was beaten comprehensively in the 1st set, won a close 2nd set and took the 3rd set easily. There was a good crowd of about 100 partisan Aussies cheering me on which is an unusual situation for me. My state team South Australia is usually one of the smaller teams at tournaments and I feel most spectators are a little tired of seeing me win the Australian events, so usually my cheer squad is small. But I really felt the support of the home crowd and it was inspiring and a great help.

The biggest positive for me in this match was that I felt calm and untouched by nerves. I was happy to win the match and I was happy to lose the match and played as such in tight situations. The biggest negative was how slow I felt throughout. I was far far slower and just couldn’t compete in the long rallies or those that required much moving. I’ve never been the fastest mover on court but I haven’t often felt like this. It just meant that I had to stick to my strengths and try to steer the game towards short rallies and make the play as difficult and patchy as possible. I thought I managed to do this well, as the match would have been over quickly and ended badly for me if I hadn’t.

A decisive moment came at 2-2 and 5-7 down when I made a screaming counterspin at full stretch. I took the set 11-9 but went behind in the 6th set. He led 9-6 and looked to be forcing the match to a deciding 7th set. I levelled at 9-9 and went for a backhand flick on return of serve. He blocked tentatively off the end and I had my first match point. I still felt calm and composed. I stepped around to my short forehand and flicked again this time low to the middle drawing the counterspin error. I’d just had the 2nd best win of career in the most unexpected circumstances!

Youtube - William Henzell vs Wu Zhikang Highlights.

The next day I faced Wu Zhikang in the semi-final who has a similar ranking to mine. Wu plays a strong open game with a good backhand flick return of serve and the ability to make a lot of strong counterspins. My game was much more up and down against Wu. I won a mammoth 3rd set 18-16 and then won the next set to go up 3 sets to 1, however my game completely fell apart for the net two sets. You can’t afford to miss more than a couple of simple first topspins against quality opponents however I missed repeatedly for the entire 5th and 6th sets which is just not good enough.

I recovered in the deciding 7th set to lead 5-3 and 8-6 however made two mistakes in the next two points. He flicked to my forehand on both occasions and both times I went cross-court into his dead middle of his forehand where he was waiting. It’s probably tightness drawing my shots to the forehand however I should have done better. He played an incredible flick at 9-9 which surprised me and then I missed a sitter of a high forehand at 9-10 to lose 9-11.

I was pleased with my performance – definitely my best results in almost 2 years since my 17th place at the 2012 Olympics and the first time I’ve been able to win against highly ranked opponents.

The matches, with commentary from PingSkills founders Alois Rosario and Jeff Plumb is available for viewing at ITTF Australian Open.

Published date: 
Sun, 06/01/2014 - 17:45