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Watch: Strbikova, Iacob win table tennis doubles title for Team Malta at 2023 GSSE

Table tennis player Camella Iacob returns a shot in women's doubles. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Wetzel, Prokopcov fall in men’s final

For the table tennis clan, it was a night of bittersweet emotions amid the joy of the women’s doubles title and the pain of seeing the boys falling at the last hurdle.

Renata Strbikova and Camella Iacob combined perfectly yesterday to beat Luxembourg 3-2 in an intense doubles competition at the University Pavillion.

However, their male counterparts failed in their bid to make it a doubles double but still finished the day with a worthy runners-up after going down to Luxembourg in the gold medal match.

Both teams were in a class of their own in the group phase. Strbikova and Iacob opened up with a clear-cut 3-0 win over Iceland and then wrapped up commitments with 3-1 win against Luxembourg to top the qualifying group on maximum points.

Dimitrij Prokopcov and Felix Wetzel were also impressive in the early stages, beating Monaco and Cyprus in three straight sets.

In the women category, the Malta team chalked up a third consecutive win over the Montenegro pair to reach the finals. However, on the other table, gold medal contenders Monaco led by Xiaoxin Yang were overshadowed by the impressive Luxembourg pair Barbosa/Gonderinger.

In the final, Strbikova and Iacob looked on course to put the tie beyond Luxembourg’s reach when they won the opening two sets – 11-5, 11-7. But they suddenly collapsed, and the Luxembourg girls won the next two sets to force a decider.

Malta was quick to halt Luxembourg’s momentum to beat their opponents 11-9 in the final set and seal Malta’s success.

Renata Strbikova and Camella Iacob (right) in action in the women’s doubles. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Strbikova and Iacob were full of joy after their doubles’ achievement.

“It was a big relieve for us as the pressure was mounting on us. We started well the final after leading 2-0 but we committed unforced mistakes which let them into the match again,” said Strbikova.

Both girls admitted that for the singles’ event, the Chinese-born Monégasque Xiaoxin Yang, ranked 15 in the world starts as hot favourite for the medal.

“She has already showed her high level in these Games. It will be the third day and the fatigue might get the upper hand and we are both thinking hard how we can stop her,” Iacob said.

Prokopcov and Wetzel did not drop a single set enroute to the final. But in the final, the Luxembourg duo Eric Glod and Luka Mladenovic, were full of vengeance after losing a cliffhanger teams’ event final the day before.

The Maltese were perhaps overawed by the occasion to clinging a second double, started badly as Glod and Mladenovic won the first two sets – 11-8 and 11-2 but had to stave off a might challenge from Maltese side in the fourth set, which narrowly went Luxembourg’s way 14-12, for Malta to concede a 3-1 defeat.

Prokopcov said the upset of the final was too hard to fathom.

“Coming so close of winning a gold medal makes it hard to accept the defeat,” he said.

“We threw away the second set but came back into the match by winning the third one, then they rode on their luck to win the decisive set on a close deuce,” he added.

“It is still silver and I think the Maltese are proud of these achievements,” Wetzel added.

The attentions now shift to the singles’ Event to be played today as they are now eyeing a repeat of that all-Malta contest final in Andorra in 2005 where the current national team coach Simon Gerada defeated his compatriot Andrzej Makowski.

“That would be really nice,” both players commented.

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