Coburg’s Bob Bent (Div 1 / 55%) is an enigma. He has the appearance and manner of an uncompromising and offhand army sergeant and yet his serves have something of a 1920s jazz-injection about them; highballs with plenty of sophistication and liquor. It is the cutting prowess of the play which deceives lesser opponents – has them spellbound and fumbling.
Jefco’s Jeff Saunders – an unknown statistically speaking – equipped with penhold grip and raw belief, has little attacking ability but the clever knack of de-beautifying the game. His chopping, side spin returns – feet away from the table – are like menacing caveats: NOT MUCH VARIETY BUT I NEVER GIVE IN.
Bent, immediately wary of this wild card before him, somehow scrambles his way through the first game (11-9). His cheeks are puffed out, his legs heavy. He has the look of an escaped prisoner being chased by bloodhounds such is the relentlessness of Saunders.
Jefco’s unseeded grafter takes hope from the initial battle and duly wins games two and three (5-11, 9-11). With his grey mop of hair and black T-shirt, there is a hint of the ageing rocker about Saunders, an unwillingness to let the music stop.
Momentarily, it does (11-6 Bent), but Saunders prevails (9-11) through sweat, his millimetre-perfect chop and the canny methodology of a dull executioner.
Next up is Coburg’s Mark Speakman (Div 1 / 20%) and Jefco’s mighty Dave Jones Jnr (Div 3 / 67%). Speakman streaks ahead (11-8). He possesses a blistering backhand which unleashes the fury of the table tennis gods at times. Wearing his trademark blue and white top, he is, for the moment, preying on the seemingly unoiled game of Jones Jnr.
Jones has a habit of whacking his left thigh with the bat when things are going wrong, as if seeking out blood or life amid the numbness. Kick-starting his game, a semblance of his ability, he begins to produce what I know he is capable of: 4-11, 6-11. Not one to rein in the high-risk shots, he is, all of a sudden, unforgiving, acutely adaptable. 10-12.
An early 3-6 lead for Jefco; Jones narrowly avoiding a cataclysmic five-setter which can chew up your insides and leave you shaking like you’re about to enter an examination hall.
The doubles (2-3) pushes Jefco further ahead, Speakman learns how to master Saunders (3-1), yet Jones adds to Bent’s five-set woe (2-3). 10-13 Jefco. Exceptional.
By Jeff Weston