ASV Grunwettersbach Top the Field in World Class JOOLA Team Championships

By Matt Hetherington | Nov. 27, 2017, 2:13 p.m. (ET)

In true world class style it was the team from Germany, ASV Grunwettersbach who were the force to take out the 2017 JOOLA North American Team Championships. Attracting 960 table tennis players across over 230 different teams, the JOOLA team championships hosted players from across the USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, China and many other places. We were especially happy to see teams coming from Puerto Rico, bringing with them warm vibes and fighting spirit - we wish you and your families all the best in these difficult times.

Of course aside from it's usual spleandor, this year was even more unique. Celebrating its 20th year anniversary, the JOOLA team championships decided to spice things up and offer something never experienced before. For the first time in history a German Bundesliga match would be held outside of Germany, outside of Europe and on American shores. The showdown saw Grunwettersbach, 7th in the league, take down Post SV Mulhausen - currently ranked 2nd. It was a stunning performance and set the way for the rest of the tournament. 

With $15,000 on the line for the winning team the caliber of competitors was high. Over 20 players rated or estimated at or above 2700 level with a host of international and world ranked players competing. Two US Open champions joined forces with 2015 and 2016 champs Wang Jinxin and Wang Wei teaming together, they would lose out to Grunwettersbach in the quarterfinal stage with Wang Jinxin stepping up to beat England's Samuel Walker, but Ricardo Walther sealing the deal over Wang Wei.

There were some stellar matches in the quarterfinals with Michael Martinez getting pumped up alongside Marcos Madrid, Ernesto Ebuen and Tahl Leibovitz from New York City TTA A, Shaanxi Men's team from China would advance to the semifinal in that matchup, 3-1. Team JOOLA were in good form as they blasted into the semifinals, the team of Sharath Achanta Kamal, Lubomir Pistej, Jorg Rosskopf and Jishan Liang advanced over Levallois from France but not without challenge, a 5 match victory would get them there.

The semifinals would provide the ultimate entertainment with a bundesliga rematch. ASV Grunwettersbach would take on Mulhausen yet again. Japan's Masataka Morizono would lead out for Grunwettersbach, undefeated across the competition, his run would continue against Daniel Habesohn. Habesohn's power would prove a major factor in the game but Morizono held the focus in the final moments and stepped up his offense to close out a 5th game thriller. Ricardo Walther followed suit by eliminating Ovidiu Ionescu in a reverse of their bundesliga matchup with the German player succeeding in restraining Ionescu's powerful forehand game. Lubomir Jancarik followed the trend, also reversing the bundesliga result and turning the tables on Samuel Walker. With a 2-1 lead in hand it was Morizono, the Kingpin, who would take down Ionescu and lead Grunwettersbach into the final. 

Team JOOLA were the homeside favorite as they blasted through Shaanxi Men's team in the second semifinal. Lubomir Pistej had a tough start with a tight 3-2 win over Yang Zhuo, the reliable Chinese player was tight on serve and receive and solid on openings but Pistej's international experience helped him pull through at the end. Sharath Kamal started slow against Gui Chenkai but as he eased into his game he proved to be too solid and gave Team JOOLA a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 battle. Perhaps one of the most entertaining matches was between Jishan Liang, a resident of the USA and the defensive payer Wang Chen Ce. There aren't many things as outstanding to watch in the states than Jishan Liang playing a chopper and he didn't fail to deliver. With explosive forehands and attacking strokes which Wang had no answer for, it was a one sided affair as the Shaanxi player simply ran out of options against the Beijing native. It would be Liang who would close out the match 3-0 and put Team Joola in the final.

You can see all of the matches leading up to the final on USATT YouTube Channel

The grand final was upon us and two teams had fought toe to toe with a number of exceptional teams to make the last hurdle. An impressive collection of top international players were ready to do battle and cross the line first. 

Masataka Morizono would be first to lead out ASV Grunwettersbach, the small stature of the Japanese player still very much an intimidating presence, undefeated thus far in the tournament. From Team JOOLA it would be Lubomir Pistej to break that trend. The player representing his German team would prove to be as athletic and skilled as ever, but the impeccable serve and return game, coupled with strong third ball attack and unpredictable direction changes would be the deciding factor in the match. Pistej would put the first point on the board for Team JOOLA.

The second match would see Ricardo Walther's power plays overcome India's Sharath Achanta Kamal. Walther locked in the draw for Grunwettersbach as he outplayed Kamal. Despite Kamal's amazing touch and spin control from all areas of the playing court, he was forced back on too many occasions and was unable to match Walther, the current World number 40, with his powerful shots off both wings.

With the team tie all drawn up it was Grunwettersbach's Dang Qiu who stepped up to take on Jishan Liang. It would be a style clash with Qiu's quick penhold game and strong service taking on the cannonfire forehand of the left handed Jishan Liang. Qiu took the early initiative, proving to be effective in playing fast into the backhand of Liang, finding open spots on the table and blasting the ball early off the bounce. Liang fought back in the third but it would be Qiu who shut the door on the match and gave Grunwettersbach a step up to a 2-1 lead.

The 4th match would prove to be the last with Morizono offered a chance for redemption. Taking on Kamal it would be a battle of speed vs touch. There were plenty of rallies and exciting points to be seen with Kamal lobbing from the back barriers and Morizono leaping 2 feet off the ground to smash through him. Morizono would succeed in pushing Kamal back frequently and then devastate him with off the bounce inside out counters wide to the forehand. Morizono, the Kingpin of the weekend, would be the player to receive the final honor as he brought about an end to the tournament and achieved the top position. 

ASV Grunwettersbach would receive the winners' trophies along with $15,000 in prize money with a 3-1 final win over Team JOOLA. An outstanding display of table tennis and very entertaining matches, a chance to see top international players in action right here in the USA. 

Special thanks go to JOOLA USA for organizing an incredibly well run event, both the bundesliga match and the team championships with Richard Lee and his team doing an exceptional job. Also we extend our appreciation to the teams who attended from overseas and gave some international flavor to the tournament, particularly to the international players from the German League and in Team JOOLA who stepped away from their regular league schedules to be here in Washington to compete. And of course a great big thank you to all the players, parents, supporters, coaches and spectators who attended the tournament and created such a special atmosphere. We look forward to seeing what next year will bring!

See the FINAL livestream below: