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Shang Kun guided 1.FC Saarbrücken to the final (Photo: Jörg Fuhrmann)

Devoid of spectators owing to restrictions imposed to combat the current pandemic, nevertheless on the evening of Thursday 17th December, the atmosphere in the ARAG Centre Court was electric; German clubs at the expense of Russian based outfits, booked their places in the final of the 2020/2021 Table Tennis Champions League Men.

Borussia Düsseldorf recorded a 3-2 success against TTC UMMC Ekaterinburg before 1.FC Saarbrücken secured a 3-1 win in opposition to Fakel Gazprom Orenburg, three times the champions.

Man of the moment was Shang Kun, he remained unbeaten for 1.FC Saarbrücken, accounting for Vladimir Samsonov (14-12, 9-11, 11-3, 11-4) in the second match of the fixture against Fakel Gazprom Orenburg, before in the contest that was to seal the victory, overcoming Marcos Freitas in a full distance encounter (11-7, 11-8, 1-11, 5-11, 6-4).

Alas for Marcos Freitas it was not to be his day; a close defeat in the fourth match of the fixture, in the first it had been just the same. In five games he was beaten by Patrick Franziska (11-8, 5-11, 11-6, 7-11, 6-3), a win that was a major confidence boost for the German club.

The one win for Fakel Gazprom Orenburg was secured in the third match of the engagement by Dimitrij Ovtcharov; he recovered from a disastrous start, to beat Darko Jorgic (4-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-5).

Two wins from Shang Kun proved the backbone of victory; conversely for TTC UMMC Ekaterinburg, an unbeaten display by Jonathan Groth was not sufficient to avert defeat.

In the opening match of the engagement against Borussia Düsseldorf he overcame Kristian Karlsson (11-8, 11-8, 11-3), before in the fourth contest giving his team hope by defeating Timo Boll in a quite extraordinary duel.

Notably, in the second match of the contest Timo Boll had overcome Tomislav Pucar (11-6, 11-8, 11-6) and appeared to be in fine form.

Trailing two games to one, in the fourth Jonathan Groth established an 8-3 and 10-7 lead. On the brink of victory but that one vital point proved the hardest. Eventually he succeeded at the ninth attempt, after saving four match points. A deciding game beckoned, incredibly he did not surrender a single point (11-5, 10-12, 6-11, 21-19, 6-0).

Once again, as has been often the trend throughout the tournament, an early two-point advantage in the fifth game proved decisive; it proved the same for Marcos Freitas, he never held a lead in the decider against either Patrick Franziska or Shang Kun.

It was the also the situation for Anton Källberg, when facing Liam Pitchford; he won the vital third match of the engagement against TTC UMMC Ekaterinburg to give Borussia Düsseldorf a one match lead. Matters level at two games apiece against Liam Pitchford, in the fifth, Anton Källberg establish a 3-1 lead, the gap was decisive (10-12, 11-7, 11-5, 11-13, 6-3).

Parity, a fifth and decisive match of the contest proved somewhat an anti-climax; Kristian Karlsson returned to winning ways; in straight games he accounted for Tomislav Pucar (11-8, 11-9, 11-2) to secure a place in the final.
The final is scheduled for 8.30 pm (Central European Time) on Friday 18th December.

Thursday 17th December

Jonathan Groth v Kristian Karlsson 11-8, 11-8, 11-3
Tomislav Pucar v Timo Boll 6-11, 8-11, 6-11
Liam Pitchford v Anton Källberg 12-10, 7-11, 5-11, 13-11, 3-6
Jonathan Groth v Timo Boll 11-5, 10-12, 6-11, 21-19, 6-0
Tomislav Pucar v Kristian Karlsson 8-11, 9-11, 2-11

Marcos Freitas v Patrick Franziska 8-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-7, 3-6
Vladimir Samsonov v Shang Kun 12-14, 11-9, 3-11, 4-11
Dimitrij Ovtcharov v Darko Jorgic 4-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-5
Marcos Freitas v Shang Kun 7-11, 8-11, 11-1, 11-5, 4-6