Tomislav Japec, victory in his opening match
Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor Overcoming Nerves
Photo By: Sanjin Strukic LIEBHERR Croatian Open, Zagreb
Tomislav JAPEC, a nervous start but victory in his opening match 1/24/2006
The disappointment for table tennis fans intending to watch the Liebherr Croatian Open in Zagreb is the withdrawal from the Men’s Singles of top seed Germany’s Timo BOLL. Nevertheless, the tournament still has a host of world class players on duty and on the morning of Tuesday 24th January 2006 the home supporters had smiles on their faces, thanks to the efforts of twenty-one year old Tomislav JAPEC.
He recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Janez PETROVCIC of Slovenia 7-11, 9-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7.
'I was nervous before the start of the match and I was tentative in the first game', said a somewhat relieved Tomislav JAPEC. 'It’s a long time since I’ve played in Croatia and that had an effect on me, in fact my last tournament in Croatia was the Liebherr Croatian Open a year ago.'
Playing in front of your home crowd adds a degree of pressure to the situation; it’s a fact that was endorsed last week by Lleyton HEWITT at the Grand Slam tennis tournament in Australia after he had lost to Juan Ignacio CHELA of Argentina in the second round of the Men’s Singles event and it’s a scenario that seemingly haunts Great Britain’s Tim HENMAN with regards to Wimbledon. They are both tremendous sportsman, superb tennis players but on home soil so much is expected, the pressure is that much greater and both cannot win the title they so crave, the Grand Slam event in their own country.
Nevertheless after a below par first two games JAPEC recovered and duly won the last four games to secure victory.
Tomislav JAPEC is one of Croatia’s most promising new generation of players and he is a determined young man. One of the national leagues that has grown in strength in the past decade is undoubtedly the French League and for the 2005-2006 season JAPEC moved joined Hennebont in the south of France, having previously played for STK Vecenrnji List in Zagreb. The competition for places in the men’s team in Hennebont is severe but the practice available is of a very high level. BAI Feng Tian, WANG Xin, Artur GRIGORYEV, DĂˇniel GORAK and the man currently ranked number eleven in the world, Kalinikos KREANGA all play for the club.
'I want to make progress, I want to improve, I want to play professionally', said Tomislav JAPEC in a determined tone of voice. 'In Hennebont we have a good coach and of course the players to train with is outstanding.' The coach in question is Milan STENCIL who for several years guided the fortunes of Croatia’s current leading player, Zoran PRIMORAC and has worked for several clubs and national associations in Europe. He is a man with a wealth of knowledge and JAPEC will most certainly benefit from his tutelage.
'In the last year I think my head is better, mentally I’ve improved', continued JAPEC. 'I ‘m more professional and I think I appreciate more what I have to do in order to play at a high level.'
The mental aspect of sport is crucial to success. Ask any of the superb Chinese players why they won and time and time again they will tell you that it was because they were mentally strong and had a clear mind. Also, they are the best in the world when it comes to returning the ball short over the net, the deft returns, the flicks, just as important in table tennis as the booming forehand winners.
In this area of play Tomislav JAPEC believes he has improved. 'I’m better at short, short', he said. 'My control and feeling have improved, also my forehand has got better in the last twelve months, my backhand has always been my strength but now my forehand is catching up.'
He is improving and today he conquered both his adversary and himself. 'The first two games were not good, I was nervous, people watching expected a lot of me', he added. 'After the second game I had to really fight but as I got more into the match I moved better, I served better and of course it motivated me when I heard people cheering for me.'
It was a tough opening match, another match on the learning curve to a higher status. He was nervous but he was strong enough to recognise that fact and he conquered his nerves. More and more Tomislav JAPEC knows what it takes to be a high level table tennis table and furthermore he would seem to have the appetite to succeed.