Matsumoto – Fegerl: overcoming the unexpected

Round 6 of European Men’s Champions League 2016 offered us interesting team matches that decided which teams would continue competing to be the best continental team of this season. However, Group D did not have anything on stake apart from some spectacle like the match between KST Energa Manekin Torun and Borussia Düsseldorf.

The latter, group leader that was still unbeaten, was up to the expectations and finished first round with an aparently easy 0-3 over the Polish team. Nonetheless, the 3 matches that were played had the same result: 2-3.

Brazilian Cazuo Matsumoto and Austrian Stefan Fegerl were the first ones appearing at the table. Matsumoto, the 31 year-old player from Sao Paulo, is still one of the few top players using classic penholder technique. That is, he only hits the ball with one side of the racket on both forehand and backhand. Often seen as a handicap by shakehand players, it has been proven as a powerful weapon, as in 2004 Olympics when South Korean’s Ryu Seung-Min achieved the gold medal in Men’s Singles draw.

On the other hand, Fegerl’s represents the best of modern shakehand players backhand technique: quick and spinny flips, topspins and counter-topspins close to the table that allow him to take the iniciative.

Let’s now analyze the match between these two players with such a different technique.

The match

First two sets were an easy job for the Brazilian player, who finished them 11-7 and 11-3. A close third set was won by Fegerl 9-11, who got two more sets in a row 9-11 and 8-11, for a 2-3 (11-7, 11-3, 9-11, 9-11, 8-11) and 0-1 for the German team from Düsseldorf. An impressive and smart overcome by Fegerl, who changed both his serve and attacking strategy starting in third set. The reason? We will see very soon.

First set

Tight game which reached 7-7. Fegerl almost only looked for Matsumoto’s backhand. Moreover, he almost did not perform any of his famous inverted serves, and when he did, Matsumoto answered them with strong backhand attacks that aborted all of Fegerl’s plans. Meanwhile, Matsumoto avoided the Austrian close-to-the-table backhand topspin, which usually causes trouble to his opponents, by attacking parallel balls. Nonetheless, he scored most of his points with backhand winners. He won last 4 points in a row and got an 11-7. Some of his winner shots can be seen here:

Second set

While Matsumoto looked now for Fegerl’s backhand, the Austrian clearly tried to hit balls to the center of the table, with the intention of making his opponent move from the comfortable position he had during the first set. He sometimes switched from those shots to parallel forehand topspins to Matsumoto’s forehand.

His new strategy seemed to work for a while, but his failure rate ruined it all, as he had 7 mistakes. Matsumoto’s quick shots did not seem to work well for Fegerl, specially on his backhand. 11-4 for Matsumoto, much easier than first set. Next video shows these facts:

Third set

The most interesting set of the match regarding the tactical aspect. Both players kept trying to look for the opponent weakspots: Fegerl’s faulty backhand and Matsumoto’s center of the table. The Brazilian was leading the set 4-3, when Fegerl performed this serve:

From that moment, Fegerl realized he could upset Matsumoto with his typical inverted serve, but directed to his forehand. This allowed him to score 3 more easy points, and gave him the initiative on several others. 9-11 and the comeback had just started.

Fourth set

Matsumoto started the set attacking with strong spin forehand topspins towards Fegerl’s forehand. The Austrian just could not return them, and made him reach a 6-2, including a timeout with 5-2 in the meanwhile. Let’s see what happened until this moment:

Fegerl did not surrender and kept hitting balls to the center of the table where Matsumoto had had little trouble blocking before. And it worked now! A couple of examples of this:

Set finished 8-11 and 2-2 on the scoreboard.

Fifth set

Matsumoto would not stop his heavy spin topspins to Fegerl’s forehand, while Fegerl continued as in the previous set. The Brazilian player made some mistakes with his short game and forehand topspin, but several strong backhand attacks balanced the score and a 7-7 was reached. Let’s see representative points of this part of the set:

Matsumoto’s experience did not serve him well in the last points of the match, where 2 long rallies and 2 mistakes were enough for Fegerl to achieve an 8-11 and a final 2-3.

A powerful handicap

Fegerl ended up winning a match that he could not control at all in the first sets. Matsumoto’s backhand, which in theory was going to be a big handicap comparated to Fegerl’s, became a surprisingly winning shot that allowed him to score 2 sets in a row.

However, Fegerl exploited his well-known inverted serve to comeback in the third set and found a weakspot in Matsumoto, the center of the table, that the Brazilian could not avoid.

Overcoming the adversity

It usually happens that some matches develop in a way that do not allow us to play comfortably. The too-many-times said “I don’t have a good day today” is often caused by a wise strategy on the opponent side. We can learn many things from this match regarding this:

  • If something did not work well the first or the second time, try it once more. Specially, if it is usually one of your best skills.
  • Think how you won your points and try to exploit your opponent deficiencies. He will likely make more mistakes.
  • Never think that coming back from a 2-0 or 3-0 set score is impossible. Each set starts 0-0 and usually a couple of points make the difference between winning or losing.


* Cover photo: GEPA

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