Maccabi Table Tennis championships review

By Danny Caro, July 6, 2010
Ashley Stokes

Ashley Stokes

Defending champions Ashley Stokes retained the men’s title at the Maccabi GB Table Tennis Open Championships after beating Eli Baraty in the final.

More than 80 competitors of all ages, some of whom are highly nationally ranked, battled it out for various titles.

In its second year at the Harefield Academy, top seed, Zak Zilesnick spectacularly crashed out in the first round, thus ending his dream of making history by being the first and youngest player ever to win every male event available to him at this prestigious event.

Having cruised through the groups, Zilesnick then faced 2005 winner Adam Laws and suddenly found himself in trouble. Significantly, ninth seed Laws, who has been teaching in China for the last four years, was beaten to second place in his group by the talented Rafi Marom, thereby setting up this first round challenge.

Then in an extraordinary turn of events Laws started to find his extra gear giving Zilesnick something to think about. Laws seemed up to the task of taking on the young pretender and in front of a shocked crowd he beat Zilesnick three games straight which now left the men's event more open than had been anticipated.

At only 15 this was to be Zilesnick's last year as a cadet thereby eliminating him form this category in the future and with it, one of his history making dreams.

During another first round match more shocks occurred when Maccabiah stalwart, three times finalist and fourth seed Dov Katz, went out to the powerful nationally ranked left-hander form Leeds, Yoni Caspi thus opening up the men's event even more.

In the same half of the draw, Ashley Stokes, the number two seed and winner of this event for the last two years, was steadily progressing through the rounds but not without drama either. In the second round, he faced 8th seed Rafi Marom and also found himself with a battle on his hands.

Stokes narrowly won the first game but having lost the second had to leave it to the fourth game which he just won 11-8 to put him through to the semi-finals where he was to play the powerful 16-year-old junior and seventh seed Guy Ben-Aroya. Ben-Aroya had just beaten Caspi and his match against Stokes was a nail-biter which yo-yo'ed back and fourth.

Ben-Aroya had his chances to secure his place in the final having been 9-5 ahead in the fourth game and 6-1 ahead in the fifth but in both games he could not ultimately find the resources to take advantage of his lead and throughout some gigantic rallies Stokes kept his cool eventually earning his place in the final.

Elsewhere, third seed Eli Baraty faced another popular left-hander, the fifth seed Matt Spero. Spero had just avoided a first round defeat at the hands of veteran, the 10th seeded nationally ranked Ivan Lewis. This match went the distance in which Spero closely beat Lewis 11-8 in the fifth.

Spero who usually lives up to his seeding hotly contested the quarter-final against Baraty but despite this, Baraty won the match 12-10 in the fourth thereby setting up a meeting with Laws in the semis.

Laws had beaten number one seed Zilesnick in the first round going on to beat sixth seed Keith Lesser in a close three setter but this did not phase Baraty who took the bull by the horns and played some of his best table tennis in beating Laws three games straight putting him firmly in the final against Stokes.

In the men's final, the match started off badly for Baraty who lost 11-2 in the first. Baraty fought back taking the second 11-5 but Stokes again kept his head taking the third game. Up to this stage Baraty had been playing well but it appeared that the occasion got to him as he had been targeting his first Maccabi title since his junior days.

Stokes took the fourth game 11-7 making him the three times consecutive Maccabi GB Open Table Tennis Championships men's champion.

Chairman of Maccabi GB Table Tennis, Mel Davidson said: "Once again we showed what a powerful force Table Tennis is within the whole Maccabi GB sporting arena. This year's championships have been well received. It ran smoother and more timely than previously which clearly demonstrates our continued efforts to improve the event for the benefit of the players.

"Ultimately we run this event for them as they are the life blood of what we do. The sudden dismissal of some of our top seeds early on in the men's competition created a drama rarely seen at previous championships. It opened up the competition and added to the excitement.

"However, despite some top class Table Tennis from all the players involved in this category in the end it was Ashley Stokes who showed his pedigree and made history by retaining this prestigious title for three years running.

"My congratulations go out to all the finalists especially Ashley. Of course some of the other categories had their drama too, Zak Zilesnick did ultimately win the rest of the events he had entered and in a repeat of last year's final he beat Guy Ben-Aroya in the Junior Boy's final.

"It is now looking more ominous that Guy may end up being one of the best juniors never to take this title. I also want to highlight that there is a nucleus of junior talent emerging to fill the void left by many of our previous juniors migrating to the senior ranks, notably David Herskowicz, Jack Josephs and Zak Mandel.

"We also have many solid veterans including, Jeremy Banks, Ivan Lewis, Micky Lang and Ian Mablin and it was good to see Sally Prowen showing her return to form by winning the ladies event finally a special mention should go to Darren Reece for winning the Banded event for the third year in a row.

"I am grateful to the players for supporting this event and hope that they found it as enjoyable to play in as it was to see them play.

"This is a vast project to organise for which I thank the Table Tennis Committee as a whole but would also like to thank those who helped set up the hall for the event and the following for their invaluable help on the day, Alan Shepherd, International Referee and our Tournament Referee, Jade Blasse who was an absolute star, Jackie (hardworking and tenacious) Jacks, Tony Jacks for all his help overall, Keith Lesser for his scheduling skills, Lee Vandermolen for his overall support throughout, my wife Christine who has to put up with everything that happens when organising an event such as this, Steve Gooblar and finally to anyone else who helped that I may have missed out, you know who you are.

"On a final note I believe Jewish Table Tennis is now as healthy or healthier than it has ever been which bodes well for the European Maccabi Games next year in Vienna."

Maccabi GB 2010 Table tennis championship roll of honour:

Men's Singles: Ashley Stokes bt Eli Baraty 11-2, 5-11, 11-8, 11-7

Men's Doubles: Stokes & Zak Zilesnick bt Eli Baraty & Keith Lesser 11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 11-8

Junior Boy's Singles: Zak Zilesnick bt Guy Ben Aroya 11-7, 11-7, 11-6

Cadet Mixed Singles: Zak Zilesnick bt Jack Josephs 33-31, 11-3, 13-11

Junior Boy's Doubles: Zak Zilesnick & Ben-Aroya bt Jonny Khedair & Yoni Smith 11-6,11-2,11-6

Veterans Men's Singles: Ivan Lewis bt Jeremy Banks 11-4, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8

Banded Mixed Singles: Darren Reece bt John Gee-Grant 11-7, 13-11, 12-10

Women's Singles (round robin): Winner: Sally Prowen, runner-up, Dana Samuwitz

Mixed Doubles (round robin): Winners: Dov Katz & Sally Prowen, runners-up, Eli Baraty & Samuwitz

Yoram and Sylvia Katz award for the most promising young sportsman 2009: Jack Josephs

The Milly Supperstein award for Outstanding achievement: Sally Prowen (Outstanding Record in Women's Jewish Table Tennis spanning over 40 years)

Last updated: 1:07pm, July 6 2010