Matsumoto – Fegerl: overcoming the unexpected

Round 6 of the European Men’s Champions League 2016 offered us some interesting team matches which decided what teams would continue competing to be the best continental team of the season. However, Group D had nothing at stake apart from some spectacle like the match between KST Energa Manekin Torun and Borussia Düsseldorf.

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

Brazilian Cazuo Matsumoto and Austrian Stefan Fegerl were the first contenders at the table. Matsumoto, the 31-year-old player from Sao Paulo, is still one of the few top players using the 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 to be a powerful weapon, like in the 2004 Olympics when South Korean’s Ryu Seungmin achieved the gold medal in Men’s Singles draw.

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

Let’s analyze the match between these two players, who have such different techniques.

The match

The first two sets were easy 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 recovery by Fegerl, who changed both his serve and attacking strategy starting in third set. The reason? We will see very soon.

First set

It was a tight game which reached 7-7. Fegerl predominantly looked for Matsumoto’s backhand and performed hardly any of his famous inverted serves. Though when he did, Matsumoto answered them with strong backhand attacks that aborted all of Fegerl’s plans. Matsumoto managed to avoid the Austrian’s close-to-the-table backhand topspin, which usually causes trouble for his opponents, by attacking parallel balls. Despite that, he scored most of his points with backhand winners. He won the last 4 points in a row and got an 11-7. Some of his winning shots can be seen here:

Second set

While Matsumoto looked for Fegerl’s backhand, the Austrian clearly tried to hit balls to the centre of the table, with the intention of forcing his opponent to 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 made 7 mistakes. Matsumoto’s quick shots did not seem to work well for Fegerl, especially on his backhand. 11-4 for Matsumoto, much easier than the first set. The following video shows these facts:

Third set

The most interesting set of the match regarding the tactical aspect. Both players kept trying to find their opponent’s weak spots: Fegerl’s faulty backhand and Matsumoto’s centre 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, leading to a 6-2 on the scoreboard, and forcing Fegerl to use his timeout at 5-2. Let’s see what happened up until this moment:

Fegerl did not surrender and kept hitting balls to the centre of the table where Matsumoto had had a little trouble blocking before. And it worked! Here are 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 he had 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 the representative points for 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 compared to Fegerl’s, became a surprisingly winning shot that allowed him to score two sets in a row.

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

Overcoming the adversity

It happens often that some matches develop in a way that do not allow us to play comfortably. The often-said “I’m not having a good day today” is usually as a result of a wise strategy on the opponent’s side. We can learn many things from this match regarding this:

  • If something didn’t work well the first or the second time, try it once more. Especially, if it is usually one of your best skills.
  • Think about how you won your points and try to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses. 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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