England were defeated in three close matches as France silenced a 700+ crowd at the K2 in Crawley tonight in their European Team Championships Stage One tie.

The attendance took to over 1,000 the number of spectators who watched this match and the one on Thursday night as England beat Serbia 3-0.

Paul Drinkhall opened up against Can Akkuzu, on paper a tight match with the Frenchman ranked 11 places higher at 68.

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The first game was duly a close one, Drinkhall clawing back from 5-9 to 9-9 with a mixture of forehand and backhand winners down the line and a trademark forehand flick.

Both men had chances to take it, Drinkhall going a whisker long at 11-10, but it was Akkuzu who took it 14-12 as Drinkhall forced his opponent back, brought him in with a delecate drop shot but then went just long with the kill shot.

As an aperitif, that wasn’t bad, and the two continued to duel. There was no more than a point between them for most of the second as either went ahead and the other immediately pegged them back.

But it was Drinkhall who had the game points, three of them from 10-9, finally powering past Akkuzu to level it up.

Another close one in the third saw Akkuzu bring up two game points with a super forehand bulleted down the line. Drinkhall saved one with one of those famous forehand flicks, but clipped the net and went long with a similar shot on the second game point.

The fourth saw Drinkhall produce a couple of those blistering passages of play when you know you are watching table tennis the equal of anyone on the planet.

Akkuzu had the odd trick up his sleeve – such as a well-disguised ‘ace’ straight up the line, but he could not live with Drinkhall for most of the game as Paul turned a 5-0 start into an 11-5 victory with a wonderful array of shots.

Akkuzu held the upper hand through most of the decider, turning around at 5-3 and forcing Drinkhall into a timeout a point later. Drinkhall hung in, reducing the arrears to 8-9, but just unable to reverse the flow as Akkuzu sealed it 11-8.

Can Akkuzu in action

Tom Jarvis versus Felix Lebrun had a tasty look about it, with the 16-year-old French player the talk of the world game having already risen into the top 70 in the world.

So when he took his timeout as early as 4-1 down in the second, it was perhaps a surprise. Not to take anything away from Jarvis, who was laser-focused and in full control of his game.

He took the first 11-5 and had that lead, which became 5-1, in the second. Something at the timeout worked, however, as a switch seemed to come on in Lebrun. He suddenly led 10-5 as he upped the pace of his shots and consequently made Jarvis look hurried.

Jarvis stopped the flow by saving two game points but netted a receive to leave it all square.

We saw some high quality in the next two games from both players, but the penholder Frenchman generally had the edge from 8-8 in the third onwards, taking that game with three in row and then staying just in front throughout the fourth via a Jarvis timeout and, for an audible obscenity, a yellow card a couple of points away from the end.

A little frustration was understandable – he played well, and Lebrun’s full-throated celebration showed he felt he had really earned his victory.

Felix Lebrun

David McBeath had taken Jules Rolland to a decider at the World Championships in China in October and he made a confident start to lead 5-2. Rolland found his range to overturn that and take it 11-7.

McBeath had a similar lead in the second but this time he stuck with it and was first to bring up a game point. That was saved by a viciously clean forehand crosscourt winner, and McBeath missed another chance at 11-10. So, there was a glimmer, but Rolland swiftly doused it by reeling off three in a row, the game-winner another heavy forehand into McBeath’s body.

There was another lead in the third – 4-2 this time, but Rolland showed he was up for the fight with some monumental defence on the next point, sending one lob from the back of the court right onto the sideline practically via the ceiling, before counter-attacking to win the point.

The timeout at 5-6 felt like a last roll of the dice for McBeath and coach Gavin Evans, and McBeath did continue to show flashes, including saving two match points at 8-10.  

A top edge gave Rolland another chance. McBeath again clawed it back with a thumping forehand kill. When McBeath netted in the next rally, there was a fourth match point. Rolland took a nerve-calming timeout but still lost the next point, despite making one return from a seated position.

McBeath brought up a game point with the aid of a net cord, but could not make it count – and Rolland finally sealed it as McBeath went long.

So England were beaten by some ‘Gallic flair in Angleterre’. But they have a chance to turn the tables quickly – the return match is in France on Sunday.

England coach and interim Performance Director Gavin Evans said: “It was a good match and I can’t ask much more from the lads. The crowd were amazing.

“Paul played a very competitive match, Tom played well . . . the French are very good players and ranked above us in every single rubber. You have to be on it every single point against them.

“I think we can go there and win on Sunday.”


England 0 France 3
Can Akkuzu bt Paul Drinkhall 3-2 (14-12, 11-13, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8)
Felix Lebrun bt Tom Jarvis 3-1 (5-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-7)
Jules Rolland bt David McBeath 3-0 (11-7, 13-11, 15-13)