In the evening of Saturday 9th, after my league match in MĂŒlheim, I drove back to Haarlem and it was snowing badly. On Sunday morning my alarm went off at 4 AM and outside it was still snowing. At 4.30 I leave for Schiphol Airport and I can hardly see the road. I wonder if this is the forerunner of the things to come.
We fly to Vienna where we have to change aircraft. Just before landing we make an overshoot but after that we make a safe landing. We have a smooth flight to Moscow and thenâŠâŠâŠâŠâŠ.the party really starts. The coach which will take us to our hotel almost falls apart. It is kept together with speedtape. De driver is from Kyrgyzstan and has no idea where to go. He takes the wrong exit and we arrive at a very narrow and endless forest road with high snow banks. Now and then we almost collapse, we have to clean the windscreen with snowballs and after nearly 3 hours nightmare we arrive at our destination, the luxury barracks Hotel Saturn in Ramenskoe. Only the arena is very nearby, nothing else in the surroundings. It looks like it is going to be a matter of surviving. Excellent choice to organize this tournament in Russia (not!).
On Tuesday we played our first match against Luxemburg. This was just a warming up for us because we won all disciplines in two games.
That day we were confronted with a major setback. Just before the match our teammate Jelle Maas got ill and he couldnât play. The tournament physician examined him and he was taken to a local hospital. Finally he was taken to a better hospital in Moscow for further treatment. This meant that I also would have to play the menâs doubles with Jacco Arends.
The match against Hungary, my 30th cap for the Dutch Team on Wednesday, wasnât difficult either. Again we won all disciplines in 2 games. But on Thursday Switzerland was our opponent and we knew that we would have to be well focussed and especially the Swiss women shouldnât be underestimated.
Fortunately Samantha Barning and I managed to secure the first point by winning in 2 games. After that Eric Pang defeated his opponent in straight games. So now it was up to Patty Stolzenbach to secure the quarter finals for us. Unfortunately she lost the first game but then she recovered very quickly and smartly and she put the match on her name. Thereafter the mens and ladies doubles were won easily and so we had reached the quarter finals where Russia would be our opponent. And that was a different piece of cake.
Our match was the last one of the quarter finals that Friday afternoon. It was broadcast live on Russian Television.
Samantha and I were the first ones to play and our opponents were Vladimir Ivanov and Valeria Sorokina. Ivanov is a giant who is just not 5 metres tall. Normally Sorokina plays with Nikolaenko but he isnât playing at the moment. At the Individual European Championships Samantha and I had played this pair and then we lost in 2 games but with many good and long rallies. Now with Ivanov behind Sorokina there was much more pressure and we soon found out that this combination is even better than the one with Nikolaenko. In fact we were taught a lesson in playing the first three shots. Once we were in a rally we managed to get along rather well but it happened not often enough. We lost with 12 and 10 putting our team on a 1-0 arrear.
Now it was Eric Pangâs turn to play Malkov in the menâs single. This match was very important to get a slight chance of winning this encounter. Eric started rather slowly and he hardly could speed up. Malkov was pressing well from the very beginning and despite of Eric coming closer a bit he won the first game by 17. In the second game Eric kept up better and we got hope for a third game. Then Malkov accellerated at the right moment and finished it off by 21 to 17. So 2-0 for the Russians.
Now our fate was in the hands of Patty and she started very well. Her opponent, Ella Diehl, was completely taken by surprise in the opening game which was won by Patty with 21-9.
In the second game they were rather well matched till 16-14. From that moment on Diehl scored four points in a row enforcing a third game.
In the mean time Jacco and I were warming ourselves up in case of Patty winning her match. But it soon became clear that we could put our rackets back in our bags. In that third game Diehl was steaming up like an old Soviet diesel locomotive putting Patty on a 2-15 arrear. From that moment on Patty started to play better again but the gap was too large to bridge. Diehl won this game by 21 to 14 and she secured the semi finals for Russia.
Prior to this decisive match we knew that standing a chance would mean that we all would have to play at our top level. Well we didnât reach that Friday – which was not in the least due to the Russians who played very well. Â It was quite a disappointment but it was reality.
Fortunately we also had a bit of luck because Jelle Maas was back in the hotel. Friday he had been released from hospital and he was doing reasonably well.
On Saturday we have visited Moscow. We travelled by train and subway and played the tourist. Finally you cannot leave this country without having been at the Red Square and without having saluted Poetin in the Kremlin. Once back in our Ramenskoe hotel we all agreed that it was more than time to go home and to proceed to our usual business: training and preparing ourselves for the next tournament which will be the German Open.
We were not able to watch the end of the final between Denmark and Germany. We were picked up early for the trip to Domodedovo airport. In the coach we heard that Germany had won the cup. What a surprise. Finally not Denmark after 16 years. Good for our sport!
Congratulations to the national team of Germany!