Quadri Aruna showed incredible grit and fierce battling spirit to overcome a three sets deficit to defeat Finland’s Benedek Olah before going on to beat Czech Republic’s Pavel Sirucek in four sets to progress to the main draw at the ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open on Wednesday.
Aruna spent just shy of 26 minutes in a straightforward win over Romanian Hunor Szocs in the previous round but found it decidedly harder against Benedek Olah in a gripping Preliminary Round 3 encounter that had German fans at the GETEC Arena in Magdeburg on the edge of the seats for the duration of the tie.
The meeting was a rematch of the 2016 ITTF Lagos Open Challenge final which Olah won to deny Aruna a maiden trophy in front of home fans.
And it seemed a continuation of that 2016 final as Olah dominated Africa’s top-ranked player from the start to race to a 3-0 (7-11, 8-11, 12-10) lead in less than 30 minutes.
The Nigerian, however, found some resolve to halt the onslaught as he found his range to take the next three games (11-6, 11-7, 11-6) to draw level and force a deciding seventh set.
A pulsating deciding set saw the 31-year-old Aruna grab a 4-2 before being reeled back by his Finnish opponent who won three straight points to move 5-4 ahead.
Aruna, however, hit back with his famous looping forehands bring him to 7-5, but Olah was not finished yet as he surged to take an 8-7 lead to go within three points of a remarkable win.
The tension was palpable inside the GETEC Arena as the match approached a nerve wrangling climax but Aruna held his nerve to take the set 11-8 and the match 4-3 as he completed a remarkable turn around to avenge his 2016 defeat with fans greeting the efforts of both athletes with sustained applause.
Reacting to his incredible victory, the world number 18 said he had no answers to Olah’s arsenal in the first three sets and even contemplated giving up.
“It was a very tough match for me and I had a huge problem receiving his serves almost from the beginning. At 3-0 down I felt like giving up because nothing was working.
“He is an amazing player, the backhand is just too amazing, I had no answer, I had no solutions to his backhand, but of course he made several errors from 3-0 until the end but it was a very close match and tough.”
Later in the day, the Nigerian was back on the table as he confronted the Czech Republic’s Pavel Sirucek in the fourth preliminary round for a place in the main draw.
Sirucek recovered from losing the opening set to take a two set to one lead but Aruna won the next three sets to claim a 4-2 (11-3, 5-11, 9-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-9) victory and book a place in the main draw of the event.
And ahead of the start of the main event, Aruna said he hopes to better last year’s result when he exited at the first hurdle to China’s Zhendong Fan in the round of 32.
“I really want to go far more than I have been playing in the German Open in previous years but of course it is going to be very difficult but nothing is impossible, it is very possible to do much more better than last year.”