Aruna Quadri produced a comeback for the ages to defeat long-term rival and defending champion Omar Assar 4-3 in the semifinal of the 2020 ITTF Africa Top 16 Cup on Tuesday, 25 February in Tunis.
Quadri’s victory over the Egyptian means that for the first time in two editions, the defending champion fails to progress to the final of the men’s singles.
The tie between the two best players in Africa lived up to the billing with a healthy dose of suspense, incredible shotmaking and extensive rallies that left fans at the Rades Multi-Purpose Hall breathless at the end.
Omar Assar entered the match boasting a 9-6 head-to-head advantage over the Nigerian and looked like extending it when he won the first two games 11-6, 11-5 to open up a 2-0 lead.
Quadri, Africa’s top-ranked player, however, found his rhythm and eventually worked his way back into the game taking the next two games 11-4, 14-12 to restore parity.
There was little to separate both players as spectators enraptured by the nailbiting tension-soaked encounter watched on as Assar went 3-2 up after winning the 5th game 11-7. The Egyptian was immediately pegged back by his Nigerian nemesis who produced some magical shots to level the tie after triumphing 11-5 in the sixth game.
A gripping deciding set ensued and saw the Egyptian come to within a point of vanquishing his foe at 10-8 but Quadri showed incredible mettle to win the next three points to turn the tie in his favour.
With the finish line in sight, Quadri called a time-out when leading 11-10, presumably to gather himself and still his racing heart, and it seemed to do the trick as an unforced error from Assar handed Quadri the win and a place in the final leaving Assar to rue his missed chances.
Quadri will battle another Egyptian in the final after veteran Ahmed Saleh beat Senegal’s Ibrahima Diaw 4-1(14-12,11-7,3-11,11-9,11-7) in the other semifinal.
Nigeria could make it a clean sweep in the men and women’s single with Offiong Edem also making the final after she beat Egyptian Helmy Yousra 4-2 (6-11,14-16,11-811-7,11-7,11-6) in the semifinal.
She will contend with Yousra’s compatriot and defending champion Dina Meshref who beat Sarah Hanffou 4-2 (11-6,11-1,11-13,9-11,11-7,11-4) in a repeat of last year’s final.
The winners of the tournament will represent Africa at the 2020 ITTF World Cups.