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Table Tennis: Syed sets up England win

CARL PREAN and Matthew Syed both produced outstanding victories over Jean-Philippe Gatien, the Olympic silver medallist and English Open champion, as England scored a 4-1 victory over France last night at Grantham in the first international in this country since the glue ban.

The ban, imposed by the English Table Tennis Association on New Year's Day because of the potential health hazard to players, is said to slow down the quickest attackers by as much as 20 per cent. Sure enough, the defensive style of Syed and the backhand blocking and forehand counter-hitting of Prean contained the flamboyantly aggressive Frenchman.

Prean scored two of England's four wins, also beating another left-hander, Nicholas Chatelain, in straight games, but it was Syed's 21-19, 21-18 victory over Gatien in the opening contest that was the showpiece. The Oxford University student reckoned beforehand that the rule change might help him considerably and that is the way it turned out.

The Frenchman tried to break down Syed's mobility, concentration and varieties of spin by mixing slow loops with fast loops and sometimes serving short and tight before following up with quick attacks to prevent Syed retreating into a safe defensive position.

At 19-19 in the first game Syed produced a magnificent forehand chop which he capitalised upon with a spectacular running backhand kill, and then he won the game point with a deceptive service. At 19-18 in the second game Syed returned the ball from all parts of the court and then clinched the first match point with more excellent defence on the forehand side. England's other win in the best-of-seven match came from Chen Xinhua, the national champion.

Earlier, the ETTA made a public clarification of the glue ban, which had been wrongly understood during the national junior trial finals at the weekend to permit 'glueing up' provided it occurred more than 24 hours before playing. Instead, all 'fast' glues are forbidden and a list of safe glues is soon to be published.