Azerbaijanis feel double edge of support on table tennis debut

Baku, June 16, AZERTAC

The fourth day of table tennis saw the first Azerbaijani players make their European Games debut, accompanied by a drumroll, as the singles tournament began under the eyes of a noisy local crowd at Baku Sports Hall on Tuesday 16 June.

The first athlete for the women was Rufat Guliyeva, playing against Bernadette Szocs of Romania.

Young spectators supported Guliyeva with a chant that went: "Stretch your arms, stretch your legs, get all the medals! The star is shining in the sky, this is our Rufa (Rufat Guliyeva) performing!"

Amongst the youngest supporters were table tennis players Dilara, 9, and Nigar, 7, who said they wanted to compete at the European Games when they grew up.

"I am feeling very excited", Guliyeva said afterwards, despite losing 4-0 to the European under-21 No3. "I managed to do only half of what I have been doing during training, but sometimes I gave her a contest.

"Bernadette is a very strong player, she is No59 in the world and a champion of many European junior tournaments."

Teammate Maryam Imanova got similar support as she gave Galia Dvorak of Spain a tough time despite losing 4-0, with two games ending 11-9 and 12-10.

"This support means so much to me", she said. "But it also puts an enormous pressure on my shoulders. I feel that people expect good results from me, so whenever I lose a point or a game, I am thinking of what all these people should think of me, and it distracts a lot."

For the men, Ramil Jafarov lost in straight games to Wang Zengyi from Poland.

"One of the problems I have faced while playing with him was that the racket he is using is not familiar to Azerbaijani table tennis players. It has spikes on it, and mine is a plain one. We are not used to them", said Jafarov.

The last to represent Azerbaijan was Farhad Ismayilov who met with Mihai Bobocica of Italy.

For Ismayilov the 4-0 loss was probably his last international match, as he is planning to retire as an athlete and start coaching.

"We have a potential young generation of players," he said. "And if raised properly they can have a bright future in the world of table tennis. But for this, they need more international experience, as table tennis requires experience of playing with different players."

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