Irrepressible Tahiti Claim Gold as Melveen Richmond’s Star Shines Brightest

Three victories from the racket of Melveen Richmond sensationally propelled Tahiti to victory against New Caledonia in the Women’s Team final of the 2011 Pacific Games on the evening of Wednesday 31 August. An electric atmosphere was created by thunderous applause and chanting after each and every point from the capacity crowd in the Jean Noyant Hall.


In the group phase New Caledonia had forged an excellent come from behind five matches to four victory and they were looking to repeat the result in the final, however it was not to be for the host nation.


First on court was Tuarikirau Thunot of Tahiti against Ornella Bouteille from New Caledonia. The petite but vocal Thunot made an excellent start to the duel claiming the first two games in the blink of an eye. From there on it was line ball throughout, but it was Thunot who emerged victorious in undoubtedly her best performance of the competition to date.


Tahiti leads 1-0


Next on court was Tahiti number one Melveen Richmond against sixteen year old Fleur Dumortier. The silky skills and excellent ball control of Richmond was too much for Dumortier as the Tahitian extended their advantage with a straight games victory.


Tahiti leads 2-0


Alexandra Heraclide of New Caledonia faced off against Tina Mii in the third match, surely only a positive result for the New Caledonian would keep their gold medal hopes alive. Playing with short pimples on both sides of the racket and unleashing a powerful forehand whenever the opportunity arose, Heraclide overpowered Mii to put New Caledonia back in with a chance claiming a straight games victory.


Tahiti leads 2-1


The next match proved to be the watershed in hindsight. Melveen Richmond was looking to avenge her loss at the hands of Ornella Bouteille in the group stage of proceedings and she came out all guns blazing to claim the first two games in smart fashion. From there Bouteille rallied in her typical calm style. With a series of stinging blocks and counter topspins she managed to even proceedings at two games apiece. The fifth and final game went right down to the wire. Matters were level at nine points all before Richmond unleashed an unreturnable backhand down the line, and then forced a Bouteille error on her first match point. Tahiti was inching closer to the title.


Tahiti leads 3-1


Alexandra Heraclide found herself in the unenvious position once again of having to win to give New Caledonia a realistic chance of victory. Up against Tuarikirau Thunot it was Heraclide who was in control at all times. In her first international competition since 2005, the right hander has been showing excellent form throughout the competition to date and once again she didn’t disappoint as she won in straight games.


Tahiti leads 3-2


Next on court were the teammates from Team Oceania at the 2010 ITTF Global Cadet Challenge in Hyderabad, India – Tina Mii and Fleur Dumortier. Dumortier made the better start by claiming the first game, but then it was Mii who clawed her way back to establish a two games to one lead. Dumortier was leading 8-7 in the fourth game when New Caledonian coach Cathy Gauthier called time out. It proved to be an excellent move as Dumortier claimed the next three points to force a deciding game. Dumortier made the superior start in the fifth game as she established a seemingly impenetrable 6-0 lead. However Mii had other ideas as she evened proceedings at six points apiece. From there Dumortier once again established a lead, this time having match points at 10-8 and then again at 11-10, however as she had done in the earlier match this morning against Vanuatu, Mii held her nerve to fight her way back and clinch the final game 13-11 to put Tahiti within one match of the gold medal.


Tahiti leads 4-2


A victory for Melveen Richmond against Alexandra Heraclide would see Tahiti claim gold, and the Tahitian powerhouse did not disappoint. She controlled matters from start to finish and she wrapped up her third victory of the evening, this time in straight games, and in doing so ensured Tahiti would be stepping on top of the highest position on the medal podium.


Tahiti wins 5-2


For Tahiti it was tears of joy after the match, for New Caledonia it was tears of despair. New Caledonia had remained undefeated until this point and they were left to think what might have been. For Tahiti, they took their chances this evening and thoroughly deserved the gold medal.


Star of the show Melveen Richmond commented after the match ‘we are so happy to have won the gold medal. New Caledonia is a very strong team and they showed that by defeating us in the group phase. However, we made sure that we learned from our mistakes from two days ago and tonight the whole team played their part. Winning the gold medal is the ultimate prize’.


Equally happy was Tahitian Head Coach Gilles Chung as he praised the efforts of his changes ‘of course the gold medal was our goal at the start of the competition, however we knew it would be very tough to win. We know that New Caledonia is very strong, especially in front of their home crowd, as well as Vanuatu and Fiji, so for us to win is an excellent achievement. Much of the result tonight is due to the effort of National Coach Vetea Mollon, who unfortunately had to remain in Tahiti for this competition due to ill health. He has prepared all the players over the past 3.5 years since the last Pacific Games and without his work and the hard training of the players we would not have won tonight. I am very proud of the team and we look forward to achieving more success for the remainder of the competition.’


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