2005 SoCal Open

In an exciting battle, Shao Yu defeated Ludovic Gombos to win his first ever Open Singles Final event! Read more for all the results and Alan William’s hot tournament write up!

2005 SoCal Open on the STIGA North American Tour
August 20th and 21st, 2005
Balboa Park Activity Center, San Diego, CA

Southern California is a hotbed for US Table Tennis. The players are numerous and talented, there are excellent coaches, a crowd of improving juniors, wily veterans, dedicated organizers, knowledgeable and appreciative spectators and an outstanding facility in the Balboa Park Activity Center. All of these were in evidence at this year’s SoCal Open.

The tournament was also notable, however, for what was absent. NATT’s staff was confronted with a challenge when we found that much of our tournament equipment and many of our control desk supplies had been inadvertently shipped to Taiwan! Tournament Director Tom Nguyen overcame this obstacle, and with several phone calls, one rather expensive trip to Staples, and the willing loan of barriers and scoreboards by SDTTA officers, replacement parts were brought to bear, rescuing the operation. Likewise, Tournament Referee Linda Hsing, one of the most energetic and enthusiastic officials working in the sport, scrambled to compensate for a lack of umpires and umpire desks as she supervised the proceedings. Lucky indeed that Saul Weinstein appeared and pinch-hit and that several players volunteered to monitor the most important matches!

Many top players and 2005 STIGA Tour luminaries were also MIA. With no appearance by David Zhuang, Pradeeban Peter-Paul, Thomas Keinath or Gao Yan Jun, it was assured that someone new would be laying claim to a Tour Champion title and the $2,000 check that goes with it. None of the previous Tour Stop champs had entered, and the Open Singles field was wide open, so to speak.

In the other events, however, there were plenty of repeat winners, as some players showed their dominance and newly improved skills in event after event. Brana Vlasic, for instance, laid claim to all three of the Ying/Lo Junior competitions she entered, the Girls U-22, U-18 and U-16, placing, respectively, Wendy Eave, Jessica Yick and Willa Tammy Gu in second positions.

A word is needed here about Don James Alto. Not only are he and his brother, Earl, a breath of fresh air, fine, optimistic and upbeat young men, there is a marked improvement in his play. Don took first place in both the U-16 and U-13 Boys Ying/Lo Junior events, relegating Sang Lien to runner-up each time. Earl came second to Kevin Phung in the U-18 portion of the program. But in the U-2375, a very high level rating event, Don James truly distinguished himself, first by defeating Texas Wesleyan’s Courtney Roberts in the semi-finals, and then by staging a spectacular Final with Rudy Miranda.

Spectators crowded the area around Table 1 as these two settled matters on Sunday morning. Rudy is an outstanding player, with veteran tactics and a powerful backhand that is to be feared and avoided. Nonetheless, Don James Alto built a 3 to 2 game advantage, scores of -7,6,12!,-11 and 6 from Alto’s perspective, before Miranda asserted himself in taking the last two games, 12 and 8. Alto’s pips out play was exceptional, and it took all of Miranda’s stamina to stave off his young opponent.

Rudy’s play was exceptional in winning that match, but left him with little left in the tank against Kazuhiro Kamada in the Over 40 Final. Although Miranda had two wins against him already in other events, Kamada, with great joy, took their third meeting by scores of 7,10,-7,8,-4,9. “I am so tired!” Rudy ruefully admitted. “It was all I could do to hang in there and play a blocking game. And you cannot beat a player of his caliber playing that way!” Miranda says that ‘work and the kids’ are keeping him busy, but after matches with Alto and Kamada, you might say that kids and work had both followed him to San Diego!

It was great to see players from Hawaii, including Rick Livermore, and no doubt they celebrated the win by Bill Kanae in the U-1850 all the way home. Benjamin Yang posted double victories, taking the U-1100 and U-1250. Personally, I was very pleased to see many old friends, stalwart supporters of NATT events like Wade Sun and Tri Dinh have good tournaments, posting their names in our results categories. It was also a pleasure to see that class act, Tawny Banh. Tawny won Women’s Singles with a 12,-9,8,8,7 five gamer against Crystal Huang. I found myself hoping that Tawny would become the first woman to win a STIGA Tour event Open Singles title outright. Wang Chen was within three games of claiming an Eastern Open, but Barney Reed beat her for the title. It was a selfish desire on my part, I confess, but “First Female Tour Champion” would make for a memorable story!

Certainly all the Quarterfinalists were happy about their chances, as the path to the title seemed wide open. With $145 for players losing the Quarters, but a $2,000 payday to the player that could win three matches in a row, competition was sharp, intense and dramatic.

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Ludovic Gombos vs. Avishy Schmidt

Gombos is a smooth and fluid court performer, electrogliding from ball to ball with classic footwork. Avishy is no slouch either; his ball awareness and tactical awareness are quite keen. Splitting the first two games at nine points apiece was the best Schmidt could muster, however. Gombos has been steadily improving his play since coming to this country, more due to acclimation, in my opinion, than due to any change in his approach. This match echoed that arch, as Schmidt had to smilingly admit he was overmatched, 4,6,2 in the Gombos five game victory.

Michael Hyatt vs. Ben Johnson

It was good to see Michael Hyatt once again at play, having not competed at all in 2004. Michael’s a great player, a real crowd-pleaser, and I can recall seeing him ‘raise his game’ at moments seemingly beyond the 2500 rating he’s earned. He had played a tough seven-game loss to Khoa Nguyen in his last tour appearance, but that was back in 2003. Over that same period, Ben Johnson has grown his American rating by 150 points, to about 2450 currently. For these two well-matched players, events turned on Hyatt’s high energy game, and 14,-5, 10,7,5 Hyatt advanced against the well-mannered Johnson.

Crystal Huang vs. Shao Yu

Crystal didn’t love her draw, and was not wild about playing Shao Yu. Would you be? With more consistent forehand play than he showed a few years ago, and that banging backhand, Shao is a force to be reckoned with. Quiet and uncontroversial, he simply ‘gets the job done’. Here it was a four game win, 8, 9,6 and 6, in a match Crystal really didn’t want much part of. Coaching now occupies more and more of her time, and while she is a solid 2400, that’s not enough to advance here.

Tawny Banh vs. Barney Reed

As the tournament’s Top Seed, Barney had tidily ‘taken care of business’ in his Round Robin, and seemed affable and relaxed in the San Diego venue. Certainly, we were appreciative of the fact that Ludovic and Barney had helped us with the tournament setup on Friday. But Tawny Banh is like a mother tiger. Is there a player more intense? More determined or focused about her play? That seems to go well with her approach, that pips out close to the table right off the bounce banging style that challenges her opponents to be as quick and as sharp as she is. Here it is Tawny that is all business, and quickly Barney loses his smile as Banh takes the first two games, 8 and 8, refusing to yield from 9-8 scores each time. In the third game, the ohs and ahs definitely increase in volume as the players go deuce! This is a pivotal game, and Barney plays like it, and the 17-15 result shows you what a struggle it was! Struggle, but another Banh win, and Barney’s down 3 games to none. Barney salvages pride with an 11-9 victory in Game 4, but it honestly seems to help Tawny more than Barney as she comes out even more determined in the fifth game and spanks, simply spanks the higher rated player 11-3. There’s no gloating from Tawny, and only grim acceptance from the disappointed Reed. Both players look like they’ve been to the war, but for Reed, the battle is over and Tawny advances.

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Semifinals
Ludovic Gombos vs. Michael Hyatt

Gombos is seriously smooth and his ball control, measured risk-taking and poise propel him to a straight game victory here. Ludovic is beginning to garner quite a fan club, but due to his style and his mental toughness. For an ‘all-around player’, Ludovic has a great fighting spirit, refusing to quit on any point regardless of the game score or situation. Michael thrives on emotion and display, wants to feel the crowd behind him, but as game after game ticks by, and by identical scores of 5, 5 and 5, he falls behind, there is little to build momentum on. Hyatt’s proud too, though, and fights to a 7-7 score in Game 4. The crowd cheers his effort and raising his hands like a football player, Hyatt encourages them to ‘Cheer’, ‘Cheer’, and they do. It’s deep irony that as the crowd buzzes, and Michael goes into his service position, he hits his finger on the serve and places the ball dead center in the net, eliciting some laughter and ‘Oh, Poor Man’. It’s also the end for Michael as Gombos closes the door 11-7. Hyatt’s good-natured about the defeat, and has 320 reasons to be cheerful enough.

Tawny Banh vs. Shao Yu

A tiger, I’m telling you! Tawny comes out slamming against Shao, and 16-14 notches a first game win! But Shao is not panicked, and increasingly plays the angles, dragging Tawny to her wide forehand for points, and increasing his spin. But this is a wonderful match between two fabulous players, and Tawny has adjustments of her own. Particularly with her backhand she can hide her intention to the last instant, sending Shao scrambling for down-the-line backhand blocks and cross court rips. Shao wins the last four games, but the scores give you clear notice that Tawny never quit, and every point was well-played. Shao Yu wins the last four games, 13-11, 11-5, 14-12 and 12-10. In the five games they played, only one didn’t go deuce! A wonderful effort by both, but only Shao can go to the Final.

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Championship Match
Ludovic Gombos vs. Shao Yu

It was interesting to listen to the comments of top players, knowledgeable players before this match. Many thought that there was no way Gombos could lose. “His skills are too strong! He’s an all-around player that does everything well! Such ball control! Such grace!” Interestingly, the players who had lost to Gombos on his way to the final could not agree on where his weak spots were. One thought that the key was to serve him short; another disagreed, saying that ‘he eats that ball for lunch’. One person, however, remembered that Gombos had only three losses at the Cary Cup…and that they were to Thomas Keinath, Stefan Feth and you guessed it! Shao Yu.

Spectators overflowed the surrounding bleachers and saw an excellent match, but history repeated itself as Shao Yu did what no one else in San Diego had done, shut down Ludovic Gombos. By scores of 7,5,9,-12 and 8, Shao took the title and $2,000 leaving Gombos with admiration and $800. Ludovic and Shao played spectacular points, with increasingly close games and growing cheers. In the fourth game, Gombos returned two successive balls from his knees, going down three times to the floor in a single point and only narrowly missing putting that last return on as well.

For his part, Shao Yu expressed post-match admiration for his opponent’s grit and skill. Gombos said that he should have trusted his own instincts on tactics, and maybe listened less to self-appointed cornermen and impromptu coaches. Together, they brought the SoCal Open to a spectacular conclusion. It was the kind of finish that makes all the work NATT does to get there worth the effort.

2005 SoCal Open On The 2005 Stiga North American Tour

Event Name

Champion

Finalist

Open Singles

Shao Yu

Ludovic Gombos

Women’s RR

Tawny Banh

Yao Xi Huang

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Men’s RR

Yang Liu

Kevin Phung

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Women’s RR

Brana Vlasic

Wendy Eav

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Boys RR

Kevin Phung

Earl James Alto

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Girls RR

Brana Vlasic

Jessica Yick

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Boys RR

Don James Alto

Sang Lien

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Girls RR

Brana Vlasic

Tammy Willa Gu

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U13 Boys RR

Don James Alto

Sang Lien

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U13 Girls RR

Christiana Divita

Ariel Hsing

Feingold Memorial Over 40 RR

Kazuhiro Kamada

Rudy Miranda

Feingold Memorial Over 50 RR

Suguru Araki

Ron VonSchimmelmann

Feingold Memorial Over 60 RR

Ragnar Fahlstrom

Bill Ukapatayasakul

Under 2500 SE

Michael Hyatt

Shao Yu

Under 2375 RR

Rudy Miranda

Don James Alto

Under 2250 RR

Tri Dinh

Kazuhiro Kamada

Under 2125 RR

Wade Sun

Suguru Araki

Under 2000 RR

Ernest DeLosReyes

Marco Borrillo

Under 1850 RR

Billy Kanae

Chi Tran

Under 1700 RR

Wilhelm Adoremos

Brian Bui

Under 1550 RR

Scott Roberts

Alan Randy Colio

Under 1400 RR

Richard Kim

Serena Banh

Under 1250 RR

Benjamin Yang

Jonathan Ley

Under 1100 RR

Benjamin Yang

Harold LeMaster

Under 950 RR

Ignacio Ascencio

Patrick Chao

Under 800/Unrated RR

Dave Tierro

Edna Adrieanna Abelar Rosales

Under 3200 Doubles SE

Channing Chan & Cong Xiao

Harley Oda & Ulderico Naputo