2006 Butterfly San Diego Open

If you didn’t attend the 2006 Butterfly San Diego Open, you missed out one of the most spectacular Open Singles finals ever!  Stefan Feth defeated Guoliang Fang in the 7th game! Read more for Alan Williams’ tournament article and see the list of event winners.

Butterfly San Diego Open
Balboa Park Activity Center, San Diego, CA
May 6th and 7th, 2006

“Awesome”.  Isn’t that a California word?  “Awesome”.  If you were impersonating a ‘California accent’, the Valley Girl/Stoner culture that stereotypes California in movies and on TV, “Awesome” would be sprinkled throughout your speech.  But ‘awesome’ has another, older meaning, one associated with incredible mountain ranges and deep gorges, breath-taking sights and earth-moving events, ‘awesome’ as in “filled with awe and admiration”.  So it is that second, older meaning of “Awesome” that must be applied to the Butterfly San Diego Open. 

Anticipation of this tournament was very high, as it sported one of the strongest Open Singles Draws in recent memory for a domestic four star event.  Three of the Top 200 players in the world were present to contest the title, including the highest rated Canadian player, Wilson Zhang, ranked #144 on the planet.  Stefan Feth, newly arrived from Germany, sported an equal rating to Wilson’s 2714 (US), world-ranked #191 and fans were keen to see what would happen when these two met for the first time in competition.  Then, to add fuel to the fire, these two were eclipsed in the seeding by Fan Guoliang of Spain, World #110, who recently had defeated Damien Eloi of France, currently #48 in the World!  Whoever won this title, we were confident that these three players, joined by Barney J. Reed, Pierre-Luc Hinse, Crystal Huang and Junior phenom Jeff Huang were bound to give us a real show. 

You couldn’t ask for a better setting for this unfolding drama!  Butterfly was an excellent sponsor, and Greg Cox and his associates at Martin-Kilpatrick were responsive to our needs and supportive of the players.  San Diego is a beautiful city and Balboa Park is a crown jewel of that city.  The Balboa Park Activity Center was designed with racquet sports in mind and this tournament justified that effort!  With 200+ participants, fabulous play at all levels, SDTTA’s active and passionate support, and semi-finals and finals witnessed by 6 packed bleachers of stomping, screaming, cheering fans, the Butterfly San Diego Open was as much fun as I can recall ever having!  The final two matches are likely to be talked about for years to come for their excellence and drama.

But lest I jump ahead of the narrative thread, let’s recap the action in the ‘Undercard’ first.  Special mention must be made of the exceptional field in Women’s Singles.  A larger than usual field contested the event, all eager to try themselves against Li Yuanyuan, fiancée of Open Singles Top Seed Fan Guoliang.  Li has a beautiful chopping game, last seen in America at the 1998 NA Teams.  She showed that no rust has diminished her skills, easily besting 2450 Sara Fu in the Women’s final, 7,3,8,5.  Since Sara was an Open Singles Quarterfinalist herself, it would be easy to project Li as one of the four best players at the tournament, although she declined to enter the Open category.  Lithe, polished and unflappable, Li’s skill on both wings won her many admirers and established a goal for the other women in their future training. 

The Sol Feingold Memorial Senior Events created great joy for the players, and memorable matches for these lifetime rivalries.  In the Over 40, Guillermo Munoz defeated Dr. Tuan Le for the honors, in the Over 50 Lon Dean had sweet victory over Rodel Valdoria in a hard-fought 4-2 decision.  In the Over 60 Bill Ukapatayaskul bested Bill Ryan 8, 13, 7, 9.  Ironically, those two finalists are slated to be Doubles Partners at the upcoming US Open in Charlotte, NC! 

Whenever Tuan Le is present, you can count on a cheerful attitude and a consistent effort.  He did nothing to damage that image by coming second in both the Over 40, and as runner-up to Shashin Shodhan in the U-2375.  Impressive as well was young Mr. Jose Lujan.  This dynamic youngster showed stamina and spirit in his performances, placing second in the U-2000 to Jesus Sanchez and first in the U-2125 over Patrick Wu.  Jose has no less successful in the Ying-Lo Junior competitions, where he finished second to Jeff Huang in the U-16 boys, and first in the U-18, edging out Mark Wei. 
The Ying-Lo Junior events are designed to maximize play for the youngsters and serve as pretty good indicators of progress within the peer groups.  Here, it was Eric Shahnazari winning the Boys U-10 with Nathaniel Chu second.  For Girls Under 10, Erica Wu held the top spot and Isabel Chu was runner-up.  Girls U-12 was Tammy Gu’s spotlight, defeating Monica Serrano at deuce in the 6th game.  John James Alto showed his continued ability to capture events by taking Boys U-16 honors shading Ignacio Ascencio.  Monica Serrano and Natalie Sun finished 1 and 2 in the Girls U-16; Jeff Huang was the winner in Boys U-16 and gave a wonderful effort in finishing second to Canada’s Pierre-Luc Hinse in the U-22.  Sara Fu eclipsed Brana Vlasic in Girls U-22 and Tammy Gu grabbed a second title in Girls U-18, Christiana Davita runner-up.

It’s always gratifying to see a player reach new personal heights, pushing themselves to achievements they had not realized they could reach.  So here’s a tip of the NATT hat to the pixie-like bundle of moxie that is Chloe Nguyen, USC Ping Pong Posse member.  Chloe finished second to Michael Jaynes in the U-1100, losing that final -10,-13,-5, 7, 9,-7.  That makes it all the more important that she toughed out an excellent match with Tim Hardy in the U-1250 final for victory, 11, 7,-6, 7,-9, 8!  Chloe’s play was markedly improved and she displayed the mental focus required of champions. 

Champions met in the U-2250, where Elmira Zainabudinova vanquished Kyna Fong in six games, 5,-5, 6, 9,-6, 10.  The Under-2500 Final was a real barnburner between closely rated competitors, Jeff Huang (2365) and John Tran (2377).  Four of the seven games went to deuce, and neither player could dominate.  The decisive game was Jeff’s however, and so was the category, with scores of -12, 9, 11,-10, 10,-8, 5!  Well played, gentlemen! 

Congratulations are also due to the four Open Singles Qualifiers who emerged from a field of 41 hopefuls to join the second-stage round robin groups on Saturday evening.  They were Don James Alto, Jeff Huang, Steve Nguyen and Tri Dinh.  The Open singles story begins here, and what a story it was!

Open Singles Round Robins

Group 1
Fan Guoliang, Crystal Huang, Avishy Schmidt, Don James Alto
Avishy is a delight, a fine player who doesn’t take himself too seriously and has a ready laugh.  So it was all in good humor when he told me “I may set a record here.  I haven’t won a single match!”  That was to be expected against Fan, World #110, (5, 3, 6, and 6).  But it was an upset for Don Alto (2294) to win in straight games.  Avishy hoped to notch his win against US Women’s Team member Crystal Huang (2464), and he gave it his best shot, falling just short in 7 games, 9,-9,-7,-4, 9,9,-7.  Fan easily bested Crystal, 4,5,4,9 and turned back Don’s best effort as well, 13, 6, 9, 5, to advance, undefeated, to the Quarterfinals.  Crystal confirmed her #2 seeding and got her own spot for Sunday’s Quarters four games to one against Alto, who finished third. 

Group 2
Wilson Zhuang, Guillermo Munoz, Lu Guo Hui, Jeff Huang
Wilson is Canada’s top-ranked player and certainly showed why in this group!  The compact star delivered his trademark devastating forehand and control of service to advance undefeated.  Only Munoz, the Mexican veteran, managed to scrape him for a game.  Everything thereafter was more complicated, as the other three players all finished with records of 1 win and 2 losses.  Jeff beat Guillermo 4 games to 1, although 12-10, 13-11, and 12-10 in the first three games gives you a better idea of tight that contest was.  Jeff could not find answers to Lu Gou Hui, and dropped the match 4 games to 2.  Munoz breezed through Lu 4 games to 1 and we had the three way tie for second.  Examining game count within the tie, by the slimmest of margins, Jeff Huang (6-5) finished second to Wilson, with Munoz (5-5) third and Lu (5-6) fourth. 

Group 3
Stefan Feth, Sara Fu, John Tran, Steve Nguyen
“This is the first US tournament I’ve played where I was seeded third!” observed Stefan.  Too early though to be thinking ahead to the Quarters, and John Tran tries to ambush Stefan in the first match.  Hard-fought points and a refusal to yield put John behind 2 games to 1 (-7,-10, 9) but Feth rises to the challenge and (3, 4) closes out the match.  From there it’s straight games for Feth over both Sara (7, 8, 3, 7) and Steve (8, 10, 7, 7) and Stefan fulfills expectations and advances to the Quarters.  Steve Nguyen gives his all against Sara Fu, (7,-6,-12,-7,-2) and then defaults to John, leaving those two to decide second place.  Sara shows great heart in staving off the upset-minded John Tran after trailing 3 games to 1!  It’s a nail biting seventh game victory for Ms. Fu that earns her spot in the Single Elimination, 4,-7,-9,-7, and 3,9,12! 

Group 4
Barney J. Reed, Pierre-Luc Hinse, Shashin Shodhan, Tri Dinh
The fourth group is always pivotal, because it contains both the #4 and #5 seeds for Open Singles.  Barney is just back from Bremen, Germany, and the World Team Championships.  Pierre-Luc has been training diligently in the Canadian quest for World Class players.  No problems for Reed against Shashin, 4, 2, 10,-7, 4.  Pierre-Luc is absolutely amazing however against Tri Dinh and turns in an impressive 4,1,5,8 victory.  Young Mr. Hinse continues his efficient work with straight game victories over Shodhan (3, 5, 5, and 5) and Reed (7, 5, 7, 7) and joins Fan, Zhang and Feth as #1 seeds for Quarterfinal play.  Shashin and Barney both post 4-1 wins against Tri Dinh, so, 2 wins and 1 loss gains Barney his Quarterfinal position. 

The Draw
Everyone is anxious to see where the coin flip lands Stefan Feth, the #3 seed, because either Fan or Zhang will have to deal with him in the Semifinals.  As the draw is made, Feth is flipped into the bottom bracket, and he and Wilson will have to find their way past each other to reach the Final.

Quarterfinals
Fan Guoliang vs. Sara Fu
The pips-out penholder from Spain is just too strong for the lovely Ms. Fu.  It’s a ‘blink and you missed it’ four game victory!  Only 17 minutes are required to chalk the result.  Fan advances, 7,2,6,3.

Jeff Huang vs. Pierre-Luc Hinse
It’s a rematch of the Boys Under 22 in this one!  Jeff takes the first game, to the delight of his loyal following, 11-8.  From there, however, it’s all Hinse as he shows how his training has paid off, 4, 10, 5, and 4.  It’s the deepest advance for Hinse at an NATT tournament to date. 

Stefan Feth vs. Barney Reed
Losing to Hinse has given Barney a much tougher draw, and after dropping the first two games 11-3 and 11-1, it doesn’t appear that he has much chance to reach the bigger money.  Barney’s got pride, however, and digs in for the third game, which still falls to Feth, 12-10.  Being down three games to zero is not where anyone wants to be, and despite a fourth game victory, 13-11, Barney’s eliminated 11-5 in the fifth. 

Wilson Zhang vs. Crystal Huang
There’s too big a disparity in skill here for Crystal to contend.  Wilson likes to work quickly, as do all the Canadian players, pressing their advantage and steamrollering their opponents!  With Coach Tawny Banh in her corner, Crystal concedes nothing, but the shake-hander from Up North is too powerful and advances to the Semifinal, 7,4,4,6.  All the quarterfinalists receive their checks and now the field is reduced to four players, our initial seeds #1, 2, 3 and 5.

Semifinals
Fan Guoliang vs. Pierre-Luc Hinse
What a wonderful opportunity for Hinse!  It’s exactly what the Canadian program aims for, frequent match-ups against top-level competitors, not just once or twice a year, but as often as possible!  Here Pierre-Luc has all the elements needed to gain poise and experience, a large and intense crowd of spectators and World-Class competition on the other side of the table!  Can he make the breakthrough?  I watch with growing surprise as Fan, a pips-out penholder with the reverse penhold backhand loop takes an entirely different tack than I had expected!  Instead of a full-on smashing attack, Fan is playing a ‘touch game’!  This is absolutely awesome in its own way, and I struggle to understand how it is working.  Is Pierre-Luc retreating too quickly from the table?  Fan pulls him in and out, side to side, back and forth!  There never seems to be an opening, a chance to attack for Hinse.  It’s an energy-saving tactic for Fan, firmly in control and never doing ‘more than he has to’ to win the point.  Holding Hinse to 6,8,9,8, Fan puts on a clinic and reaches the Championship match.

Wilson Zhang vs. Stefan Feth
This is not TV wrestling, it’s an unscripted athletic competition.  But you couldn’t have asked any better of it!  A much anticipated match-up of US rated 2714 Stefan Feth, World #191 against Canada’s top player, Wilson Zhang, also rated 2714 in the US and World Ranked #144!  Both of these gentlemen have played NATT events before, but this is the first time they’ve met.  Nearly 400 spectators are eagerly waiting to see how this plays out, and the stakes are steep.  Semifinalists at the Butterfly San Diego Open are slated for $300 paydays but a total of $2,200 is sitting in the Championship match!  Wilson’s compact frame can generate great power, he nearly lifts himself off his feet when he lets it fly.  Feth is tall, whippet-thin and angular, willing to cover vast back-court distances and has tremendous conditioning and stamina to go with lethal backhand and forehand play.  But this match is clearly all Zhang.  In backhand exchanges he has the last word, 11-9 in the first.  His forehand power seems to be rocking Feth on his heels, forcing lobbing returns and blowing past the German star, 11-6 in the second.  While the points are excellent and the crowd cheers the exchanges, the consistent winner is Zhang, 11-9 in the third.  Stefan looks increasingly frustrated, and who can blame him?  Down 7-1 in the fourth game the match is safely in Wilson’s hands. 

Except that Stefan doesn’t think so. 

“I was embarrassed” Stefan later declares.  “I had been missing easy shots; I was not playing the ‘Fethi’ game.  I determined to do better.”  Determined is the word, alright!  The crowd can barely believe what it sees as Stefan completely turns the tables in game four.  From a 7-1 deficit, Feth wins 10 of the next 11 points!  Against world-ranked competition, this is awesome!  The crowd is thrilled as well at this sudden and dramatic comeback.  Still it’s three games to one.  Feth is looking to do the impossible and has no margin for error.  The mid-distance looping exchanges are still spectacular, but now, more often than before, Stefan has the last word.  11-7, Feth claims Game 5.  Is Wilson demoralized?  It doesn’t show, but you would have to speculate that the Game 4 turnaround is in his mind.  I detect a subtle shift in tactics as well.  Stefan’s serve becomes more and more productive for him, variations of spin and an increasing frequency of backhand sidespin serves that Zhang finds it more difficult to open against.  Game six falls to Feth, 11-8 and the table is set!  Three games apiece and the crowd is enraptured!  It’s dead silent as each point is played, and eruptions of appreciation for every outcome!  The bleachers are rocking between points with foot-stomping delighted fans.  Feth appears to be returning Wilson’s serve more frequently by pushing deep into his backhand corner, and the resulting returns rocket into the forehand corner.  Over and over Wilson pounds the ball, but Feth is back at the barriers, lobbing, fishing, counter-looping, and ultimately winning!  11-7 in the seventh game, Feth advances to the Championship Match and it’s Wilson Zhang who is ‘stuck’ with the $300 check.  All credit here has to go to Stefan Feth, because there was no ‘collapse’ by the Canadian star.  He was eliminated in a dramatic comeback that the witnesses will long remember as one of the greatest matches in America in 2006. 

Final
Fan Guoliang vs. Stefan Feth
Well, take a deep breath.  After that incredible Feth/Zhang semifinal, there can’t be any more fireworks…can there?  The NATT schedule has worked well in clearing the tournament players to join the throng of eager spectators for the showdown. Only five matches are in progress on the ‘other’ tables as Umpire Saul Weinstein tosses the coin for our Final. 

This is a completely different Fan than we saw in the Semi with Hinse!  His game now is on display against an adrenaline-pumping Stefan Feth.  It’s flat out attack on Fan’s part, smashing and hitting in a tight see-saw of exchanges.  Fan takes Game One 17-15!  Now there is no doubt that we are in for a Final of spectacular dimensions.  Feth evens the count, 12-10 in the second.  Back and forth the two men battle!  There will be no dramatic comebacks here and nothing to hold back on as the two finalists trade barrage after barrage and game after game.  11-8, for Fan.  11-9, for Feth.  11-9, for Fan.  You’d have thought that nothing could equal that remarkable Semi, but look at this!  Feth’s lashing backhand, Fan’s devastating forehand, the look of surprise and disgust as one smashes into the net, the other’s grim chagrin as a counterloop just misses, long by a fraction of an inch…this, my friends, is great stuff!  Feth turns up the heat, and Fan seems to be flagging and 11-5 for Feth in the sixth game…yes, it’s three all!  Well, with a setup like that, could it fail to be 9 all in the seventh game of the Final?  Because that’s where they found themselves.  After a solid hour of beautiful struggle and wonderful play, two points will decide which play wins the title and gets $1500, and who goes home with $700 and regret.  “It seemed to me a shame”, Stefan tells me later, “that one of us had to lose.  I enjoyed the match so much, that I thought, at nine-all, we have both won here today.” 

It’s not a thought that interfered with his performance at that moment, because with a whistling forehand loop winner cross-court, Stefan Feth wins game 7, 11-9, and the title Butterfly San Diego Open Champion!  The crowd, quite frankly, goes bananas, and showers both players with love as they shake hands.  What an amazing tournament we were treated to! 

Stefan notes with pride that in his march from the Quarters to the Title, he defeated, in succession, the fourth, second and first seeds in the Open Singles draw.  How does he feel about his upset victories over the World’s #144 and #110 men?  “That’s the way it is in table tennis today.  Anyone ranked between #200 and #30 is clearly capable of beating anyone else.  I think it is more competitive now than it has ever been.”  Personally, I’d be hard-pressed to think of better competitors, better sportsman, and better people than we had the honor of meeting in San Diego. 

The crowd is buzzing and smiling, laughing and appreciative of the dramatic conclusion as they file out of the Balboa Park Activity Center.  As the NATT staff finishes their work, we look back in gratitude to our sponsor, Butterfly, Ref Linda Hsing and her umpiring crew, the host club SDTTA, the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, the staff of the Activity Center and most of all to the players, coaches, parents, spectators, fans and friends who made this one of the best tournament experiences I’ve had.  In a word, awesome, dude! 
 

 

2006 Butterfly San Diego Open

Event Name

Champion

Finalist

Open Singles

Stefan Feth

Guoliang Fang

Women’s RR Yuanyuan Li Sara Fu

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Men’s RR

Pierre-Luc Hinse

Jeff Lin Huang

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Women’s RR Sara Fu Brana Vlasic

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Boys RR

Jose Lujan

Mark Wei

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Girls RR Tammy Gu Christina Divita

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Boys RR

Jeff Lin Huang

Jose Lujan

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Girls RR

Monica Serano

Natalie Sun

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U13 Boys RR

John James Alto

Ignacio Asencio

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U13 Girls RR

Tammy Gu

Monica Serano

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U10 Boys RR

Erick Shahnazari

Nathaniel Chu

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions U10 Girls RR Erica Wu Isabel Chu

Feingold Memorial Over 40 RR

Guillermo Munoz

Tuan Le

Feingold Memorial Over 50 RR Lon Dean Rodel Valdoria
Feingold Memorial Over 60 RR Bill Ukapatayasakul Bill Ryan

Under 2500 SE

Jeff Lin Huang

John Thach Tran

Under 2375 RR

Shashin Shodhan

Tuan Le

Under 2250 RR

Elmira Zainabudinova

Kyna Fong

Under 2125 RR

Jose Lujan

Patrick Wu

Under 2000 RR

Jesus Sanchez

Jose Lujan

Under 1850 RR

Michael Liu

Daniel Divita

Under 1700 RR

Xuan Liu

Kien Ngo

Under 1550 RR

Foung Ly

Jay Miller

Under 1400 RR

Rok Yu

Paul Nguyen

Under 1250 RR

Chloe Nguyen

Tim Hardy

Under 1100 RR

Michael Jaynes

Chloe Nguyen

Under 950 RR

Jasmine Nguyen

Daryl Sterling Jr.

Under 800/Unrated RR

Aarti Gautam

Daniel Gilberto Velez Ruiz

Under 4200 Doubles SE

Robert Homer Jr. & Brana Vlasic

Chi Tran & Mark Wei

Under 3200 Doubles SE

Gregory Nguyen & John Thach Tran

Si Nguyen & Doug Younan