The Eastern Open is one the most venerable and honored tournaments in USATT history, and the 2008 edition added another fabulous chapter to that illustrious history. The 230+ participants had a weekend of glorious weather, outstanding performances, dispute-free play and a local favorite emerging as champion in one of the greatest comebacks we’ve seen on the JOOLA North American Tour.
There are plenty of people who deserve thanks for the success of the tournament, not least of all the sponsors, Senoda, Inc, Gerflor, JOOLA, Life University and Brican Corporation, the Ying-Lo Junior Competitions and the Sol Finegold Memorial Senior events. Referee Pat Collins presided over a trouble-free playing field and NATT’s staff set the hall. Neil Kaufman and Fred Ling had the best seats in the house as they umpired the Open Singles single elimination matches, and JOOLA’s Michael Squires gave everyone the lowdown on VOC glues as he manned the vendor booth.
In the end though, it’s the players and participants, coaches, parents and spectators who deserve major credit for the event, because there is no party without that large, involved and enthusiastic mass of people. Through their good sportsmanship, patience, excellent play and appreciation of great play, they are the tournament.
New Jersey mainstay Barry Dattel handed in a great performance, winning both the Over 40 and the Over 50 titles and coming second in the Under-2375 ratings event. Wang Huijing, in her first US tournament, was impressive and justified her estimated 2400 rating by winning Women’s Singles over Judy Hugh and reaching the Quarterfinal of Open Singles. Preston Chin displays great poise for a teen, and impressed by winning the U-18 event in a five game final with Da Tang. It required five games as well for Amaresh Sahu to relegate Preston to second place in the U-22 Men.
Michael Landers landed himself in three final matches, teaming with Mark Croitoroo to claim second place in U-4200 Doubles, where Chris Lehman and Namkyu Oh had the victory. Head-to-head, Michael took the U-16 Boys title from Namkyu in four games, and was a strong second in the U-2250 ratings event, losing only to Wang Hing Sing.
This year’s tournament had a very competitive field of entries for Open Singles, including three Canadian stars who have made multiple appearances on the JOOLA Tour. As is the NATT method, the top 12 rated players were joined by 4 ‘qualifiers’ to form four Round Robin groups of four players each. Two players would advance from each of these groups to form the Quarterfinal matches on Sunday afternoon.
Group 1: Peter-Paul, Tran, Yokoyama, Mualem
Pradeeban Peter-Paul’s 2750 rating made him the tournament’s top seed, and right off the bat he treated the appreciative onlookers to a fireworks display when he met the quick-footed Kazuyuki Yokoyama. It’s too rarely we see this skilled chopper from New York, he usually only plays 2 tournaments a year. With outstanding speed, court coverage, touch, and the ability to attack as well as defend, Yokoyama is a handful! The points brought gasps and cheers, but Pradeeban played all the angles in a four game victory. De Tran dispatched a determined Pat Mualem 4-1, and showed that he was ‘ready for action’ by stretching Peter-Paul to 7 games, but lost the last two by scores of 9 and 5, so no upset today! Mualem went down to both Yokoyama and Peter=Paul, leaving Pradeeban 3-0 and the group’s top finisher. Yokoyama and Tran now played the last match to find the 2nd advancer, and it was a real barnburner, De taking first 3 games, 8,4,7 while Kazuyuki took the next three in a row, 6,8,7. De Tran won the ultimate game, 11-7 in this very competitive group and advanced to the Quarters.
Group 2: Gao, Kamkar-Parsi, Mueller, Hugh
Gao Yan Jun won the Eastern Open in 2005 by beating Thomas Keinath, and reached the finals against Wang Chen and David Zhuang in 2006 and 2007, so he was no stranger to success in this hall. Florian Mueller was able to notch two games from him, but otherwise Gao, breezing past both Judy Hugh and Kamkar-Parsi had little difficulty. Judy, as the qualifier, played well but still finished 0-3 in the round robin. That left Homayoun Kamkar-Parsi and Florian Mueller to settle things. Homayoun took the first game, but his ailing knee limited his mobility, and Mueller dashed off four straight games to advance.
Group 3: Im, Shao, Wang, Green
Im Yong Ji has a lifetime record of 19-4 in American play, but was obviously not feeling 100% at this event. It didn’t do much for that feeling to meet Wang Huijing in her first US appearance in the first match and lose -10,-8,7,-12,-5! Wang has a complete toolbox of skills and great desire. Shao Yu dropped a game to Wally Green en route to a 4-1 win and then trounced Im by scores of 5,7,4,5. Shao’s been playing very well the past year, but even so, it was obvious Im was hurting, and the 11th highest rated male player in the country defaulted his last match to Green. When Shao defeated Wang 4-2, he was crowned first in the group, and at 2 wins, 1 loss, Wang Huijing joined him in the single elimination bracket.
Group 4: Ebuen, Therien, Dattel, Sahu
Ernesto Ebuen won the group with a 3-0 record, and Xavier Therien also advanced, losing only a 4-1 match to Ernesto. But what caught my attention here was the third-place finisher Barry Dattel. Barry has to be one of the smartest players in the association. No disrespect intended, but how competitive could the Over-50 champion expect to be against this group of young guns? The answer was very competitive. Dattel vs. Ebuen, -11,-11,9,-6,-9. Dattel vs. Therien, -8,11,-7,8,-6,-7. Dattel vs. Sahu 10,4,10,-8,6. I think it’s possible that at 50+, Dattel hasn’t peaked yet. Amaresh Sahu threw scares into both Ebuen and Therien, but finished 0-3. Sahu has a bright future, but it didn’t arrive here.
Quarterfinals: Peter-Paul vs. Mueller
Mueller’s a skilled player, but Pradeeban has everything working for him. Athletic, fast, strong, smart, it’s a straight game win, 8,8,4,6 for the Canadian. Mueller takes QF money and a seat after meeting the tournament’s #1 seed.
Shao vs. Therien
With his wife and one-year-old son looking on, Therien shows both his fluid counter-looping game and his mental toughness, surviving Shao Yu’s assault, 8,6,11 and 7. Xavier never comes to the table less than tournament-ready and now has experience and poise to match his physical conditioning. On to the semi’s for a second Canadian entrant!
Gao vs. Tran
De Tran is an admirable player and person, keeping himself in great physical condition, and despite his all-out play at the table, instantly affable when he leaves the court. He also knows how to fight, as he showed in the Round Robin with his near-upset of Peter-Paul. So no one counts De out even when Gao takes a 2-0 lead, by scores of 5 and 6. Gao’s backhand is so good, that De’s lefthandness is more a detriment than an asset here. Gao Yan Jun wins 4-2, scores of 5,6,-10,8,-9 and 5.
Ebuen vs. Wang
Ernesto’s game has blossomed nicely over the last six months, but Wang is the new girl in town and no one really knows her tendencies. She shows some nervousness and drops the first two games, 6 and 8. Her coach is emphatic with her, and she battles game three more determinedly, winning 14-12. With this confidence booster, she takes game 4, 11-9 and when she adds the fifth game by a decisive 11-3 score, it’s Ernesto who is showing nerves. Ebuen avoids the loss by steadying, and 11-3, 11-6, turns the tide and advances to the Semifinal Round.
Xavier Therien vs. Gao Yan Jun
Two very experienced players with contrasting strengths created a wonderful Semifinal. Therien often begins slowly, probing and learning his opponent, and its Game one for Gao, 11-3. Therien is a different player in the second, and wins 13-11. Gao Yan Jun, Bundesliga veteran, takes the third game 11-9, but fades to an 11-6 loss in the fourth game and its all tied. Like a house on fire, Gao notches the sixth game 11-1! Despite trailing 10-7 in the sixth game, Gao reels off 5 straight points, in lightning-fast forehand looping duels to win the game and the match, 12-10.
Pradeeban Peter-Paul vs. Ernesto Ebuen
A favorite tactic of Pradeeban’s is to make the match as physical as possible, accelerating the pace and keeping play brisk. Ernesto’s in pretty fair shape himself, but after winning the first game 11-9, finds himself facing a fierce three-ball attack on most points. Peter=Paul controls the tempo for three games, 5,3, and 6, until Ebuen, coached by De Tran, breaks back with an 11-3 win of his own. Praddy closes the door in the sixth game, however, and wins 11-4.
Pradeeban Peter-Paul vs. Gao Yan Jun
The Canadian Champion is fast on his feet and ready to rumble, while the at-the-table style of Gao Yan Jun is ready for whatever he can bring. The large and noisy group of spectators is hoping for a great match, and they certainly get one! Pradeeban grabs an 11-9 win in the first game, which Gao answers 11-5 himself. But from there on, it’s Pradeeban, 8 and 4, with a 3-1 advantage and the match in hand. Peter-Paul is forcing errors from Gao’s backhand block, and by winning forehand-to-forehand exchanges crosscourt has Gao looking to take his forehand down the line, which is constantly missing, ‘just long’. Gao is on the ropes, trailing 9-7 in the fifth game. But just as he did the Semifinal, Gao digs in and comes back from the deficit, 13-11! Now the partisan crowd is really behind the New Yorker, and you can see Praddy deflate. He tries switching tactics, lobbing, attacking, but there are no more errors coming from Gao. 11-4 and then 11-8 he wins the last three games in a row to take the title!
We could not have been more appreciative of the many kind comments made to us as tournament operators, or more gratified to see so many of our friends having such a great time! Between the quality of the play and the excitement of the Championship, the trouble-free operation and people seeking assurances that we would return, I venture to say that the Eastern Open, that fine old venerable title, is in better shape than it ever has been as part of the JOOLA North American Tour.