2007 JOOLA Eastern Open

Congratulations to David Zhuang, The 2007 JOOLA Eastern Open Champion. David defeated Gao Yan Jun 4-2 in the finals. Photos are now located in the photo gallery, and more videos to come! Read more for the tournament article. 

2007 Eastern Open on the JOOLA North American Tour
Werblin Center, Rutgers University
Piscataway, NJ
May 26th and 27th, 2007

Recipe for fun:

– Take 27 brand-new never before played JOOLA tables to Piscataway NJ.
– Place 250 USATT members in the same room.
– Sprinkle in 200 additional spectators and family members.
– Add one JOOLA vendor, an eminent referee, a five-time US Men’s Singles Champion and a handful of finely tuned high level challengers.
– Stir briskly and let ingredients mix for two days.
– Serve under pressure for best results.

It was quite a confection!  With a record turnout and ideal weather conditions on a Memorial Day Weekend, we saw a feast of great performances at the 2007 Eastern Open.  Referee Pat Collins managed to nip most disputes in the bud and was accessible to the players throughout the proceedings, presiding over a generally trouble-free tournament.  Tournament Director Richard Lee was on-hand with the NATT staff directing the table traffic and keeping the event cooking.  The menu was enhanced by the Ying-Lo Junior Competitions and the Sol Feingold Memorial Senior Events, which provide not only expanded event offerings but prize money to those age groups in peer-to-peer matches.  Tour Sponsor JOOLAUSA spread their wares and Nan Li gave the attendees a taste of the 2007 equipment line.  

So the kitchen was prepared and it was up to the players to provide the feast.  A number of them took second helpings, including Tour newcomer Olivier Reiutord.  This classy French import managed to take the U-22 Men’s title and the U-2375 honors, both times besting Amaresh Sahu 4 games to 2.  Amaresh didn’t go hungry though, as he notched first place in two events himself, the U-2250 category against a tenacious Michael Shur, and the U-16 event, where he used two deuce games to deny Kevin Kuznetzow 4-0.  Amaresh’s four finals were quite a lot to pile on the platter!  Add brother Vikash Sahu’s titles in the U-1700 and his doubles crown in the U-4200 (with Lim Ming Chui) and the Sahu family traveled home with a banquet of awards and trophies!

Considerable spice was added by Nicholas Emmerling, a German-speaking power looper.  Nicholas was a serious challenge to opponents in his Open Singles RR group and came second to Samson Dubina in the U-2500 event.  Women’s champion Li Yawei sizzled in her first American appearance, pushing Stephanie Shih to second place.  Ali Oviessi wasn’t going to be denied his fair share, either, first place in the Over 50 event with a brilliant win over Simon Shtofmakher and second in the Over 60 to crafty David Zhou.  Irrepressible Constantin Papayanopolis went for two scoops himself, with the U-1400 trophy over Marcia Thompson, but was denied by Trevor Reinhardt one rung further up in the U-1550.  This smiling and bubbly man wasn’t fazed by his setback, but pronounced himself satisfied with his portion.  

But the biggest portion of all, the Lion’s Share, was to be had in Open Singles, where $1,500 and the title of Eastern Open Champion awaited the winner.  

Open Singles Second Stage Round Robins
The tournament’s Top 12 rated players in four round robin groups, with four qualifiers added, one per group, all went into the soup.  The top two finishers advanced from each group to Sunday’s Quarterfinals and the start of the prize money in Open Singles.

Group 1: David Zhuang; De Tran; Paul David; Kunal Shah
Paul David is a mighty table warrior and tackles the top seed first.  Nicking David for the first game at 9 is the right start, but 8,2,3,7, the five-time US Men’s Singles Champion closes that door.  Lefty De Tran has his hands full with Qualifier Kunal Shah, but manages to take the match, -2,3,4,-9,4,9.  David and De are not strangers and their match has a familiar outcome, with Zhuang winning in straight games.  Both Zhuang and Paul David turn away Shah, leaving Zhuang first in the group at 3-0.  Paul David then hands De Tran the second spot in the Quarters by defaulting their match.  

Group 2: Gao Yan Jun, Samson Dubina, Tahl Leibovitz, Qassim Aziz
Four more distinct personalities and backgrounds could not be found in a lottery drawing than were presented here.  Last year’s finalist, Gao Yan-Jun, kicks off the group with a 4-1 denial of Tahl, the brash New Yorker, who had promised his internet fans a victory.  Scores of 8,4,4,-9,5 show that Tahl has plenty of fight, but isn’t ready to take down the Bundesliga veteran yet.  Ohioan Dubina, Canadian trained, tall and rangy, takes on the spirited Qassim Aziz and finds that despite a lack of height and perhaps ten pounds above an ideal weight, Aziz is still lightning fast and a forehand oriented threat.  Dubina’s match, though, 5,6,-6,-5, 5,5.  Gao Yan Jun knows how to handle Dubina and drops him to 1 win and 1 loss with a 5,5,-10,7,3 exercise in tactics.  Tahl, who entered the group hoping for an upset is nearly handed one himself against Qassim, as the Marylander goes ahead 2 games to 0, 12-10 and 11-9.  After that, Tahl decides to play smarter rather than harder and emerges with 4 in a row, 6,2,6,8.  Gao Yan Jun completely controls Aziz 7,6,6,6, leaving Samson and Tahl to duke it out for second.  A very vocal New York contingent gives Tahl a home field advantage, but he drops the first game 14-12.  With numerous physical limitations, Tahl is a contrast to his opponent.  But handicaps and history don’t count for much when the ball is in play!  Game 2 is Leibovitz, 11-8.  As is Game 3, 11-7.  Samson finds his back against the wall, and perhaps wilting a bit in the crowd pressure, Tahl’s victory screams, and his own confusion, drops a third game in a row 11-2.  Samson has great heart, and recovers for a thrilling 15-13 win of his own in the fifth game, but Tahl won’t let go of his advantage and delivers a 14-12 coup de grace in the sixth to advance to the Quarters.  Dubina’s dismay is evident, but his dignity and manners are intact as he congratulates Leibovitz on the win.  

Group 3: Xavier Therien, Alexis Perez, Nick Emmerling, Sydney Christophe
It’s only Memorial Day, but the fireworks are lit now when Therien and Emmerling meet.  It’s long distance bombing and heavy spin high velocity exchanges from the beginning for these two!  Emmerling serves notice that he’s got skills in taking the first game 11-6.  Therien is famous though for his patience, and having acclimated to Nick, goes ahead 2 games to 1, 11-6 and 11-6.  Nick turns up the jet and burns brightly, moving to the cusp of victory 11-9, 11-8!  Xavier is a tiger in response and 11-8,11-7, eliminates Emmerling’s hope of an upset.  It’s such a barnburner that the crowd is cheering lustily for both men at the end.  Alex Perez takes on the Over-40 Champion, Sydney Christophe and avoids any drama of his own, 5,5,6,-9,7.  Taking on Therien, Perez is just that close to punching through, but his craft and placement don’t prevent Xavier from winning, -10, 5,10,5,15!  Sydney has learned from watching Emmerling’s first match, or perhaps Nick’s still winded from his loss to Xavier.  In any event, Sydney defangs his opponent’s attack, 5,-9, 7,11,8.  He can’t pull a similar feat with Xavier, however, and Therien finishes 3-0 and first in the group.  Alex places second with a four straight game win over Nick, and the top two seeds in the group hold their positions to make Quarters.

Group 4: Joji Yamazaki, Shao Yu, Shawn Embleton, Marcus Jackson
It’s been a year since we saw Joji in this very same room at the 2006 event.  As likeable a player as ever, his game has improved and moved into some very rarified territory.  It’s entirely to Shawn Embleton’s credit that he grabs 2 games from Joji, because they are the only two games he’ll lose tonight.  Yamazaki prevails, 11,-7,4,-5,8,6.  Shao Yu has to fend off the effort of Marcus Jackson, and its no walk in the park as Marcus builds a 2-1 lead.  But Shao avoids the upset, -4,7,-8, 9,6,7.  Joji’s fast, like lightning.  Joji’s determined too.  Joji’s got four straight games and Joji’s past Shao Yu, 8,8,9,9.  Shawn Embleton didn’t come to donate any points to the Marcus Jackson rating fund, and 7,8,7,8, takes away a few of his own.  Marcus isn’t dispirited, just a level behind as he faces the top seed.  Yamazaki finishes 3-0 with 11,5,1,5 victories over Marcus.  Embleton and Shao hold their destinies in their hands, but Shao Yu knocks Shawn out of the event with a result of 9,-8, 4,7,7 and our Quarterfinalists are all known.

Quarterfinals
Alexis Perez vs. Joji Yamazaki
The most disappointing outcome possible for the players and the fans, the tournament committee and most certainly for Alex Perez.  With matches scheduled for 1PM Perez phones a friend in the hall to ask if his match can be delayed.  He’s stuck in traffic on his way from NYC behind an accident.  But match time is default time, and when 1:15PM comes and goes, Alex is marked a ‘No Show’.  Arriving shortly before the next scheduled Quarterfinal begins at 1:30, Alex is not at all well-pleased with the decision, but no one can turn back the clock for him.  Yamazaki advances.  

David Zhuang vs. Tahl Leibovitz
‘Those who fight the good fight and win need be brave only once.  Those who lose must show courage twice.”
“Let others cheer the winning man,
There’s one I hold worthwhile;
Tis he who does the best he can,
Then loses with a smile.
Beaten he is, but not to stay down
With the Rank and File,
That man will win another day
Who loses with a smile.”
From “The Book of Virtues”.  

Zhuang advances, 2,6,8,7.  

De Tran vs. Gao Yan Jun
De Tran is a very dedicated player.  Balancing a medical career, family obligations and full-time training for the sport he loves, you have to admire a man like that.  Gao Yan Jun, De’s opponent here, is the standard against which he tests himself.  Professionally trained, a world traveler and Bundesliga veteran and one of the best players in the country, Gao Yan Jun controls the match.  De has nothing to hang his head about, but we can still see his disappointment at the straight game loss, 5,7,8,9.  Tran’s an optimist but not living in a fantasy.  He accepts the result and begins to prepare for his next test.  

Xavier Therien vs. Shao Yu
This was the best match-up in the Quarters, Shao Yu being an exceptionally strong ‘second seed’.  From the beginning was clear neither man was willing to accept QF money, and both men had an undeniable right to be there.  Determination, skills and battle-ready tactics gave the crowd one to remember.  Xavier took the first game at 6, but Shao opened hard in the second an put it away 11-4.  There was no stalling in this match, both men changing ends and ready to begin anew after each game.  11-4 for Xavier. 11-9 for Shao, 11-6 for Xavier and Shao stood on the verge of elimination.  But working his backhand and moving Xavier around gave the last two games to Shao Yu, and tidily, too!  11-6, 11-4 were the scores and Shao Yu was in the semifinals.

Semifinals
Shao Yu vs. Gao Yan Jun
Gao was the 2006 Finalist at the Eastern Open, and despite Shao Yu’s best effort, attained the final for a second straight year.  It was ‘only’ a five game match, but as the scores reflect, a net here, an edge there, could have made the difference at several crucial junctures.  Gao was cool as a cucumber throughout, and 6,11,-9, 6, 9 made Shao sit and watch the tournament’s last match.  

David Zhuang vs. Joji Yamazaki
In his career, David’s done it all, Pan Am Gold medals, Olympic Team, five time US Men’s Singles Champion and a lofty ITTF World Ranking.  But you can’t just go out there and throw down your credentials.  If he wanted another title for his mantle, another four figure check to deposit, he was going to have to go through Joji.  It was the very first encounter for these two, and it occurs that David was probably playing ITTF matches when this youngster was born in Japan.  In the first two games its very clear what the joust consists of as they trade matches by identical deuce scores of 12-10.  The crowd is wild for it, too!  It’s a classic match-up of youth vs. wisdom, but both players have to analyze each other here too.  Joji is facing David’s service game for the first time, and it shows.  David discovers that Yamazaki’s Backhand court is not a comfortable place.  In fact, there, on the backhand wing, over the table, Joji is carrying a laser, a flat smash of any short ball.  It’s more of an electrical discharge than a shot, wicked fast, hard, flat and wide-angled.  David’s Penhold style, pips-out, was unusual in its day, and that day is now long past, its practically archaic and not one Joji’s seen every second Tuesday.  David befuddles his opponent, and while going to the backhand often enough to keep him honest, would much rather drag Joji wide to the forehand corner.  11-6, 11-6 David builds his house.  Joji turns the tide and fights for control of the table, winning game 5, 11-9.  It’s a nail-biter even though it’s only six games, and 11-9, a win for David Zhuang.  After the tournament David provided this: “I know that he hasn’t seen me serve before and that’s a plus for me.  He’s very quick and a very good player.”  I ask David if he felt any fear.  I get that well-known double take.  “Fear?  Me? I am not afraid of anyone!”  Yes, but I persist.  “Worry?  I am not worried.  I don’t have to play him again just now. Then I will worry!”  A beautiful match and a real crowd pleaser.  

Championship Match
Gao Yan Jun vs. David Zhuang
Certainly no strangers to each other, this was a display of high level table tennis by two opponents familiar with each other’s games.  The issue seemed hardly in doubt, however, and it would be fair to say that David Zhuang, the 2007 Eastern Open Champion controlled the match from beginning to end.  Gao managed to pocket the 3rd and 5th games, but 9,7,-6,7,-6, 6, David took the title.  There were hundred of spectators at courtside and as they streamed from the hall, eagerly and excitingly discussing the matches they had seen, their faces covered with smiles and laughter ringing in their exit, I was left to contemplate the satisfaction we had created.

The JOOLA 2007 North American Tour continues throughout the coming months with tournaments on both coasts, and I wonder just which of them will be the icing on the cake!

Winner List
Open Singles
Zhuang, David
Gao Yan Jun
11-9, 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 6-11, 11-6

 Women’s RR
Li Yawei
Shih Stephanie C.

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 22 Men’s
Rieutord, Olivier
Sahu, Amaresh
11-2, 7-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6, 11-8

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 18 Men’s
Ghiasi, Reza
Wang Jr., Joseph
11-7, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9, 11-5,

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16′ Boy’s
Sahu, Amaresh
Kuznetzow, Kevin
12-10, 11-8, 12-10, 11-4

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 16 Girls
Chen, Isabella
Guo, Annie
11-5, 12-14, 11-8, 11-9

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 13 Boy’s
Li, Grant
Wang, Allen W.
11-8, 5-11, 11-5, 11-8, 5-11, 11-8

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 13 Girls
Guo, Annie
Cheng, Olivia
11-3, 11-9, 11-7, 11-6

Ying/Lo Junior Competitions Under 10
Wang, Allen W.
Glozman, Thomas
11-8, 12-10, 11-8, 11-7

Feingold Memorial Over40 RR
Christophe, Sydney
Bavly, Larry
13-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-6

Feingold Memorial Over50 RR
Oveissi, Ali R.
Shtofmakher, Simon
11-7, 7-11, 11-8, 5-11, 11-3, 12-10

Feingold Memorial Over60 RR
Zhou, David
Oveissi, Ali R.
11-9, 9-11, 11-2, 5-11, 11-8, 11-8

Under2500 SE
Dubina, Samson David
Emmerling, Nicolas
11-3, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9,

Under2375 RR
Rieutord, Olivier
Sahu, Amaresh
11-5, 11-6, 11-4, 9-11, 9-11, 11-7

Under2250 RR
Sahu, Amaresh
Shur, Michael
12-10, 11-9, 15-17, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8

Under2125 RR
Clang, John
Aikey, Tim
11-6, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7

Under2000 RR
Won, Bryant
Goldstein, Emile
11-8, 11-8, 4-11, 11-6, 11-3

Under1850 RR
Feld, Anton
Smart, Jeff H
8-11,11-5,11-6,11-4,11-5

Under1700 RR
Sahu, Vikash
Feng, Jackie
11-6, 11-7, 11-5, 7-11, 11-7

Under1550 RR
Reinhardt, Trevor
Papayanopoulos, Constantin
6-11, 11-3, 11-6, 11-8, 11-8,

Under1400 RR
Papayanopoulos, Constantin
Thompson, Marcia
11-5, 11-4, 11-2, 11-9,

Under1250 RR
Cheung, Kevin
Park, Lois
11-8,11-8,3-11,10-12,12-10,11-4

Under1100 RR
Deng, Benny
Gorodetsky, Mikhail
11-7, 8-11, 5-11, 12-10, 10-12, 11-7, 11-8

Under950 RR
Chen, John
Lee, Haydon
11-7, 11-4, 10-12, 11-4, 8-11, 12-10

Under800/Unrated RR
Jones, Percival
Borgohain, Gautam
11-2, 8-11, 13-11, 11-8, 11-7

Under4200 Doubles SE
Chui, Lim Ming & Sahu, Vikash
Chen, Isabella & Landers, Michael
11-9, 4-11, 11-9, 11-7

Under3200 Doubles SE
Skolnick, Gabriel & Skolnick, Micaiah
Euvino, Robert & Calenti, Michael
6-11, 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 11-8