Congratulations to East China University Team 1 for their win over Canada 2 at the 2007 JOOLA North American Teams Table Tennis Championships. *Read More for Tim Boggan’s Write Up!* For pictures, please visit www.gerrychua.com
2007 Joola North American Teams Championship
By Tim Boggan
“…I had invited some friends down to watch the [National Teams Championship] finals on Sunday night….After participating in the game for almost thirty years I do not know what possessed me to expect anything other than what happened. From 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. the women’s finals [(preceding the men’s) were played]…and by 9:00 p.m. my guests had left….
…We have the opportunity to improve the game to the extent where top players can become more professional and thus all players will improve to a higher standard of play. Let’s not kill it with 3 hours of women’s [matches]…at prime time on finals night….”
–Michigan Men’s Team Member Pete Kelly
(USTTA National Magazine, Jan.-Feb., 1973)
I’m Thanksgiving-happy to report that at these 2007 Joola North American Team Championships come climactic play Sunday, though a lot of balls were killed, the Game itself sure wasn’t—not for the players, not for the audience. In fact, both NATT President Richard Lee, still enthusiastic after his 10th year of being responsible for this mammoth Turkey-Teams competition, and Tournament Director/Software specialist Fong Hsu would quickly agree that the Nov. 23-25 matches here at the Baltimore Convention Center offered the unexpected—indeed, were historic.
Unexpected? Historic? Last year the East China University Team won. This year the East China University Team won. So, what was unexpected, historic? I’ll tell you of course…but not right away.
At the outset, as NATT’s multi-lingual, Media/Marketing man Alan Williams was welcoming everyone with Mozart’s 40th Symphony, Registration Director Wendy Troy was reporting a record 238 teams (and not far from the control desk at least one sleepy little kid). According to Staff worker John Miller, there were 936 competitors—all of whom kept John and tireless Mary Palmer sending sheets of team-tie scores into their computers, then shifting batches of these matches over to me. Among the other workers—Sandy Pate, the family-friendly Lees and Troys, and Tom Nguyen at the Joola booth—I remember Larry Hodges, mike in one hand, his “to-do” list in another, trying to bring order/movement/closure to all those Sunday afternoon Division matches still in full swing outside the main arena.
Sponsors included Brican Systems Corporation urging a future with Parker Chiropractic College; State Mortgage; Phillips Seafood Restaurants; and Dave Sakai’s Senoda, Inc. (printing, graphic design, advertising, marketing). Chief sponsor JOOLA gets a big THANK YOU for providing 144 of their top-of-the-line 3000 SC tables, and $16,000 in prize money—$7,000 to the winner. Tournament Referee Bill Walk and his congenial crew of umpires were often busy checking blue-table nets, not nut-cases, and so to my knowledge, alas, never dramatically did see red.
Friday Preliminary Play
All team ratings for seedings and placings were based on a total of each team’s three strongest players. The four top-rated teams were exempt from Preliminary play; however, over the weekend they’d compete with winners from Friday’s modified round robin Groups 1 through 16. These 20 teams would duke it out in red-carpet Division 1 (1A, 1B, 1C, 1D) round robin play, then, starting with the quarter’s, in single elimination play for the money prizes. Though I cover here only those teams in competition for the Championship, there’d be other Divisions, down-the-line in the ratings, to engage the many ardent trophy-seekers.
The most contested Preliminary play began with Group 5 where, through a highly unusual aberration in the Draw, a phantom team was given the top A position—which left the B Platinum Loopers (rated 6805) to face both the C (6665) Lost Battalion Warriors and the D (6276) Newgy Fearsome Fivesome teams. Led by Yijun Feng, who opened with a 5-game win over 300-point favorite Jason Shim (after being down 2-0), and who closed with another five-gamer over Valerie Kim, Newgy’s upset the Platinum Loopers, 5-4. But since the Loopers blanked the Warriors (the $300 Over 40 winners), and both teams had one loss, the Platinum players advanced. No, we’re not talking chemically-based rackets, or records, here, rather, with the 5-0 whitewash, the Platinum Painting Co. up Seattle way.
Next B team to advance was Group 11’s Baltimore Brawlers (6981) who 5-3 broke into and wrecked the hopes of the (A) Center of the World (7282). This tie provided a climactic match between Avishy Schmidt and Brawler John Wexler who’s wearing a shirt that reads, “Only The Strong Survive.” Avi hasn’t the best mind-set for this action, for he says before entering the court, “I can never beat anybody with long pips.” But an in-the-know observer says, “John doesn’t have long pips; he chops straight down—that’s why he produces so many dead balls.” The players are soon talking, yelling to themselves. When Avi loses the third to go 2-1 down, he characteristically shakes his head, smiles in agony, flings his racket into the net, and gives the ball a dropkick. When his teammate Misha Kazantsev comes to give him advice, someone says, “Misha loves to coach, he doesn’t like to practice.”
In the 4th, John mishits—his finger gets in the way; he holds it up, says, “Cut it off!” It stays on—there’s no umpire to administer any kind of penalty to anyone. Avi smacks in a winner, only to have John reflexively block it back for an ace. Avi loses another point and frisbees his racket into the adjacent court. Soon not John’s racket but John himself is all asprawl. Avi finally wins the fourth at deuce. Then goes up 6-2 in the fifth. Then 7-4 when John fails to return serve. But now Avi gets cute—misserves. Then up 9-7 he returns serve into the net. At 9-all Wexler pummels in Avi’s serve, then wins the next point as well. Avi concludes, “I played well until it counted, then I played like…[spit].”
Group 13 saw the (B) East China University 3 team (7238) not only 5-4 upset the (A) NYTTC 3 team (7238) but have to fight hard to 5-3 down (C) The Boys and Girls and 5-4 squeak by (D) NYTTC 4-Speedy. This East China team was composed of two middle-school girls, Xinyu Zhong and Shenglu Chen, and University of Penn freshman Barbara Wei who’d trained at this Shanghai University where the U.S.’s world-class star and many-time National Champion Gao Jun had graduated from.
Against both the NYTTC 4-Speedy team (thanks to Coach Hui Yuan Liu one of an incredible 25 teams here representing his NY Club), and The Boys and Girls team, Zhong (2450) took three and Chen (2400) two. But,” said Boys and Girls spokesman Spencer Chase, by way of consolation, “we’re the smartest, best balanced team in the field.” They had the girls, Kyna Fong and Heather Hua Wang, and the boys, computer scientist Parry Husbands, and Spencer himself who professed to be proficient in Cantonese and Mandarin, so did it matter much if they were, on the average, 2150 players? In the key A-B tie against Coach Liu, his son “Andy,” and big, bespectacled Sam Zhu, the short-haired Chen and her long pips prevailed in the 9th match, 11-9 in the 4th, over Zhu who sometimes swings with such enthusiasm that following through he has to fight to keep his balance.
Playing for the (A) Senoda Team in Group 14 was Eric Boggan, a quarter-century away from his World #18 ranking and U.S. Open Championship, the only one a native-born American has won in over 40 years. A house guest of teammate Dave Sakai, he comes out to his car the first morning of the tournament and, unbelievable, finds one of the wheels gone! That’s a $325 Thanksgiving expense. Senoda downed (C) Team of Four, 5-1, but the tie was closer than it might seem. Randy Seemiller (down 2-0) beat Marius Wechsler deuce in the fifth on an edge ball. Ricky Seemiller stopped Larry Bavly 12-10 in the 5th (after being down 9-3). Then a little later, after splitting 11-9 third and fourth games, Ricky and Marius are again evenly at it. Down match point Marius makes a great get, Rickey misses a hanger, and they’re at deuce. Sakai astutely calls Time! And Ricky goes on to a 15-13 win.
The (B) Puerto Rico Team scrambled 5-4 by the (D) Donic & Andro Future Champs whose team name and singular player name, R-Nadon (a.k.a. N-Andro?), did give off android/robotic futuristic vibes. Turns out in their future here, they were Champs—took Division 3. Senoda’s #1, Lee Sang Mook (2515), couldn’t make the tournament after all, so against Puerto Rico, Senoda was no longer the favorite. The retired Boggan, whose preparation for this tournament consisted of hitting some on a few Sundays in friend Dan Green’s basement, moved the ball around very well, but, up 2-1 and 8-7 in the 4th, lost this important swing match to chopper Abner Colon, and Senoda lost the tie 5-4. Randy had a very good tournament, but Ricky had trouble seeing on court (he thought the organizers should have used a white ball against the kaleidoscopic surroundings of players’ varied-color shirts and blending backgrounds). He also had trouble seeing off court. He’d gone to the Men’s room and was at a urinal rather than an enclosed toilet when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Told he was in the Women’s Room he looked at the urinals and couldn’t believe it. On stepping outside, sure enough, there was the sign on the door that said Women.
In Group 15, (B) Sharkbite, led by Tahl Leibovitz, 3-time gold medal winner at the Aug. Parapan Games in Rio, proved 5-1 fatal to (A) Guyana North and its many-time Guyanese Champion Sydney Christophe.
And in Group 16, (B) Gluers Farewell—the name alludes to the fact that this will be the last Team Championship where players can use speed glue—bid 5-2 farewell, buttressed by NATT President Richard Lee’s three wins, to (A) East China University #2 (over the weekend the eventual Division 2 and Girls U-18 winners). On Friday the Cheng Yinghua-coached We Lubb Cheng (We Love Cheng?) team had advanced 5-3 over the eventual Boys U-18 ($300) Junior Starts winners. Playing the Cheng team on Saturday, the Gluers’ Judy Hugh rallied from down 2-0 and 14-all in the third to defeat Reza Ghiasi. Judy’s mom and dad’s LilyYip Sports team didn’t advance, but we did get to see Dickie Fleisher use his harp grip, Barry Dattel yell, and Rockstar Games videomeister Wally Green down 9-10 being cheerfully faulted by Mike Meyers.
Saturday Division 1 (A, B, C, D) Play
So now 20 teams have advanced, and are still theoretically in contention for the $7,000 First Prize. They’ll play in four (five-team) round robin (A, B, C, D) Divisions to decide the winners and runner-ups from each that will compete in the quarter’s.
In Division 1A, Canada 1 blitzed all four opponents 5-0. Finishing second, as predicted, was the New York Athletic Club/NYTTC 2, Captained by Gail Kendall. However, this team did 5-2 stumble a bit against the Mad Classics (all of whom, we’re to deduce, have classic Jekyll-Hyde personalities?). And even downright tripped before righting itself in a 5-4 win over the Saigon Boys. Earlier, in a skirmish of misnomers, the Saigon “Boys” (average age over 40) defeated the “Old Men” With Anti, among whom was one of our leading U-16 year-olds, Marcus Jackson, recently much improved with the help of Boris Shafir, former Russian National Coach of the Mazunov brothers. With Marcus growing taller by the day, Boris worked on his footwork, moved him back from the table.
The “Boys” had a vigorous tie with the NYAC/NYTTC 2 team. U.S. Olympian Khoa Nguyen’s three wins, especially his five-gamer over Jean-Philippe Palengat, pick-up from a team that had impacted before play began, were crucial to this Viet challenge. And De Tran, up 4-0 and 9-5…9-8 in the fifth, literally staggered off court a winner against Kazuyuki Yokoyama, already planning to run in the next NYC Marathon. But four wins weren’t enough. ShaoYu, just returned from China (and, after an Embassy interview, hurray, being accompanied back to the States by his wife Ling), took two; and Kaz and the Connecticut #1, the transplanted Frenchman Palengat, a former third Division player in a League near Paris, added two more. The deciding ninth match went to Jean-Philippe, aided by some corkscrew serve motions, over Steve Nguyen (after Steve had been up 2-0). Surprisingly, among the contending teams, perhaps Palengat alone was the one new European face to be seen at this year’s tournament.
Mad Classics couldn’t advance, but they did beat the Saigon Boys 5-3 when ex-Barbadian Champ Robert Roberts downed Dr. De Tran, 11-9 in the 5th, and did in the Nguyens, Khoa and Steve, as well. Trevor Farley, quarterfinalist at the 2007 Latin American Championships, and Sean Lonergan brought the needed total to five. Sean, now 32 and back playing, has spent time in China, studied Chinese, even, along the way, married Wei, a Chinese girl. The other Mad teammate was Rocky Wang, a self-taught abstract artist, who after 14 years away from the Game, confirmed he was seduced back to serious play by winning the Dixie Open over John Beaumont.
In Division 1B, NYAC/NYTTC 1 downed the San Gabriel Juic Team 5-2, then the Joola team, 5-1. In both ties the focus was on current and five-time U.S. Champion David Zhuang. One of his San Gabriel opponents was the formidable #1-rated teenager in the country, 15-year-old Jeff Huang. He’s coached by his mother Grace Lin, who has a prestigious background with the Chinese National and Fujian Province teams. His father, too, had been well known as a member of the Chinese National Badminton team. Someone said Jeff’s wrist play is so strong because he started badminton before table tennis. David, down 2-1 to Jeff, staved off an upset by winning the 4th at 10, the 5th at 9. “WHOOO!” he cooed coming off court—wouldn’t do to lose that..
But against Joola’s Han Xiao, Zuang’s down again, this time 2-0 before starting a rally that’s almost derailed in the 4th when umpire Saul Weinstein, all mellow, faults David but doesn’t card him for showing his volatile displeasure at the call. David, after winning the 3rd and 4th at 10, gets to the fifth, but can’t prevail. Joola’s David—Paul David—who I saw finish a game that read 16-13 on the umpire’s scoreboard, is serious about training for the Olympic Trials. He’ll represent Guyana four months from now at the Santo Domingo venue. His new bride Roma continues to offer him rapt encouragement.
San Gabriel also advances—with a 5-2 win over Joola. Princeton’s Adam Hugh, in between his bench rooting/studying (when I peeked he was 176 pages into something absolutely incomprehensible to me) tried to fend off his Joola team’s defeat by downing Huang in the 6th match, but, after San Gabriel’s Ben Johnson had backhand-backed his team to two wins, new U.S. arrival Cheng Du, using a double throw-up movement on a short-toss serve, completed his three-match sweep with an 11-8 in the fifth win over Han Xiao.
The Ex Collaboration entry was one of two teams making the final 20 from Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan. They were brought here by Professor Sugaru Araki who tells me that so many student players want to come to these Championships he has to bring new groups each year. Something may be lost in translation, but Sugaru says the Ex team title refers to a famous street-dancing group in Japan. But there must be something lost in translation ‘cause these TFU shakehand loopers were collaborating with spins very different from those in break-dancing.
In Division 1C, winner Canada 2, an all-men’s team, beat second-place finisher East China University 1, an all-women’s team, 5-2. But could that be surprising? Did you ever see a strong women’s team beat a strong men’s team? Though at the Aug. Universiade in Bangkok these women, representing China, dominated play over teams from Japan and South Korea, Canada had the reigning North American Men’s Champion, Peter-Paul Pradeeban. Indeed, in this tie Pradee beat the Universiade’s triple winner Jingwen Rao in 5, and had no trouble with Rao’s doubles partner and singles runner-up Juan Liu. Moreover, a much improved Pierre-Luc Hinse, who with other Canadian Team members had just gained three weeks of overseas experience playing in the Austrian, French, and German Opens, added three wins, coming from behind (-7, -9, 9, 8, 4) to then beat Rao in straight games.
In all of Division 1D, there was only one tie that went past 5-1. Crystal Huang’s (B) California 1 team (one of three teams here representing President Tawny Bahn’s new club) knocked off (A) Canada 3. Siliang Wang, a professional player from Hebei Province, got his team off to a great start by beating Canada’s longtime International, Xavier Therein, in 5, and thereafter only Joji Yamazaki who 18 months ago had come to study English from, well, say Tokyo, he said, could score over Siliang and Crystal. Samson Dubina, now 24, who for some time has been training in Ottawa with the Canadians, wasn’t happy about losing to Crystal, but, worse he says, come the end of the year, he’s in danger of being kicked out of the country—Canada, not the U.S. Maybe if he increases his two-day schedule as a paramedic for a local Indian reservation they’ll let him stay?
Sharkbite’s Ludovic Gombos, having left Dubina in 5-game need of extensive first aid, continues his winning ways. Leading Therein 5-0 in the 5th, he runs with unrestrained momentum to change ends, then on leading 6-1 races in psychic circles round his side of the court. At 6-3, perhaps there’s a need for some restraint, a cool head? Teammate Tahl, who in my Disabled book gets the Gold for best table kicks, calmly calls Time, and sobers up Gombos so that he can lose 11-9. Samson comes back, confidence patched up, and finishes the tie for Canada with a 12-10 in the 4th win over Justen Yao. This 14-year-old, who’s trained in Sweden, China, Taiwan, has his mom, a former National for China, as his coach, and his dad, striding the sidelines, as his “YEAH!” most impassioned supporter.
NYAC/NYTTC 1 over Canada 3, 5-1. An unexciting, uncontested tie—with only Therein, a software engineer now for five years, able to program himself into scoring for the 2/3 Canadians.
Canada 2 over NYAC/NYTTC 2, 5-0. An unexciting, uncontested tie. More to remember when the newswoman there to interview the Canadians sees them approaching and says, “They even look like athletes.”
Canada 1 over San Gabriel, 5-0. At least you could zero in on a couple of good matches here. Canada’s Qiang Shen, who still has another year of Junior eligibility, outlasted Jeff Huang, 11-8 in the 5th on an irretrievable net. Referee Walk said Jeff used to yell after every point and that he’d had to tell him to Shut Up! Now, said Bill, he doesn’t say a word. Uh-huh. How about three at a time: “Yeah! C’mon! Fight!” Qiang also held 12-10, 11-9 firm in the 3rd and 4th against Cheng Du, who has this habit of repeatedly rolling the ball onto his racket just before serving. As for Canada’s Wang Zhen, said by some to be the best player in North America, he lost the first game to Ben Johnson, then watched Ben flash a smile to his corner, ready himself, and begin the second by serving into the net.
East China University 1 over California 1, 5-1. U.S. World Team member Crystal Huang, has been in the U.S. eight years, is now 28, and though losing to the 2700-rated Rao, did go five games with her, so it’s understandable that for the present she’s intent on trying to make the Olympics.
The format changes for these last ties—games are best four out of seven; matches best three out of five. In the Canada 1 vs. East China University 1 tie, (Eugene? Gene?) Wang Zhen opens for Canada, and, aside from the fact that he’s not a citizen, or even a resident yet (though he does speak English), he soon does not appear to be Canada’s best player. Lefty penholder Juan Liu, a member of (does anyone still say it?) the gentler sex, smacks through him 3-0, 11-4. In the second, Zhen’s the stronger, up to a point. Down 10-8, Liu gets a net, then ties it up, then zips in Wang’s serve. Oh, is she dangerous—how quickly she attacks even low balls. Zhen loses this game too, 13-11. As they trade off the next two, it’s a pleasure to watch Juan’s so smooth, off-the-bounce play. She’s tough mentally too—wins the deciding 5th game from 9-all.
Is it possible Canada 1 could lose this tie?
Next up, he who now appears to be the best player in Canada, Wilson Peng Zhang, seasoned by appearances at ITTF Pro Tour events. He’s up against another Zhang, formerly a Chinese National and long the University’s Women’s Coach, and of course his opponent out there on court who, someone whispers in my ear, is not Jingwen Rao, as the ITTF had it in their magazine reporting on her Bangkok Universiade win, but Jingwen Yao. And WHAT is going on here? Yao 11-8, 11-8 goes two games up—wins the second with an off-the-bounce backhand counter. Wilson, ever-serious, eager, rebounds to take the third at 6, and seems at 10-7 to have the fourth in hand. But Yao—yes, yes, it’s Yao insists my Chinese-speaking friend—she one-twos him with a super-fast backhand/forehand combo and, helped by a ticked net and Wilson’s failure to return serve, goes ad up. But men are smarter than women, right? Canada’s best player catches Yao on an unexpected fast down-the-line serve, deuces it. Then, he himself caught off-balance, lunges and luckily gets an edge. When Jingwen doesn’t return serve, the match is tied at 2-2.
After Yao wins the fifth comfortably, I hear a voice behind me say, “She’s better than any man in the room. If I hadn’t seen this, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Jing goes up 3-0 in the sixth—she has a very solid backhand exchange—and Wilson takes a time out. It doesn’t help much, for Yao has him 10-8 double match point. But a 10-9 time out doesn’t help her, and when she loses this game on they go into the deciding seventh. Yep, she’s a challenge alright, but the man’s just gotta beat the woman. Bet on it. Especially with Wilson up triple match point. Only, how is it possible? Down 10-9, Yao’s fearless; unhesitatingly she serves and follows. And when Wilson gets the ad, he again fails to return serve….Match 13-11 to Jing. Huge applause.
East women gonna beat the West men? It can happen.
Now it’s Canadian Junior Shen Qiang coming into court. Send a boy to do a man’s job? For it’s not Shamsham Cai but the very real Shanshan he’s got to beat. Qiang whiffs away the first game, but in the second, as if disdainfully sweeping through backhands, he has an easy 11-4 win. The second game he takes too, 11-9, and perhaps I’m the only person watching him who’s reminded of those seemingly casual but so effective strokes of a famous U.S. teenager of 50 years ago—Erwin Klein. The next two games are split. This tie really is close, but Wilson’s loss is obviously hard to overcome. The more so when Qiang can’t hold an 8-5 lead. Now it’s 8-all, 9-all, 10-all, 11-all, 12-all. Finally a long, last combative point—and Qiang smiles to the crowd. He’s lost this deuce game. His is a sportsman’s smile? Maybe. A save-face smile? Maybe An I-really-can’t-be-expected-to-try-my-hardest, play-my-best-against-a-woman smile? Hardly—not when thousands of dollars could replace hundreds. The seventh match is more of the same: 5-all, 6-all, 7-all, 8-all, 9-all, then a long point won by Shanshan…and then, up, up goes Qiang Shen’s racket. It of course comes down, but the tie, excruciatingly close, is gone, the title, the thousands of dollars nowhere in sight for Canada 1.
A women’s team in a traditional Men’s final. Could anything be more surprising?
In the other semi’s it’s Canada 2 vs. NYAC/NYTTC 1. David Zhuang’s team is handicapped, though, because his expected teammate, Weizhong Jiang, the highest-rated player (2790) scheduled to play in this tournament, was stuck in Madrid where he was playing in the Spanish League. Story I heard was that Jiang’s old passport ran out of pages, he had to get a new one, but then his visa didn’t get transferred over, and though he showed the authorities both passports, they wouldn’t allow him to come. Nor could he get help from the U.S. Embassy because of the Thanksgiving holidays. As for David himself, by now he was wearing a large brace over his right knee and a magnet under his left one. Problems came not only from his fast-moving play but from long hours of coaching, from standing so much.
Canada’s Pierre-Luc Hinse opens against chopper Ding Ying. At 20, with plenty of overseas training and competition, he’s been around long enough to have a game plan—and that is to wallop ball after ball at her. Ding makes remarkable gets, but then a ball’s up too high…higher, and Pierre-Luc scores. Still, the first two games couldn’t be closer—but both go to Canada, 11-9, 14-12. Ding retaliates, 11-9, 11-9. Hinse is always on the move—his follow-throughs on hard-hit loops/smashes draw him out of position, but then with his fast-footwork he scrambles back again to keep up the attack against Ding’s indefatigable returns. Pierre-Luc is also good at hitting in backhands from a crouch and on occasion spectacularly coming in on the run to snap-ace in a backhand. But in the fifth and sixth games he noticeably slows down his all-out barrage, and after he loses the fifth at 9, he can’t recover from being 9-4 down in the sixth. End then of a taut, fun match for the hundreds of spectators.
David Zhuang’s nth encounter with Peter-Paul is a disappointment for all those who wanted to see our National Champ at his best. In the first game, after having a couple of ads, David is 14-13 down. At which point, having forced Pradee into the back court, he continues to swing to the attack, or, rather, feints such a move, and fakes himself out. After that, though he listens to advice given him by friend and coach Jin Zeng Hua, he just can’t connect—is soundly beaten the next two games. But in the fourth he surges back, gets in a burst of points from 3-0 down to 8-4 up and moves on into the 5th. There in the end-game, both score on positional points, pull into a 9-9 tie. But David loses the game and the match with a failed drop.
Now it’s Yanjun Gao, coaching, I believe, at Coach Liu’s Club, vs. Canada’s Homayoun Kamkar-Parsi who, hear this, is still pursuing a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and says, “If I didn’t play table tennis I’d have my degree by now.” Off court he works on hearing aids, and on court he powers ball after ball, forehand or backhand, with the analogical force of someone raising his normal voice to one who’s more than moderately deaf. In the first two games, K-P is behind, rallies to lose the first, win the second. In the third, he has a backhand lunge in over the table to win, misses, loses the game. In the fourth, Gao twice fails to return serve, and the match is tied. And still tied going into the seventh. At 9-all, K-P swings from his heels, as if yelling HEAR ME! to the ball, but the response he wants is not forthcoming, not for this point, or the next. It’s NYAC-NYTTC 1 (2)—Canada 2 (1).
Next match: Pradee against Ding. The first two games replay Jean-Luc’s success with Ding—except Pradee socks ball after ball more powerfully. She resists—returns, returns, returns—but he’s just 11-5, 11-5 overwhelming…to the point where I can’t help but feel he’s abusing her. After those two lopsided losses, though, the third game is a great crowd pleaser. Ding is more than a tenacious defender—she’s smart, has heart, can also forehand attack, though, strange, given a backhand opening, she has no forceful return. When she takes the offense, Pradee lobs, and since he’s very good at it they have long points. Once, in mid-game, a Pradee lob falls short on his side of the table, and, stone-faced, Ding swats it away. Pradee smiles to his bench and to the audience. Later, though, after a spirited exchange in which the Sri-Lankan cum Canadian plays some spectacular shots and sends a point-winner by her, she throws up her hands and smiles, as if to say, “Yeah, I couldn’t get that one back.” Down 12-11 Ding risks a cramped forehand—it down-the-line goes in, and she follows by wresting the game from Pradee. But he’s back winning the fourth. Then has quite an 8-1 down relapse. When in the 6th game, Ding scores an edg—no, Pradee counter-edges her—the match turns his way, and the tie is tied.
Against Hinse, Zhuang wins the first easily. But then he can’t rise to the occasion—though down 10-9 in the third he catches Pierre-Luc on a perfect drop. Still, he can’t win that game, or the next, goes 3-1 down, and exits in the fifth uncharacteristically by not even coming close with his last four shots. “Sorry,” he says to his teammates. “I’m sorry.”
Canada 2 had earlier overcome these University women 5-2. But against Peter-Paul, Juan Liu, who’s capable of viciously attacking Pradee’s serves, draws first blood. Indeed, she continues to play well enough to have beaten him in straight games. Up 10-8, 10-9 in the second, she misses a winning hanger. Up 11-10, she loses a point only because of some great counter play by Peter-Paul. Eventually Pradee wins this swing game 14-12. The third goes to Liu at 5. In the 4th, Juan is again up 10-8, 10-9, but Pradee stays alive with an imaginative unanticipated serve. Again, though, Liu has the ad—only to again miss a winning hanger. Peter-Paul wins this one 14-12. Match is 2-2 instead of being over. In the fifth, Liu is down 5-0, not gonna recover. In the sixth, missed forehands cost her the match.
Next up Pierre-Luc vs. Yao. The young Canadian, who wins the first at 9, had told me earlier he so likes to watch the Chinese because they play so smart. Well, Pierre, these women who play for the University are actually University Science and Technology students. And it would seem this Yao did a little thinking after you beat her three straight—she beat you here four straight. Tie tied.
Shanshan Cai didn’t play that earlier tie where Kamkar-Parsi lost Canada’s two matches to Yao and Ningyang Dai. But her results against Homayoun were as good as her teammates. Starting with an upbeat 11-3 opening, moving by a fifth game 11-9 loss after being 10-5 down, she closed in the sixth with an 11-5 win.
Definitely the women were outplaying the men. Maybe they were more adaptive? Had more stamina? It was up to Peter-Paul to stop Yao whom he’d had 5-game trouble with before. Pradee sure covers a lot of ground—his lobs are not easy for Yao to score against, and he wins the first 13-11. But in the next four games he has very slow starts, is down 4-0, 5-1, 3-0, 6-3. He simply can’t afford to give her such spots. In the deciding fifth, she misses a high ball, fails to return serve, and misserves. But she still closes Pradee out at 8.
It’s an historic win for these women, for all women. Where’s Pete Kelly? Would that he and his friends have been around to see this Sunday final.