2008 Western Open

The first stop of the 2008 JOOLA North American Tour, the Western Open, was a triumph from all angles!  Steven Wang is the new champion, and the enthusiasm and fun all the players and organizers had was infectious.  Complete results are online at www.joolausa.com .  Read more to view Alan Williams’ Tournament write up.

Western Open on the 2008 JOOLA North American Tour
Recreational Sports Facility
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA
March 22 and 23, 2008

The 2008 JOOLA North American Tour lifted off in style with the Western Open.  Great play, an outstanding turnout, and the contagious enthusiasm of the UC Berkeley Golden Bears combined for a memorable event.  We were fortunate to have back with us not only the defending champion, Eric Owens, but also the previous year’s Tour sponsors, JOOLA, Brican Corp, Gerflor, Senoda, the Ying-Lo Junior competitions and the Sol Feingold Memorial senior events.  The Western Open is a venerable and honored title, and we were pledged to provide a quality tournament in that tradition.

Berkeley’s Yau-Man Chan, Ryan Hsu, Kenny Schang, and the host collegiate club did an outstanding job in providing a play-ready venue and with their help in organizing, staging and running the event.  International Referee Dr. Azmy Ibrihim was a steadying and reassuring presence, unflappable and thoroughly prepared.  Assisted by umpires Esther Aliotta, Joseph Yick, Yelena Karshtedt, and Kenny Tien, Azmy kept the play fair and free of controversy.  

With coaches and parents, friends and family roaming the aisles, Michael Squires got the JOOLA booth up and running. NATT’s staff, John Miller, Mary Palmar, Tom Nguyen and myself posted the draws, registered the players and got the tournament in gear for our Saturday morning start.  We were rewarded with an excellent competition and several noteworthy performances.

Dave Sakai, overqualified for the Over 40 event, took the title anyway against players decades younger than himself.  Young Prachi Jha continued to consolidate her level, winning the Girls U-12 and placing second to UC Berkeley’s Ryan Hsu in a hard fought U-1700 final.  Tomas Fuentes-Affleck was second in Boys U-18 to Huang Zihao, first in Boys U-16 over Brian Chen, second to Shen Hailong in the U-22 and all done with his usual quiet efficiency.  Ariel Hsing won the U-22 women’s, and reached the Quarterfinals of Open Singles, the youngest competitor I can recall reaching that stage in Tour history.  

This was our first encounter with a wonderful player, new to us, but not to the sport.  Dora Kurimay.  A former Hungarian Champion, Dora played her first USATT event in April of 2007.  In my opinion, her limited match play had left her under-rated as she entered the tournament at 2154 following February’s Northridge Open.   Winning the U-2250 against Anh Tuan Nguyen (10, 9, -9, -5,4, -8,5) was only the beginning for her.  In constant play she reached the Quarterfinals of Open Singles and came second to Zheng Jiaqi for the Women’s title.  She has a steady game, is a top athlete willing to work hard on every point, and a non-stop smile and great sportsmanship which left all her opponents giving her heart-felt congratulations, win or lose.  Her upset victory against Auria Malek in the Open Singles RR was one of the finest matches I have ever seen on the tour, and lifted both players in my estimation.  

Open Singles Round Robin Groups
Group 1: Du, Malek, Tu, Kurimay
The tournament’s top seed, Du Cheng Yi, came through in fine shape at 3 wins and 0 losses, losing only one game, and that to the qualifier, Dora Kurimay, defeating her 7,9,3, -10, 3.  Dora played so well, in fact, that even though she came to the group through qualification rounds, she defeated both the B and C seeds in seven game matches.  She trailed Tu Truong Mahn 3 games to 2, but defeated him -10, -10, 6,3, -9, 5,9.  She traded games with Auria Malek until prevailing at deuce in the 7th game, -8,11, -9,8, -2,7,10 in a match that brought the best from both of them.  Auria defeated Tu in yet another 7 game barnburner to finish third. Excellent play!

Group 2: Owens, Nguyen, Au, Hsing
Defending Champion Eric Owens was an unblemished 3 wins and 0 losses, but like the preceding group, a qualifier grabbed the second advancing position to the Quarterfinals.  Freddie Gabriel’s withdrawal from the tournament allowed a ‘lucky loser’ to join the group, Ahn Tuan Nguyen.  Ariel Hsing and he played a fine match that Ariel won, 9, -9, 9,9,10.  When Ariel overcame a two game deficit to defeat Kevin Au -9, -6, 9,8,9,6 it assured that she would advance to the Quarterfinals.  Seeing no point in playing for third, Au defaulted to Nguyen to complete the result.

Group 3: Wang, Zheng, Alto, Nguyen
Wang Siliang (Steve) is a strong player, defeating both Shen Hailong and Khoa Nguyen to win the Sacramento Winter Open three weeks earlier.  It’s a tribute to the other players in this group that he had to work so hard to advance!  Earl James Alto nicked Wang for the first game, but lost 4-1, Zheng Jiaqi took the second game of her match with Wang, but lost 4-1, and Qualifier Trieu Tien Nguyen played a fine match in stretching the A seed to six games, 8,6,2,-7,-7,8,   Earl managed to contain the upset-minded Nguyen, 7,10,9,7, as did second-seeded Zheng Jiaqi, an impressive 4,3,1,4 performance.  With records of 1 and 1, Earl and Jiaqi met in the group’s last match to determine who would advance.  In four straight games, 9,6,7,7, Zheng Jiaqi advanced to the Quarters and the Open Singles prize money.

Group 4: Shen, Huang, Lu, Chai
Shen Hailong justified his position as the group’s top seed, a perfect 3 and 0.  The quick-handed youngster turned back second seed Huang Zihao 5,-9,7,5,6 in his toughest challenge.  Lu Guo Hui vanquished the very determined qualifier, Jim Chai, 4,10,9,12 to give himself a chance to advance from the group.  He looked to be in very good shape when he took the first two games from Huang, 11-8, 11-8, but with his prospects in the balance, Huang Zihao dug deep and fought back to a victory, 6,9,7,8.  With his win, the Quarterfinal field was selected.

Quarters:
Du Cheng Yi vs. Ariel Hsing
I can’t remember that we’ve had a quarterfinalist as young as Ariel Hsing before on the JOOLA NA Tour, but she plays so well that it may be only a matter of time before she becomes a fixture in this rarefied rounds of play.  For Ariel today though, it was quarterfinals and no further as she was paired with the tournament’s highest rated player, Du Cheng Yi.  By scores of 7,9,2,7, Du advanced to the semi-final.

Wang Siliang vs. Huang Zihao
Explosive rallies and spectacular play brought shouts of appreciation from the growing crowd of onlookers as these two jousted for the right to continue.  While all points were competitive, Wang prevailed when he needed to, and 8,-9,10,7,3 turned away the newcomer.

Shen Hailong vs. Dora Kurimay
Dora has excellent court coverage, and great heart.  Despite being dragged wide to her forehand and seemingly out of the point, she repeatedly scrambled back to cover the opposite corner.  While her best play was from her backhand side, she didn’t seem to have either the power or the speed required to offset Shen.  Shen advanced in four straight, 7,10,8,4.

Eric Owens vs. Zheng Jiaqi
Eric’s credentials are impeccable and his reputation well-deserved, yet there seemed to be some confidence missing as he allowed Zheng to even their match as two games apiece.  It wasn’t until he mounted a long string of points in the 7th game that Owens seemed to take control of play.  It’s an intangible I cannot identify, but Eric didn’t seem like Eric in this one, despite his win, 4,15,-5,-4,10,-8,4.  When the match was over, the last match to finish in this round, he was concerned about how much recovery time he’d have before the Semi.  It would be like Eric to be fighting the flu and never mention it, and that’s my speculation here.

Semifinals
Eric Owens vs. Shen Hailong
A great tactician, Eric would have his hands full in the semi-finals against the lightning-quick Shen, so good for him that he notched a 2 game to 1 lead.  But he wasn’t to find another win as Shen shocked the defending champion -5,9,-6,6,9,7, four games to two.  Shen’s supporters were beyond ecstacy for their man, and Eric departed quietly, no excuses made.  Count it as a measure of the respect Owens deserves that a loss to a 2536 rated player would be considered ‘surprising’.

Du Cheng Yi vs. Wang Siliang
Their first meeting in a tournament match won’t forgotten anytime soon by either player, or those fortunate enough to witness it.  All aspects of the game were in play, fine service, outstanding topspin attacks, long rallies, impossible shotmaking, dig-deep-find-it-in-you tenacity.  That should be expected given the outstanding skills of these two players.  It’s not truly possible to express in words, so perhaps numbers will help tell the story.  Coming into the tournament, Du’s lifetime match record in USATT play was 54 wins and 7 losses.  Wang Siliang was 33 and 6, with one of those 6 being to the international star, Andrei Fillimon.  Wang was the winner here, 9,-6,-5,3,-7,5,10.  But the real winners were those spectators courtside who got to witness this high level play.  

Championship Match
Shen Hailong vs. Wang Siliang
No doubt both these men had earned their spot, and with $700 for the runnerup and $1500 to the Champion, they’d both be rewarded for reaching this match.  But that, of course, was not what either of them had in mind!  Rather their goal was to be Western Open champion, the first tournament winner of the 2008 JOOLA North American Tour.  Wang used his three ball attack to win the first game 11-5, very effective service.  Shen Hailong adjusted and took both games 2 and 3 utilizing his quickness, 11-7 and 11-3!  Game four was a knife fight, going to Wang 12-10.  Wang pressed his advantage 11-5 in the fifth.  Despite Shen’s desire, you could see his fatigue overtaking him, but he goes down fighting 11-9 in the sixth game and Wang Siliang is the Western Open Champ!

A wonderful tournament, capped by a wonderful series of matches in Open Singles.  There are so many stories that could be told, could be relayed, but only so much space.  For NATT, its on to San Diego and the second stop of the JOOLA NA Tour, in April at Balboa Park.  The future is uncharted territory but if the Western Open is any indicator, we have a wonderful season in store!