San Diego Open on the JOOLA NA Tour
April 25th and 26th, 2009
Balboa Park Activity Center, San Diego, CA
Breakthrough performances, historic firsts, dramatic matches and renewed fellowship distinguished the San Diego Open on the 2009 JOOLA North American Tour. This was very much a story of adversity met and conquered, of challenges that were surmounted and culminated in the loudest cheer ever heard in the Balboa Park Activity Center.
These statements were true both on the playing floor and on the operation side of the tournament. First, there was the absence of Linda Hsing, the Referee listed in the entry blank. Linda was honored with an invitation to work at the World Championship in Japan, so a replacement had to be found. Luckily for the tournament, the esteemed Tom Miller made the trek to San Diego to provide informed authoritative guidance to the competition. Even better, his patient and dedicated wife Marilyn made the trip down the California coast and spent her weekend assisting the control desk and registration. We can’t thank them enough for their help and cheerful presence. Wilfredo Escobar, Kondo Lee and Douglas Ryan volunteered their umpiring. Wilfredo and Doug also demonstrated their fine teamwork in being finalists in the U-3200 doubles, showing their skill at scoring in two ways. Jerry Harris and the stalwarts of SDTTA really get things done. Without the months of preparation Jerry gave the event, we wouldn’t even have been in town.
Secondly, there was a logistical challenge to be met, as the tournament equipment of 30 JOOLA tables arrived on site two hours later than expected. It required us to leave the facility at Friday night’s closing with the set-up incomplete. Returning on Saturday morning, the set-up had to be concluded even as registration for events began, with the consequence that play began about 20 minutes later than scheduled. By the end of the day, however, the tournament managed to play all but one of the scheduled Saturday matches for the 256 players attending. Sunday was completely trouble-free for tournament operations and spectacular play and surprising results had everyone’s full attention.
Bill Ukapatayaskul reigned as the Over 50 Champion, but was denied the Over 60 title by the resurgent Bobby Fields. Rob Van Lier was a non-stop playing machine as he won the Over 40 Category, in a great match with the skilled John Baldonado, advanced from his Open Singles Round Robin and made the Quarterfinals of that event, establishing his claim as one of the 8 best players in the building. Earl James Alto has to be recognized even though he won not a single event. All Earl did was finish as a finalist in the U-4200 Doubles, go 7 games with John Tran in Open Singles, place second to Trevor Runyan in U-22 Men’s, second in the U-2375 to Brana Vlasic and second to his brother Don James Alto in the U-2500. Unflaggingly cheerful and showing great stamina, Earl had a great tournament despite not winning an event. Maybe he’s too nice!
John James Alto took home three first place finishes, the U-4200 Doubles, the Boys U-16 and U-18 titles. Kennan Tanti was a ‘double-dipper’, Champion of both the U-950 and U-1100, while Samson Su also carried away two trophies, best in the U-1250 and the U-1400 events. Brana Vlasic was also crowned twice, in the U-2375 and the Women’s U-22, while the talented Ge Jie Mai bested the graceful chopping game of Soo Yuen Lee to win Women’s Singles.
Open Singles on the JOOLA North American Tour is run as a two-tiered round robin followed by a single elimination bracket. Four Qualifiers were found in the first stage, to form a ‘Stage 2’ group of 16 players, where they joined the 12 top seeds. Organized into four groups of four players each, two would advance from each group to play the Quarterfinals on Sunday.
Group One: Eric Owens, Rob Van Lier, Trevor Runyan, Tung Phan
First match, right out of the box, a shocker, as Runyan defeated Owens in four straight games. It was Eric’s total tournament. Suffering from food poisoning, he tried to play through the distress, but following this match withdrew, defaulting his last two and thus placing fourth in the group. Runyan and Van Lier each defeated Tung Phan, Runyan making it by in 5 games, Rob Van Lier in 7. Trevor and Rob then waged war with each other to find first and second in the group. Trevor trailed two games to none, led three games to two, and eventually prevailed in a great match, 11-6 in the 7th game.
Group Two: Thilina Piyadasa, Ge Jie Mai, Guo Hui Lu, Mustafa Ucozler
Piyadasa justified his seeding with a 3-0 record, but not without being sorely tested! Trailing Ge Jie Mai 3 games to 0, he won four games in a row, 8,7,4,8 to retain the pole position. Guo Hui Lu triumphed in 5 games over Mustafa Ucozler, while Ge Jie Mai used the minimum of 4. Guo and Ge had the final match, which saw the Women’s Champion advance, 6,7, 8, 10 for Ge Jie Mai, who advanced to the Quarters.
Group Three: Du Cheng Yi, Don James Alto, Tuan Li, Tri Dinh
Tuan Li scratched ‘James’ Du for the first two games, 10 and 11, but couldn’t maintain the upset pace, 4-2 for Du. Don James Alto showed that his U-2500 win was no fluke, controlling Tri Dinh in four straight. Then young Mr. Alto showed that perhaps he was even better than that, knocking off the US #19, James Du in a spectacular 7 game upset, -8, -7, 9,7,8, -6, 9! DJ was very poised at the pressure points. Obviously having the former World Champion and Swedish Team Coach Stellan Bengtsson in your corner is paying dividends for San Diego players. Tuan Li and James Du each then bested Tri Dinh, so the group finished with Alto first and Du second. The home folks could not have loved it more.
Group Four: Steven Wang, Ben Johnson, John Tran Thach, Earl James Alto
John Tran played the top seed, US #23 Steven Wang, and certainly gave his best effort, but couldn’t clear the hurdle, although he got close! Wang prevailed in a -9, -11, 4,9,14,8 six-gamer. Ben Johnson powered through Earl Alto in four straight, then got his own shot at the top seed. It was all furious counter-looping rallies that brought jaw-dropping applause, but it was also Wang’s match, -9,9, -10,9, -6, 9,8 in a real barnburner. John Tran Thach and Earl Alto then staged an epic of their own, but despite reeling off 3 games in a row, Earl lost the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th games in a match that left them both drenched. Wang then polished off Alto in four straight, and Ben Johnson drained the last gas from John’s tank as well. Wang and Johnson exited as they had entered, first and second in the group, the tournament’s #4 and #5 seeds.
Trevor Runyan vs. Du Cheng Yi
Sunday’s expanded court sizes admitted more spectators, and they got a great one right off the bat. Trevor continued the upset theme established on Saturday, in a 7 game victory over Du. Surging out to a 3-1 lead, Runyan dug deep to hang on for a win in the final frame, -3, 11, 7,6, -7, -6, 8. You could not have removed Runyan’s grin with a powertool as he advanced to the Semi-Final over the always correct and gracious but disappointed James Du.
Steven Wang vs. Ge Jie Mai
Despite an 11-6 win in the first game, Ge Jie Mai just couldn’t get any traction the remainder of the match. Wang spun and placed the ball in ways that made the Woman’s champ defensive and tentative. Despite a determined effort in Game 4, Mai was unable to solve the puzzle as Wang advanced -6, 4,6,9,5.
Don James Alto vs. Rob Van Lier
It was not deliberate that the Quarterfinal’s oldest player faced the youngest, but here they were. Rob came into the court straight from his Over-40 Final, where he’d dealt successfully with John Baldonado. Alto was fresh and eager, and all business as he won in straight games, 4,8,3,3. The total focus on the junior’s face was obvious. Man on a mission, DJ Alto advanced to the Semi.
Ben Johnson vs. Thilina Piyadasa
While there is no ill feeling, Piyadasa and Johnson have a history as they enter the court. Johnson’s only lost two matches since January, and each time Thilina Piyadasa was the culprit. There is, however, no griping about this draw from either player, the history only became known through research for this account. It does help explain the flamboyant yell from Johnson at the end of Game 7. In a revenge matchup between equally talented players, Ben Johnson moves on, -9,-5, 9,7,-11, 7, 7.
Steven Wang vs. Trevor Runyan
With upset wins over Owens and Du, the U-22 Men’s title already on his belt, Runyan aims to continue to the Final, but Wang serves notice 11-4 in the first game that he’s prepared to deal with it. Trevor breaks back in the second game, but that’s all he manages here. Wang controls play from that point forward, moving Runyan at will to create the openings for winning shots. Varying his spin and speed on the loop, Wang has Runyan staring as his paddle more than once, as blocks go into the net or suddenly fly long. It’s Semi-Final money for Runyan and a trip to the Championship match for Wang, 4, -9,5,8,7.
Ben Johnson vs. Don James Alto
Focusing on the task at hand is crucial here. Alto has his game face on, but Ben’s already nervous about the umpire selection for his match. While the desk can give you a new match slip or a ball to replace a broken one, the Ref needs more than “I don’t like it” to make a change of assignment. The stands are now full of spectators, almost to a man rooting for the San Diego junior, cheering loudly on each point he wins and dead silent when Johnson scores. Alto is hanging tough, countering and blocking Ben’s powerful attacks, but trails 2 games to 1. Still, he’s only been outscored 33 to 30 at this point, and the crowd is pulling for him. So when Ben draws a yellow card for kicking a ball to the barrier, it’s really not to his benefit to protest, yet protest he does. Play resumes, but his mind elsewhere, and the crowd now stony silent to Alto’s opponent, DJ takes 3 straight games and the match. The audience cheers its love to the hometown hero and Alto advances to the Final, -10, 10, -8, 3, 8.7.
Steven Wang vs. Don James Alto
The bleachers are jammed and every chair is taken as the San Diego Open Final begins. To be honest, I hear some regrets expressed. While 99% of the crowd is pleased for Don Alto’s great showing, there is an undercurrent of “too bad it’s a mis-match” and “what happened to Eric Owens?” as play begins. This grows in volume as Steven Wang takes the first game 11-5. Stellan steadies his young player, however, and Alto manages to shake off the first game jitters, 11=8 to even the match. Alto continues to push forward, but is turned away 12-10 in the third. Again in Game 4 he creates deuce, and again, Wang denies him when it counts most, 12-10 and Wang has an enviable 3-1 lead. Now the mood is ‘well fought, kid’, but Alto is not ready to concede. It’s over when the last game is won, and 11-9, game 5 is DJ’s. The crowd of 400 roars its approval. But is this just a moral victory? 11-9 in Game 6, and the match is tied! Now no one thinks of a mismatch, and all eyes are on these two players. Can he do it? Will he wilt? No one is wilting today. Wang has not ‘gone away’ and he has certainly NOT crumbled. This is like watching a timelapse film of a tree growing, it seems like Alto is improving even as we watch. He’s all business, there are no nerves evident from either player. 10-9 for Alto in the 7th game…and the cheer that erupts shakes the rafters at Balboa Park. 11-9 in the Seventh Game after trailing three games to one! You can’t hear the loudspeaker announce the new champion and Don James Alto has won one of the most dramatic and unforgettable finals in JOOLA Tour history.
As the crowd exits, all smiles, tables are folded and loaded back to the moving van, the room empties of people but not of good feelings. About an hour after the final, I pass Don James Alto sitting on a bleacher, a look of amazement on his own face, saying aloud to no one in particular, “Wow. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I did that. I won. I won the Open.”
Believe it, friends. Not only is this a rare ‘home court’ victory on the Tour, you’re talking about the youngest player EVER to take home the biggest check, the title and the victory at a JOOLA North American Tour Stop, Don James Alto, San Diego Open Champion at 16 years of age. No one looks on more proudly than Coach Bengtsson, a man who knows a bit about reaching your total potential at an early age. When the Tour returns to San Diego for the 2009 Finals in October, it’s going to have to go some distance to top this one!
Events Concluding in Single Elimination
|Event #||Event Name||First||State||Second||State||Final Score|
|1||Open||Don James Alto||CA||Siliang (Steven) Wang||CA||-5, 8, -10, -10, 9, 9, 8|
|7||Under16 Boy’s||John James Alto||CA||Ignacio Ascencio||CA||-9, 3, 8, -10, 6|
|8||Under16 Girl’s||Jasmine Nguyen||CA||Emmy Cheng||CA||-7, 8, 6, 9|
|9||Under13 Boy’s||Ethan Chua||CA||Erick Shahnazari||CA||7, 6, 5|
|13||Over40||Rob Van Lier||CA||Johnard Baldonado||NV||7, -10, 3, 8|
|14||Over50||Bill Ukapatayasakul||CA||Aleksandr Mikhlin||CA||10, 7, 7|
|15||Over60||Robert Fields||CA||Bill Ukapatayasakul||CA||8, 9, -9, 14|
|16||Under2500||Don James Alto||CA||Earl James Alto||CA||9, -8, 7, 9|
|17||Under2375||Brana Vlasic||CA||Earl James Alto||CA||-8, 8, -13, 5, 7|
|18||Under2250||Quoc Bao Nguyen||CA||Mark Brader||CA||8, -7, 6, 10|
|19||Under2125||Soon Jae Park||CA||Justin Nguyen||CA||9, -6, 9, 9|
|20||Under2000||Xuan Liu||CA||Tomas Gurklys||CA||10, 7, -9, 5|
|21||Under1850||Ignacio Ascencio||CA||Brian Hart||NV||6, 10, 5|
|22||Under1700||John Hanna||CA||Albert Huang||CA||DEF|
|23||Under1550||Brian Bradley||CA||Kevin Wei||CA||-6, 7, -8, 7, 11|
|24||Under1400||Samson Su||CA||Josiah E. Framo||CA||12, -6, 7, -4, 10|
|25||Under1250||Samson Su||CA||Nicholo Mamaril||NV||-5, -9, 4, 7, 10|
|26||Under1100||Keenan Tanti||CA||John Kolano||CA||9, -9, 7, 9|
|27||Under950||Keenan Tanti||CA||Anthony Chu||CA||4, 6, 6|
|28||Under800/Unrated||Ryan Militante||CA||Carlos Alvares||8, 6, 8|
|29||U4200 Doubles SE||John James Alto & Tsz Lun Chu||CA||Earl James Alto & Kamal Parikh||CA||8, -3, 11, -9, 6|
|30||U3200 Doubles SE||Harriet Quon & Ky H. Nguyen||CA||Wilfredo C. Escobar & Douglas F. Ryan||CA||7, 7, -10, 6|
Events Concluding in Round Robin
|Event #||Event Name||First||State||Record||Second||State||Record|
|2||Women’s||Ge Jie Mai||2-0||Soo Yeon Lee||CA||1-1|
|3||Under22 Men’s||Trevor J. Runyan||CA||2-0||Earl James Alto||CA||1-1|
|4||Under22 Women’s||Brana Vlasic||CA||4-0||Natalie Sun||CA||3-1|
|5||Under18 Boy’s||John James Alto||CA||2-0||Bryan C. Simcox||CA||1-1|
|6||Under18 Girl’s||Mei-Heng Lee||CA||4-0||Ellen C. Hwang||CA||3-1|
|10||Under13 Girl’s||Aylin Fernandez||3-0||Isabel Chu||CA||2-1|
|11||Under10 Boy’s||Newman Cheng||CA||2-0||David Lu||CA||1-1|