Tuesday, December 9, 2008

world junior championships 2008

This year, the 2008 World Junior Championships are being held in Madrid, Spain. The US has sent Olena Sowers, Lily Zhang, Ariel Hsing, and Isabella Chen for the Junior Girls' Team, and they caught the attention of everyone on Saturday in the team event:


After being down 2-0 against Chile, Olena Sowers (one of Atha and my good friends and teammates in last year's World Junior Championships at Stanford University in California) turned the tie around and sparked a comeback that kept the US from elimination in the first round of the team event. While the US ended up falling to Japan the next morning, they still caused quite a stir with their 3-2 come-from-behind win over Chile. Click here for the story from ittf.com.

For more stories and live results from Worlds, click here or visit ittf.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

regionals 11-16-08

The New York City region had its regional tournament on Sunday, November 16, at FIT in downtown Manhattan. The tournament itself was a huge success thanks to the quick, efficient set-up and clean-up before and after the tournament (props!), and because of the tournament's huge turn-out. Co-ed matches lasted from about 10am to after 7pm, and the women's matches lasted from about 10am to around 3pm. In both co-ed and women's, Rutgers dominated the scene by going undefeated in both events, so congratulations to the Rutgers' co-ed team: Judy Hugh, Adam Formal, Iuliana Radu, Wing "Leon" Sit, and Jin Yang; and to the Rutger's women's team: Judy Hugh, Iuliana Radu, Jin Yang, Rekha Bachwani, Shriya Patel, and Elizabeth Cho. On another bright note, Columbia's co-ed and women's teams both got 2nd behind Rutgers, losing only to Rutgers, so KUDOS to the Columbia co-ed team: Carlos A. Perilla, Victor Leung, David Loeffler, Vanck Zhu, Shih-Hung Hsu, James Skoufis, Kagan Irez, and me; and to the women's team: Lina Cao, Jenny Chen, Wendy Mu, Vivian Wang, Dehui Kong, and me!

This was the first of two regional tournaments (the next one will be in the spring), and the top two teams from each region get a bid to the College Nationals, being held in Minnesota this year. Although the tournament took basically all day and drained the hell out of everyone there, it was great to see old friends and meet new ones. Teams that went included Columbia, Yale, Stonybrook, Rutgers and NYU, [among others], and some matches got heated and intense; the best ones to watch throughout the day were probably NYU vs Stonybrook (or really NYU vs anyone, what with their energy level and team spirit, contributed mostly by Joe Kim) and Columbia vs Rutgers, with both ties going down to the wire: NYU and Rutgers both won in the 5th game of the 5th team match (the format of NCTTA tournaments are best 3 out of 5 team matches, with 4 singles and 1 doubles, so if you see tight doubles matches going on, chances are that the team tie is at stake).

I was silly and forgot my camera, so the following pictures are credited to Shih-Hung Hsu:

David Loeffler:

Judy vs Carlos:


Victor Leung:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New ITTF Eligibility Rule FOR NON US-CITIZENS UNDER 21

Recently, the US Women's Olympic coach, Teodor Gheorghe, emailed me with these news:

"If any[one] was born in another country and never represented USA at the World Junior Championships and want[s] to represent USA in the future, please read the attached document, fill out and sign the form... and send it back to me ASAP"

And since I can't figure out how to put the actual document up, here's the copy and pasted version:

New ITTF Eligibility rule registration form

According to the new ITTF eligibility rule, players under 21 years old and were born in another country, but wish to represent the United States have to be registered with ITTF through USATT.

The new eligibility rule applies only for the World Title events - World Championships, World Junior Championships, and World Cup and is as follows:

In addition to the provisions of 3.8 (the general rule of eligibility) players being eligible to represent an association other than the one they intend to represent, shall register with the ITTF, through this new association.

Such players shall not represent the new association before:
* 3 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 15 when registered;
* 5 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 18 but at least 15 years of age when registered;
* 7 years after the date of registration, if the player is under the age of 21 but at least 18 years of age when registered.

Players being 21 years of age or older will not be registered with the ITTF and will not be eligible to represent a new association at World Title events.

Players who have already represented USA at a previous World Title event will keep that eligibility and do not need to register with ITTF.

Players who are under 21 years of age, born in another country, and have never represented USA at a World Title event must fill out and sign the below application for registration with the ITTF and send it to USATT HQ, attention Doru Gheorghe or by email to:
Doru@usatt.org

So, if this applies to you, and you want to represent the US in future international tournaments, EMAIL DORU for the form!!! I also have a copy of the form as well, so you can email me at so90crazy@gmail.com too, but it would probably be better for you to just contact Doru directly.

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tibhar's SINUS

Despite its ridiculous-sounding name, Sinus is a really great rubber. It's the sort of off-spring/next generation of Nimbus, and was designed specifically with the forehand and those who are used to hard, spinny rubbers in mind. Actually, the Nimbus was really intended to be mostly a backhand rubber, but it's definitely versatile and all-around enough for a forehand rubber (I used it for around four months until last night, when I tried Sinus). For anyone who's looking for that powerful, explosive, spinny shot that you used to have with harder sponges, definitely try this one out. I like it more than Butterfly's Tenergy, because I feel like you get a better grip on the ball with Sinus, and more control overall.

And to answer Alex's question from the last post, I was talking specifically about Butterfly's glue... Sorry for any confusion or issues that ambiguity may have caused!

Sorry it's been a while, but college life tends to catch up to you...

Speaking of which, college table tennis has definitely been an experience. I would venture to say that the Columbia table tennis team practices quite a lot for a college team, and that we're a relatively cohesive one at that. No politics or animosity or anything like that, and that's always a good thing. For anyone who doesn't know how collegiate table tennis works, there is an organization (NCTTA): http://nctta.org/index.html. There are different regions all across the country (Columbia is in the New York City region with NYU, Rutgers, Cooper Union, Yale, Stevens Institute of Technology, Polytechnic University, FIT, Stonybrook, NJIT, and a few other teams that are inactive this year), and teams within each region play each other at regional tournaments (ours is coming up in November!) and the top two teams from each region go to Nationals at the end of the school year. Anyone applying to college or looking at colleges that still wants to play or start playing table tennis, look to see if your schools have a club or a team. If yes, then join, if not, then look to start your own club!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

more on water glue

So I know that in the last post I listed a few rubbers that would fall under the "Hurricane of the new era" category, but I tried out another one today that I would definitely add to the list: Butterfly's Tenergy. Compared to other new rubbers, the Tenergy's sponge is VERY hard and could be comparable with Hurricane; it has the same relative hardness, is quite spinny, and can deliver a pretty explosive shot. For anyone who uses Hurricane and is looking into rubbers to try out, I'd definitely suggest trying this one out before you get used to a softer sponge; the only reason I'm not flying off the walls crazy about the rubber is because I'm used to my Nimbus (Tibhar) now and I like it a lot, so I'm sort of over my "I-have-to-use-Hurricane" phase. In any case, there will never be another rubber exactly like Hurricane, so I'm over looking for a replacement.

For anyone using water glue for the first time, this is how you go about gluing: take your new sheet of rubber out of the packaging, and leave it out in open air for around 3 days. The reason you're supposed to leave it out is so the "speed effect" built in the sponge can sort of sink in and "breathe"; I'm not exactly sure how racket inspections/testing will work, but I've been told that unless your sponge gets the 72 hours of open air it needs, it could fail the test. Anyway, after 3 days, put a glob of glue roughly the size of a quarter, maybe a little smaller, in the middle of the sponge, and spread it out as evenly as possible; any bumps will be immediately noticable when you put the rubber on the blade. Water glue looks basically just like Elmer's glue (the white pastey stuff we used in like first grade for arts and crafts), and is just as harmless- the gluing process can get VERY messy, so make sure you have a tissue handy, but in case it gets on your hands or something, it's not toxic.. no biggie. To glue the blade, use a very small glob of glue and spread it evenly. When wet, the glue looks white, but will look transparent when dry, so you'll definitely be able to tell when it's dry. It should take only about 5-10 minutes for everything to dry. One layer of glue for both wood and rubber is definitely enough, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference if you use more glue anyway, so the whole gluing process should take no more than 10-15 minutes, if even that much. Plus, gluing can be a one-time experience for each rubber; you do it once and never again (unless you need to because it's coming off or something like that).

Overall, I'm pretty chill with the new glues/rubbers. My only issue is that my forehand rubber (Tibhar's Nimbus) has sort of a short lifespan; while I only need to glue it once, it usually doesn't last me more than 2 or 3 months. But, it's nice not to have to worry about gluing before practice anymore, and I'm down for not inhaling poisonous toxins any day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

dealing with water glue (yes, you have to now)

Ok, so it's been September for a while, and for those who don't know, this means that the table tennis world officially has to start using ONLY water-based glue. Water glue really is going to change the game, as shown by Li Xiaoxia, winner of the Volkswagen Women's World Cup earlier this month; Li has real power, and she has never needed to rely on her rubber and glue to get by, unlike most people, and therefore blew away the competition. That's right, people will no longer be able to blame a bad match on a bad gluing job, because gluing is essentially no longer important and plays little to no role in actual play.

I said it before and I'll say it again: FOR PEOPLE WHO NORMALLY USE HURRICANE, GIVE IT UP. I know it's hard and I know Hurricane is an amazing rubber, but I can guarantee you 110% you will not be able to use it anymore. Using Hurricane is especially out of the question now that Optimizers are officially illegal. The way the rubbers of the new age work is that the stuff that made speed glue speedy is now built into the sponges. This the reason why you only need to glue a sheet once and never again; regluing is not necessary because the "stuff" isn't in your glue anymore (it's been about two months since the last time I glued). It's weird to imagine gluing only about once every two or three months, but it's been great, because I don't need to sit and glue my Hurricane for 10-20 minutes anymore, and there is no unpredictability in my rubbers' performance. Definitely, for sure, absolutely, positively, undeniably, you're going to need to take some time to look into company's new lines of rubber, try them out, and get used to them (Tibhar, Donic, Butterfly, and Xiom have come out with pretty good ones, but, obviously, not everyone will like the same ones).

In addition to investing in new rubbers, you probably will need to try out new blades too; depending on how long you've been using your current one(s), it may be considered illegal because speed glue from before has been absorbed into the wood. Also, blades of a certain hardness may just not match up with whatever new rubber you get, so that's going to require some mixing and matching as well.

Shots with the new rubbers aren't as spinny or as powerful as with speed glue, but this definitely is not to say that making powerful or spinny shots is impossible. All I'm saying is that you absolutely cannot depend on your glue or your rubber to make your shots for you anymore. It will take some work and some getting used to, but it is definitely doable. Good luck to everyone in making the switch! It's kind of a pain, I know, but we don't have a choice, do we...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zhang Yining withdraws from Panasonic China Open



Looks like she decided to pursue a career in modeling instead.

I'm just kidding.

But, seriously, looks like the China Open women's title is up for grabs.

Click here to read more on ittf.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

US Nationals Tournament Hotel

They finally changed the tournament hotel to the Las Vegas Hilton for the US Nationals! It's about time for a change...the Stratosphere was just too far from both the Strip AND the Convention Center, and the Riviera was plain out dingy. At least the Hilton is close to the Convention Center and a decent hotel :).

Use reference code USA Table Tennis for the discount price of $70/night. Make your reservation before November 13, 2008 to get this rate!!

Click here for full details.

Olympic gold easier than World Championships gold?


According to table tennis legend Jan-Ove Waldner it sure is! Look at what ITTF quoted him as saying:

"Prior to the competition Jan-Ove Waldner was asked whether it was easier to win the Men's Singles title at the Olympic Games or the World Championships.

He answered with a wry smile. 'The Olympics, there you only have to beat three Chinese,' he said. 'In the World Championships you have to beat six!'"

WORD!

Click here to read more on ITTF.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Volkswagen Women's World Cup


Why hello there, everyone! Sorry for this lack of posting...life just catches up with us sometimes. Hold on just a sec as a stretch my typity-type-type fingers for some posting...

Oh yeah, as I warm up my typity-type fingers, Steph just started school at Barnard this last week! How exciting!

Okay, so the Volkswagen Women's World Cup. Went down yesterday. Lemme guess who won...China? Was I right? Oh, yep, China did win! Yay for me.

But, hey! Look! A new name came up -- up-and-comer Li XiaoXia won the title in Kula Lumpur. Second seed Li (born in 1988) basically crushed the competition, defeating Hong Kong's Tie Yana in four straight games in the final. Now that the Olympics are over, time to look for some fresh blood to replace old-timer Wang Nan...

Click here to read the whole story at ittf.com.

Monday, September 8, 2008

videos from beijing olympics

Sorry these took so long!

Singles- early rounds
William Henzell (AUS) vs Jens Lundqvist (SWE)

Jian Fang Lay (AUS) vs Sandra Paovic (HRV)

Peng Zhang [aka Wilson Zhang] (CAN) vs Seiya Kishikawa (JPN)

Singles- Women's QF and Men's Round of 16

Wang Chen (USA) vs Li Jiawei (SIN)


Zhang Yining (CHN) vs Feng Tianwei (SIN)

Wang Nan (CHN) vs Tie Yana (HKG)

Wu Xue (DOM) vs Guo Yue (CHN)

Wang Hao (CHN) vs Yo Kan (JPN)

Jorgen Persson (SWE) vs Vladimir Samsonov (BLR)

Ma Lin (CHN) vs Kalinikos Kreanga (GRE)

Werner Schlager (AUT) vs Wang Liqin (CHN)

Timo Boll (GER) vs Oh Sang Eun (KOR)


Women's SF

Zhang Yining (CHN) vs Li Jiawei (SIN)

Wang Nan (CHN) vs Guo Yue (CHN)

Check out older posts for more videos! (I didn't want to post the same videos twice). A link to a photobucket album will be available soon =]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

biggest lesson from the olympics: CHANGE UP THE PACE

After watching so many Olympic table tennis, the most noticable thing I picked up from different matches was this: no matter how hard or how fast someone may rip the ball, as long as his/her opponent switches up the pace, the opponent can always pull it out. The three matches in which a player completely tripped up his/her opponent by changing the tempo and rhythm of the game are Zhang Yining vs Feng Tianwei (women's quarterfinal), Guo Yue vs Wang Nan (women's semifinal), and Ma Lin vs Wang Hao (men's final).

When interviewed after her match, Zhang Yining, who had to use her back-up racket because her main one didn't pass inspection before the match, acknowledged Feng's spectacular effort, and admitted that the only way she pulled out of the match was by messing with Feng's rhythm. Feng plays a pretty straightforward game, serve-attack and rallying with a strong forehand. Feng has beaten Zhang before and has shown time and again that she can keep up with Zhang (see videos). Given that Zhang may have already been off mentally because of her racket, and the way Feng played that night, it is quite possible that if Zhang just got into rallying contests with Feng, Feng would have come out on top; Zhang herself even admitted that unless she did something to make Feng feel uncomfortable and off-balance, she would have lost the match. Once they got into rallies that were about 50-50, Zhang would suddenly throw in a slower shot, letting the ball come a little closer to her body, giving the feeling almost that she "caught" the ball before looping it back. That extra fraction of a second that you keep the ball on your side of the net, especially when your opponent likes and is very comfortable with a fast game, is enough to throw him/her off and get him/her to hit the ball off the table off the edge of his/her racket. Zhang's signature move is her backhand, which appears to be late (timing-wise); in fact, her timing is late, but she has the touch and ability to control her shots. She seems to absorb all of the oncoming ball's momentum, and she seems like a wall when nobody can get shots by her.







Like I mentioned before, Guo Yue came out of the gates strong against Wang Nan in the women's semifinal (winning the first game at 3 and the third game at 4), and it appeared that it would be relatively smooth sailing for Guo, until Wang slowed down the game considerably. Wang threw off Guo's rhythm by literally slowing down the game: Wang took her time picking up the ball, took her time before serving, and took her time getting ready to receive Guo Yue's serves. While it was sort of annoying and tedious to watch, Guo Yue was noticably affected by the change of pace. Guo began to rush shots, making countless unforced errors and was never really able to turn the game around. In addition to literally slowing down the tempo of the game, Wang also started to mix in higher, slower, spinnier shots with low, fast rips, and the over-anxious Guo (who loves and excels at a fast, even-paced game) couldn't handle the variety; either Guo would be at mid-court expecting a hard and fast shot, but getting a slow, arching shot, or she would just be on her toes to the point of falling forward, waiting for a shot to get to her. This was also a classic example of experience and ability to make effective shots trumping youth, power, and over-zealousness. The first video is an example of Guo Yue's typical favorite rally (fast-paced, even paced); the second video is an example of Wang Nan changing up the pace, throwing in fast shots and slow, arching ones, and even though Guo acually won this point, it is clear she wasn't comfortable with the shots she got and that she was completely leaning forward; finally, the third video shows a point that Wang Nan won by varying tempo, arc, and spin, and it demonstrates that you don't necessarily need to rip the ball hard to win a point.

The match between Ma Lin, the Men's Singles gold medalist, and Wang Hao is the most telling. Typically in men's matches, men really go at it and try to rip everything as hard as they can. However, in this match, it was clear that Ma Lin was feeling the pressure, excitement and nervousness of fighting for the gold medal, and that he coped with it by making almost vertical shots; as the match progressed, he wasn't so quick or eager to try for insane rips, so instead, he started to swing virtually upward, sending the ball high and spinny over the net. Wang Hao, who probably expected a fast game from his compatriot, couldn't handle the constant change of pace. Ma's shots were so spinny and so slow, and Wang was so anxious and nervous, and something had to give. Wang ended up making a LOT of unforced errors, missing random blocks, and never really getting a chance to get on offense. It was sort of ironic that a man with a game so slanted toward strong attacks resorted to slow, weak shots to be effective, but it is not the first time we have seen that a constantly changing pace in a match can upset and opponent.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

WANG HAO CHOKES AGAIN!

Well, I wish I could say something interesting about the matches between Wang Liqin (CHN)/Jorgen Persson (SWE) for the bronze and Wang Hao (CHN)/Ma Lin (CHN) for the silver... but I really, really can't.

I give Persson a whole lot of credit for making it all the way to the final four. At 40+ years old, making it to the bronze play-off isn't easy, especially when table tennis is dominated by Asian players, so kudos to Persson!

And, as much as I dislike Ma Lin, kudos to him too. He's looked great all tournament, and he made the world's #1 ranked male player look lost. The reason Atha and I dislike Ma Lin very much is his terrible sportsmanship. An example is his attitude today in his semifinal match against fellow teammate, Wang Liqin; he was showy and obnoxious, and it would be one thing if he showed up somebody from a rival country, but it's definitely not cool to do it to your own teammate. I guess this is a matter of opinion, but to me, it's arrogance and bad sportsmanship.

Wang Liqin took it well, and took the bronze, beating Persson in straight sets. In fact, Wang Liqin has taken a lot of crap pretty well, especially considering he'll probably never have a chance at a gold medal again, and that the 2004 gold medal could have [and probably should have] been his. I really admire him for his dignity and for his composure. For people who don't know, this is what happened in Athens: Wang Liqin and Wang Hao met in the semifinals, and the winner would move on to play Korea's Ryu Seung Min for the gold. Wang Liqin was told to lose to Wang Hao on purpose, because Wang Hao had a much better record against Ryu. So, Wang Liqin lost and Wang Hao got the spotlight, but choked. Badly. I forget what his record was against Ryu, something like 2 losses and 7 wins, but basically, Wang owned him.

But Wang froze up, embarrassing himself, disappointing the Chinese, and shocking the world. And the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, of all places, was his opportunity to redeem himself. He's been playing extremely well of late, and had looked completely dominating throughout the last couple of weeks, but looked completely shut down against Ma Lin tonight. Against everyone else he played, Wang Hao really looked like the world's #1, but against Ma, he just looked... lost, like he didn't know what was going on. He made unforced errors all over the place, always found himself trailing and having to work really hard to fight back, and missed routine shots. An example is when he was down 7-5 in the 5th; he missed two routine backhands that put him down 9-5, two points away from losing the match and that could have tied the score at 7-7 to give himself a chance at coming back.

Still, I don't really feel sorry for him... he was basically given the gold on a silver platter last Olympics, and still couldn't get it. He clearly has problems performing on the big stage; he was simply out-done by better players in 2004 and 2008, Ryu Seung Min and Ma Lin. Ma was pumped all day, starting in the semi's and carrying all the way to the end (so excited, in fact, that he came close to ripping off his shirt after winning the match... ew). He came out the gates with fire in his eyes, pressuring Wang Hao and shutting down the world's #1 from the start, never giving him the chance to come back. Since they are both from China, neither of them had coaches for the match, and this definitely favored Ma Lin; Ma is a little bit older than Wang Hao and has been on the big stage more, so when it came down to a mental and emotional competition, Ma won by a long shot. Ma usually has a tendency to choke or suddenly be tentative when he has a lead (as in the 2007 World Championships final against Wang Liqin), but not tonight; he held on and hung tough the whole match, and it paid off.

Once again, expected, but anticlimactic: China's men sweep medals in singles. Congratulations to all six Chinese players, and to everyone who put up one hell of a fight!

Friday, August 22, 2008

all three medals go to china

As Atha said... expected result, but anticlimactic. Actually, the match between Li Jiawei (SIN) and Guo Yue (CHN) was far from dull, as was the match between Li and Zhang Yining this morning. The match between Wang Nan and Guo Yue, on the other hand, was pretty boring (I watched the women's semi's in person this morning).

Women's SF
Zhang Yining (CHN) vs Li Jiawei (SIN): 4-1 (-9, 8, 10, 8, 5)

Li Jiawei started out taking the first game, like in the teams final, and looking pretty sharp. However, she still couldn't pull through, losing the next three very tight games. Li wasn't able to hang on to any leads she had (including a 6-3 lead), and Zhang simply performed better in the clutch, plain and simple.

The thing about Zhang Yining's game is that her rallying skills are so good and so solid that she can let her opponent attack and still win, but when she actually needs to turn up the offense, she can do it and not screw up. Basically, she's a coach's dream. She's calm and collected, doesn't choke, and can pull through when the going gets tough.

Anyway, she seemed to have a harder time against Li today than in the team final, when (with the exception of the first game, which Li won at 9) Li only managed 14 points in the 3 games she lost. This time, Li took her shots, smashing forehands (she uses pips on her forehand) and putting points away when she had opportunities [see videos below for examples], and just putting more umph on her forehands than last time.

Don't get me wrong, Li did play very well in their last meeting, but was much more aggressive and seemed to be much more into the match this time around. She put up a great fight, but really is just no match for Zhang Yining.

BUT... what sort of creeped me out a little bit was that after the match ended and Zhang Yining was about to leave, I looked down at her feet and couldn't believe what I saw... CROCS. YELLOW crocs, of all colors... personally I think crocs are man's worst invention ever, and the only reason I didn't completely lose respect for Zhang right then and there is that she's so incredible. O_o eek...




CROCS?!?! Oh boy...


Wang Nan (CHN) vs Guo Yue (CHN): 4-2 (-3, 8, -4, 7, 3, 6)

I'll admit, I REALLY wanted Guo Yue to win, but the veteran Wang Nan pulled through. Initally, I thought Wang Nan was going to win in a landslide, because neither of them had coaches (because both of them are from China). Wang Nan has been around for a while and can probably do without a coach, but Guo Yue has a tendency to choke or freeze and is probably a whole different player when she has no coach. Guo started off the match looking great, ripping forehands and just playing her normal game.

However, Wang started to slow the game down a lot, taking her time picking up the ball and before serves. Who knows how much this affected Guo Yue, but the match started to turn around; Guo started making all sorts of random unforced errors, missing routine (for her) forehands, and started going into backhand-backhand rallies (Wang Nan's strongest game). Instead of challenging and pressuring Wang's wide forehand, which she can no longer catch up to because of her...advanced age, Guo ended up getting herself into a consistency contest, which she would lose to Wang Nan any day. Anyway, it quickly became apparent that the youngster couldn't get herself back into the match, losing the last three games without making much noise.

Well, congratulations to the Chinese players! The bronze medal went to Guo Yue, the silver to Wang Nan, and the gold to Zhang Yining. Kudos to Zhang Yining! She really is something, and being able to get gold medals in singles two consecutive Olympics is no small feat, and, as she herself acknowledged in an interview after the championship match, not at all easy. She truly is the world's #1 female table tennis player right now, and as she's shown in match after match, she has earned and deserves that title. So, while I'm not so thrilled about China getting all three medals (the men will probably have the same result, with all three of them in the top 4), I am absolutely elated for Zhang Yining. She's humble, modest, and a total star.

Check back soon for pics and videos! They'll be up soon, I promise...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wang Chen retires! And Li Jiawei still in the running for a singles medal.

First of all, Wang Chen retired after reaching the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

"I'm 34 years old and my back hurts a lot. Sometimes I just want to give up, but I wanted to play at the Olympics, which is a big event. I will retire after this tournament," she said (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-08/21/content_9578425.htm).

Well, congratulations, Wang Chen, for pulling through and getting the USA so far in the Olympic games! WOW! Given the fact that she was ready to quit ping pong for life when she came to the United States in 1999, she's really come a long way to prove herself in her first and last Olympics ever. Now, she'll return to NY to continue running her table tennis club. We also shouldn't forget to recognize Gao Jun, who's given so much glory to US women's table tennis. Thanks to both of you!

Second of all, darn! Li Jiawei lost to Zhang Yining in the semifinals of the women's (-9, 8, 10, 8, 5). I was rooting for Li Jiawei -- it would have been so awesome if she had gotten into the finals so that it would be one country against the other. Now it's China vs. China, with Wang Nan and Zhang Yining in the finals -- the expected result, but anticlimactic :(.

Well, at least Li Jiawei's still in the running for a bronze medal, and hopefully she can pull through and finally get a singles medal. This Olympics is her 3rd one. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Li Jiawei beat 2nd-seeded Wang Nan only to lose to North Korea's Kim Hyang Mi in the semi-finals in 7 games. Then she lost to South Korea's Kim Kyung Ah in the bronze medal match.

Let's hope Li Jiawei can pull through against Guo Ye in the bronze medal match! This should be a good match, which will be going down August 22 at 7:30PM (Beijing time).

women's quarterfinals & men's round of 16

Tonight I saw the women's quarterfinals and the men's round of 16. My parents, my aunt, and I went into the stadium with our US flag to cheer on Wang Chen, who played against Singapore's Li Jiawei. Alas, Wang lost to Li Jiawei 4-1. Anyway, the match between Zhang Yining (CHN) and Feng Tianwei (SIN) was by far the best match of the night; Feng played an amazing game, really making Zhang work for every point and stepping up her game to a level beyond her normal, but Zhang was just too much.

The day began with the women's round of 16, with both US women still in. Wang Chen beat Kim Kyung Ah in seven (9, 9, 8, -10, -6, 9, 5). Gao Jun, unfortunately, lost to the Dominican Republic's Wu Xue in 7 this morning in the round of 16 (10, 8, -6, 3, -8, -12, 9), otherwise we would have gone US-crazy in the stands cheering for two players. Wang Chen advanced to play Li Jiawei (SIN) in the quarters, and Wu Xue moved on to play Guo Yue (CHN). The situation really could not have been better for Wang; of the players left, the one she would have the least trouble with is Li Jiawei, because of playing styles- Li plays a fast, rallying game, at just the rhythm and tempo Wang is comfortable with. Wang's rallying skills are comparable, if not better, than Li's, so this was a huge opportunity to get into the top 4 to try for a medal. However, it was not to be...

Women's QF (for results from this round and the previous rounds, click here)
Zhang Yining (CHN) vs Feng Tianwei (SIN): 4-1 (11, -12, 12, 10, 11)
This was THE most incredible match I've ever seen in person. Period. I've seen Zhang Yining play on TV and, as I mentioned in a previous post, I think she's amazing; she rarely ever makes unforced errors, and her game is basically this: here, you can go ahead and attack if you want, and we'll see if you can out-rally me. But, seeing her in person is a whole other story. She appears to be something unhuman on the court, particularly so tonight, out-battling Feng in a nail-biter. As the score makes clear, it was a CLOSE match that really could have gone either way (see the videos for typical points, as in almost every one) in which both players put on a tremendous performance. Actually, Zhang wasn't even using her normal racket... apparently, she had to go with her back-up racket because her normal one didn't pass the umpires' inspection. The fact that she can use her back-up and still play like this is a testament to her abilities. There really isn't a single woman on this planet who can match her skills, and I say this in all seriousness with no gushing-obsessiveness whatsoever. It was a heart-breaker for Feng, but on the other hand, she has every reason to be very, very proud of herself; she outdid herself and played probably the best match of her life, really giving everybody something to talk about.

Wang Chen (USA) vs Li Jiawei (SIN): 1-4 (13 ,6, 10, -13, 4)
This was an exciting match for me and other Americans to watch, because Wang Chen represented our last hope for a medal in table tennis. Even though she lost, top 8 ain't bad, and we're real proud of her =] What cost Wang the match was not winning the first and third games, and her passiveness. Wang not taking the first game sort of set the tone for the rest of the match; had she won, she would have established a presence and put some pressure on Li and let her know that she's a force to be reckoned with. Instead, Wang allowed Li to find a groove and establish her game. Granted, the game was very close and could have gone either way, but I imagine it was a bit of a confidence killer for Wang. In the third game, Wang was up 9-5 and 10-6, but couldn't hold the lead. This was definitely a confidence and rhythm killer for Wang, as she found herself down 9-3 in the fourth. However, Li had a bit of a mental lapse of her own, losing at least six straight points, giving Wang Chen an extra life. Wang Chen's biggest problem, however, was that she didn't go for her shots. There were plenty of rallies in which she just didn't have enough on her shots, allowing Li to either punch or rip a backhand past her. A good, strong, solid punch from Wang's backhand is critical to her game, because she doesn't step around anymore, and because she has no backhand topspin (she has pips on her backhand). She let Li get away with okay or weak backhands too many times, and Li managed to steady herself in long backhand rallies, and basically did anything she wanted with the ball because Wang was just blocking shots back. In any case, CONGRATS to Wang Chen for making it this far, and to Li Jiawei for being the only player not representing China to make it to the final 4!

Wang Nan (CHN) vs Tie Yana (HKG): 4-1 (5, 4, -11, 2, 4)
This match, to be honest, was really ugly... Wang Nan and Tie Yana have played before, and this wasn't the first time Tie Yana was disposed of in this fashion. Rallies were very short, lasting four exchanges, tops, with basically all of them going to Wang Nan. Tie Yana seemed very much off her game, making many more unforced errors than usual, and never really giving herself a chance to put up a fight. And anyway, she kept playing to Wang Nan's backhand, the strongest part of her game, and never challenged Wang Nan's forehand (which should have been easy for Tie, because her best shot is her backhand, and her backhand would go cross-court to lefty Wang Nan's forehand).

Wu Xue (DOM) vs Guo Yue (CHN): 0-4 (5, 14, 11 ,5)
This match was sort of predictable, with Guo as the clear favorite. Wu went down swinging, though. On any given day, Wu at her best couldn't beat Guo, but Wu put up a fight. In many points, Wu made some great shots, giving Guo some extremely uncomfortable angles wide and down the line with her backhand (Wu is a lefty penhold player with inverted rubber). However, she and Guo really are on totally different levels, and Wu just flat-out is no match for Guo.
After the women came the men's round of 16. Of the eight matches played, only two were worth watching. For the most part, the men's matches were pretty boring because one player was clearly no match for the other: the three Chinese men, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Wang Liqin all had and easy time; the two Germans, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Timo Boll, didn't play well. The two good matches were Zoran Primorac (HRV) vs Yang Zi (SIN), and Jorgen Persson (SWE) vs Vladimir Samsonov (BLR). It made me really happy that there were many Europeans still in, and even happier that two advanced, but it worried me a bit that they aren't new or young faces; most of them have been around so long that they're legends, and almost all of them have had blades named after them for some time now. Anyway...

Men's round of 16 (for scores and results of this round and previous rounds, click here)
Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) vs Ko Lai Chak (HKG): 1-4 (4, 7 ,4, -1, 1)
This really just wasn't much of a match. Plenty of kudos and credit to Ovtcharov, though, for being the youngest person left standing, and for accomplishing so much at such a young age. However, he has issues against lefties, and it showed in this match. Also, the differences between the European style of play and the Asian style of play became apparent: Ovtcharov kept trying to get into counter-looping rallies far away from the table, but kept getting ahead of himself and missing on his own.

Wang Hao (CHN) vs Yo Kan (JPN): 4-1 (6, -9, 8, 5, 4)
In the beginning of the match, it seemed as if Yo may have had a shot, but as the match progressed, it just became clear that the two of them are on two completely different levels, and that Yo is no match for Wang. Yo, like Wang, is a righty penhold player with inverted rubber, but Wang Hao has a backhand that is virtually unique and was just too much for Yo to handle. Counter-looping rallies went 80-20 ish for Wang Hao, who had basically the whole stadium on his side. In all seriousness, though, nobody is looking better than Wang Hao now, including the other two Chinese men. In all likelihood, Wang is going to be able to redeem himself after his 2004 silver medal and take the 2008 gold medal. And btw... his hair really does make him look like a rooster...



Jorgen Persson (SWE) vs Vladimir Samsonov (BLR): 4-3 (-7, -8, 9, -11, 7, 10, 9)
The match seemed to be completely going to Samsonov, who won clutch points, and who just looked sharper overall. However, Samsonov seemed to lose a bit of focus in the fifth game, allowing Persson to get himself back in the match. In the sixth game, it was neck-and-neck until 8-9. Persson looked just about defeated, always on the defensive in rallies. Samsonov stepped around and ripped a forehand off the edge...side? After a long dispute over whether the shot hit the edge or the side, the officials decided to replay the point. This was no small issue; if they ruled the shot as an edge, Samsonov would have had match point at 8-10, and if they ruled the shot as being outside, it would have been 9-9 and anyone's game. Samsonov was very noticably annoyed at the decision, and started to unravel mentally. After losing the sixth game, the seventh was neck-and-neck again, but it was apparent that Samsonov just wasn't all there, that he was thinking that the match should have been over. When all was said and done, Persson, now 42 years old, made one heck of a comeback and advanced to the men's quarterfinals, where he will meet the only non-Asian player left (that's kind of lame... but whatever, no one asked me to do the draws), Zoran Primorac.

Yang Zi (SIN) vs Zoran Primorac (HRV): 4-2 (7, 7, -4, -8, 7, 6)
This match was exciting from the beginning because Primorac was pumped; you could tell when he was leading or winning because he would shout and fist-pump. Yang gave him a bit of a scare by taking two games to tie the score at 2-2, but the veteran Primorac managed to tough it out. However, watching him (and Persson and Samsonov) made it clear that they wouldn't be able to keep up with the Chinese players; the Europeans' shots are noticably slower, and have considerably less quality. Persson and Samsonov had several long, lob-and-smash points, that, if played out with the Chinese players, would have lasted about three exchanges, if not three shots.

Kalinikos Kreanga (GRE) vs Ma Lin (CHN): 0-4 (5, 5, 3, 7)
This is just not a fair fight. Kreanga has virtually nothing he could use to even challenge Ma Lin, let alone beat him. Kreanga's game is pretty straight-forward: loop and counter-loop until someone misses. This basically was his plan throughout the match, and it wasn't pretty.

Wang Liqin (CHN) vs Werner Schlager (AUT): 4-0 (6, 4, 8, 2)
This wasn't really much of a fair fight either. I'm not sure what Schlager was thinking, but whatever his game plan was (if he had one) was almost as good as not playing at all; Schlager is not usually this sloppy, and his matches are usually not this ugly. He did basically what Kreanga did, with the same result: rear back and loop as hard as humanly possible and just see what happens. 4-0, that's what.

Timo Boll (GER) vs Oh Sang Eun (KOR): 1-4 (9, 4, 9, -8, 3)
Timo was clearly off his game tonight. Like I said in a previous post, Timo is probably the only European with a shot at upsetting any of the Chinese players. But not this time. Oh's condition was pretty average, but Timo's was just off... Timo's unforced errors made the game easy for Oh, because the Korean didn't need to do very much. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing night for the Germans and for Timo.

Tan Ruiwu (HRV) vs Li Ching (HKG): 4-2 (-9, 6, -10, 8, 11, 11)
I actually didn't get to see the end of the match, but what I did see wasn't anything too spectacular. The excitement came because people sitting near us in the stands were cheering very loudly for Li Ching. In general, though, there were too many unforced errors from both players, and neither of them has a chance in the next round against Wang Liqin anyway...

Check back soon for pics and videos from today's matches. In about six hours, I will be watching the women's semifinals (Zhang Yining vs Li Jiawei & Wang Nan vs Guo Yue), and maybe some men's quarterfinal matches. Check out ittf.com for live scoring!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

excitement in early rounds

I saw live Olympic table tennis for the first time last night! Starting at 6pm, I saw women's first and second round matches, and men's first round matches, with many going down to the wire in 7 games. It was funny to watch matches in which two Chinese players played each other, because the crowd couldn't really pick one to root for, as in the match between Xian Yi Fang (FRA) and Xu Jie (POL).


The day didn't begin well for the US, as David Zhuang, the only male player from the US, lost to Segun Toriola of Nigera in 7 (-8, 8, -2, 6, 9, -7, 8). I got a chance to watch Toriola play, beating Joao Montiero of Portugal, also in 7 games (-5, 7, 7, -5, 9, -9, 7).

When I first got to the playing hall, they had just started the last of the women's first round matches: Wenling Tan Monfardini (ITA) vs Tetyana Sorochynska (UKR); Jian Fang Lay (AUS) vs Sandra Paovic (HRV); Veronika Pavlovich (BLR) vs Dana Hadacova (CZE); and Fabiola Ramos (VEN) vs Jong Kim (PRK). The most eventful and exciting match by far was Lay vs Paovic. Lay is a right-handed, penhold, pips player, and Paovic is a right-handed, shakehand, two-winged looper. The match was so exciting because of the long rallies, the come-backs, and also because Paovic didn't really play Lay correctly; Paovic ripped almost every shot (or atleast she tried to) and tried to put every point away in as few shots as possible, but against Lay's type of pips and playing style, the more spin you put on the ball, the better. Well, ripping everything COULD work, but Paovic's shots obviously didn't have enough speed or power (as opposed to, say, Guo Yue) to beat Lay, the next-best option would have been to put crazy spin on every shot so that Lay's pips wouldn't have been able to handle it. However, European players don't really practice those purposely high, spinny shots, so it's understandable that Paovic tried to tough it out the hard way.

(Monfardini in blue vs Sorochynska in red)

(Lay in green & yellow vs Paovic in black)


Next, I saw men's first round matches: William Henzell (AUS) vs Jens Lundqvist (SWE); Song Man Jang (PRK) vs Liu Song (ARG); Peng Zhang [also known as Wilson Zhang] (CAN) vs Seiya Kishikawa (JPN); and Lucjan Blaszczyk (POL) vs Suraju Saka (CGO). The first three matches were pretty exciting for their own reasons. Lundqvist vs Henzell was a crazy match because Henzell, who came out of nowhere and actually almost beat Wang Liqin in the team event, was the major underdog against one of Sweden's top players, and pulled off a 6-game upset. Henzell's serve, which is what gave Wang Liqin so much trouble, is also what brought down Lundqvist; when Wang tried to return the serve short, it didn't go over the net, and when Lundqvist tried to return the serve short, it went off the end and Henzell ripped it back to Lundqvist's backhand for a winner. Henzell continued to play well today, almost taking down Yoon Jae Young (KOR), but losing 4-3. Jang vs Liu was a crowd-pleaser because of long points in which Liu tried to loop-kill everything, but Jang, a chopper, got everything back. The crowd was rooting for Liu, wow-ing every time he tried to put a point away, but ohhhh-ed everytime he ended up ripping his shot into the net. I thought the match was pretty boring, mostly because that's just not the way you're supposed to play a chopper, but as long as people felt they got their money's worth, it's all good... Zhang vs Kishikawa was an interesting match to watch (at least to me) because I've see Wilson play in the US and Canada several times, and he's incredible; however, when pitted against players outside of North America, he looks less impressive. Granted, Zhang had a bit of bad luck, meeting a Japanese player this early on, but it quickly became apparent that pretty much every man on the floor could take him on in counter-looping and offensive points.

(Henzell in green & yellow, Lundqvist in black & yellow)


(Liu in red, Jang in blue)


(Wilson in red, Kishikawa in yellow)


Next came the last of the women's first round matches: Eva Odorova (SVK) vs Petra Lovas (HUN); Xu Jie (POL) vs Xian Yi Fang (FRA); and Huang I-Hwa (TPE) vs Andrea Bakula (HRV) [the last first round match went to Stephanie Xu Sang of Australia by default). I paid attention to the Odorova/Lovas match because the winner moved on to play Gao Jun. However, from the few points that I saw, I wasn't all that impressed and had no doubts that Gao Jun would win; they both had strong backhands, and both hit and blocked more than looped. From what I saw, neither of them really had a weapon she could use against Gao (Odorova ended up losing to Gao earlier today, 4-2). The only real excitement in the match came when Lovas almost made a comeback. Xu vs Xian was sort of a fun match to watch; fun because there were some long points because Xian is a chopper, and not so fun because it was long and got kind of old toward the end. Huang vs Bakula was an interesting yet awkward match to watch, because Huang is from Taiwan; everyone insists that politics and sports are separate, but we all know otherwise... there were people in the crowd that cheered for her directly, others that cheered for Taipei (NOT Taiwan), and still others that cheered for China. In any case, Huang's game is pretty typical of Taiwanese girls: no killer, put-away shots, but very steady, high-quality shots that make their opponents very uncomfortable, and a very calm, almost casual or nonchalant demeanor. Unfortunately, Huang lost in her next round match against Ni Xia Lian (LUX).

(Odorova in black, Lovas in pink)


(Xian in red, Xu in black)


(Huang in blue, Bakula in black)

The rest of the men's matches were pretty uneventful, except for two: Segun Toriola (NGR) vs Joao Montiero (POR) and Damien Eloi (FRA) vs Ahmed Ali Saleh (EGY). Toriola vs Montiero was exciting because it went all the way to the seventh game, and was nothing short of thrilling; the two men went at it counter-looping from beginning to end, with the crowd on Toriola's side. Toriola continued his hot streak today, beating Jean-Michel Saive (BEL) 4-2, a huge, huge upset. Eloi vs Ali was cool to watch because Eloi uses a custom-made racket that's shaped like an hour-glass. Plus, it was a tight match that went down to the 7th game, after Ali was up 3-1.
(Toriola in blue, Montiero in red)


(Eloi in red, Ali in blue)


Finally came the first of the women's second round matches (but I didn't see all of them): Zhu Fang (ESP) vs Li Jie (NED); Melek Hu (TUR) vs Elke Schall (GER); Dang Ye Seo (KOR) vs Miao Miao (AUS); and Elizabeta Samara (ROU) vs Viktoria Pavlovich (BLR). I didn't see all of Zhu vs Fang, and didn't see any of Hu vs Schall, but what I did see wasn't very exciting. I didn't think Dang vs Miao would be a good match from the get-go, because Dang is a whole level above Miao, and just too much better. The excitement came when the crowd got really into the match, with Australian fans and Korean fans shouting their lungs out. In the end, though, it was obvious that Miao was no match for Dang. In the Samara/Pavlovich match, I admit I was thoroughly rooting for Liza, because I've met her and think she's a really nice person, and I really like watching her play, but I didn't think she'd win; Liza's game is suited for topspin rallies, not for playing against choppers, so I figured she might have issues with Pavlovich. Liza won the first game by a lot, but Pavlovich pulled herself together and won the next four pretty easily.

(Zhu in red, Li in blue)

(Dang in black, Miao in yellow & green)


(Samara in blue, Pavlovich in black)


Today, the women played the rest of their second round matches, and started playing their round-of-32 matches, in which seeded players like Zhang Yining and Wang Chen played their first matches of the event. All three Chinese players, Zhang Yining, Guo Yue, and Wang Nan, breezed through their matches 4-0, and both US women, Gao Jun and Wang Chen won their matches relatively easily, 4-1 (Gao over Sayaka Hirano of Japan, and Wang over Krisztina Toth of Hungary). Play continues today, 8/21/08, at 10am (Beijing time) with the round of 16. Gao Jun will play Wu Xue (DOM), and Wang Chen will play Kim Kyung Ah (KOR). I think both Gao and Wang could win their matches because Wu doesn't really have a power anything that can get past Gao, and Wang is relatively comfortable against choppers, and will also have revenge on her mind after losing to her in the team event 3-1. Most of the matches in the next round are sort of predictable, but should be a treat to watch simply because of the elevated level and quality of play (and I'm psyched because I'm going to get to see the quarter-finals tomorrow :D). We'll see what happens and if anyone is able to pull off an upset!
For live scoring and to see scores from previous matches, go to ittf.com and click the appropriate links on the right-hand side.

Monday, August 18, 2008

another surprise

So, China's men's team took the gold in straight sets over Germany. First, young blood and rising young star, Dimitrij Ovtcha (currently ranked #14 in the world), lost in straight sets to Wang Hao (currently ranked #1 in the world). Ovtcha is only 19 years old (only about 4 months older than Atha), and I saw him win the juniors' event at a Junior Circuit tournament in Spain in 2005. Tonight, he really couldn't manage much against Wang, who is totally on top of his game (his hair, though, is a completely different issue). Timo Boll (currently ranked #6 in the world), on the other hand, put up a great fight in both his match against Ma Lin (currently ranked #2 in the world) and in the doubles match (Timo Boll/Christian Suss vs Wang Hao/Wang Liqin). Timo is probably the only non-Asian player with a really good shot at beating a Chinese player, and probably has the best shot against Wang Liqin, who has not looked sharp at all; he almost lost to William Henzell of Australia on Thursday, and looked off in this doubles match. Anyway, credit when credit is due: congrats to China's men's team for the gold, and good job to Germany for putting up a great fight and for the silver!

In the battle for the bronze medal, Korea defeated Austria 3-1.

As for US players, Crystal Huang of the US women's team lost her preliminary round match for women's singles to Yang Fen (CGO) 4-2: (-4, 8, -9, 5, 11, 9). If Crystal had won, she would have played Elizabeta Samara of Romania. Our one male player, David Zhuang, will play in his preliminary round match at 11:30am on 8/19/08 (Beijing time) against Segun Toriola of Nigeria. If David wins, he will play against Joao Montiero (POR) at 8:15pm on 8/19/08 (Beijing time). Gao Jun will play at 1pm on 8/20/08 (Beijing time) against the winner of Eva Odorova (SVK) and Petra Lovas (HUN). If Gao wins, she will play against Li Jiao (NED) at 9pm on 8/20. Wang Chen waits in the round of 32 for her opponent. Singles should be much more exciting and should have many more upsets than teams, so let's watch out for anything crazy!

One last thing... What is going on with Wang Hao's hair...? Seriously, can someone fill me in? Because I really want to know... what part of a mullet/rooster haircut screams "I'm the world's highest ranked male player" ?! Anyways.... go USA! =P

Sunday, August 17, 2008

SHOCKER: china wins gold in women's teams!

For anyone who didn't pick it up, the title is completely sarcastic. However, even though it comes as absolutely no surprise that China coasted to the gold without dropping a single match, the Chinese players never cease to amaze. Their abilities are in no way overrated, exaggerated, or anything short of stunning; all the hours spent practicing and making what you may think are awesome shots seem like child's play when you see Zhang Yining making shots as easily as you spell your name.

The stands were completely packed for this final. Even Hu Jingtao was there... the pressure was most definitely on, but China pulled through. In the teams final against Singapore, China did something completely unexpected, but after you think about it, it made complete sense. They sent Wang Nan, the oldest and, relatively speaking, the weakest, to play in the first spot (generally reserved for the strongest player). She ended up playing Feng Tianwei, the opposite of what Singapore had wanted; Singapore's ideal match-up would have been Feng vs Zhang and Li Jiawei vs Wang. However, with this match-up, it was experience and consistency (in Wang) vs youth and nerves (in Feng), and speed and a great backhand (in Li) vs un-human consistency and an even better backhand (in Zhang). On top of that, the strongest parts of Feng's game are her backhand and forehand from the backhand corner; since Wang is left-handed, she would be able to control the game easily by using her strongest weapon, her backhand, against Feng's weakest shot, her forehand.

Feng was clearly nervous, with this being her first Olympic appearance and with her in the #1 spot, and couldn't do much against the experienced, calm Wang Nan. Feng won the first game, but lost the next three games, in which she didn't play anywhere near her normal level, making too many unforced errors, and not playing enough to Wang Nan's forehand. She clearly looked upset with herself and sort of at a loss after the second game. As I watched the match, the more I thought that Singapore had made a mistake putting Feng in the first spot. Even if they wanted her to play Zhang, the chances of Feng winning would still be small, and it would have put an insane amount of pressure on Li. Granted, that scenario would be a lot better than the one Singapore ended up getting, but either way, there really wasn't much of a chance that China would lose.

Li Jiawei vs Zhang Yining was a much better match than the scores indicate; Li lost 3-1 (-9, 3, 4, 7), but there were some absolutely spectacular, long points. Li started out looking great, leading Zhang 10-5. Zhang caught up to 10-9, but lost the game by missing her own serve. From this point on, Li looked less and less confident, and Zhang looked more and more dominating. The scores may show that Zhang completely rolled over Li, but Li really did put up a great fight. As her coach, honestly, what could you possibly say to her? No matter what she did or how amazing her shots were, Zhang put everything back on the table. Anyone watching the match could clearly see that Zhang Yining's technique and mechanics are just flat-out better than everyone else's. Her game is by no means a power game, and, by themselves, her forehand and backhand really aren't anything special, and you would never teach her strokes to anyone (her timing is extraordinarily late, and she doesn't really swing through the ball). What makes her special and more consistent than everyone else is her balance; she is a very tall person, so she already covers a lot of ground, but no matter how far you spread her out, she's still able to make a quality return AND get to the next one in plenty of time. She never seems to be falling over or leaning, and her ability to keep her feet on the ground and maintain her balance is the reason she almost never misses high balls, or really any shots, for that matter. Really, the only way to beat Zhang Yining is to blow her away in the first couple of shots, because anyone who gets into a drawn-out, long rally with her will lose 80% of the time, as we saw with Li Jiawei. Even Gao Jun, who has an incredibly consistent game, can't out-steady Zhang Yining. In any case, Li didn't really have good strategy. She served to set herself up for backhand-to-backhand rallies, the last thing you should do against Zhang Yining. It wasn't until the 4th game that Li got aggressive and opened with her forehand and stepped around a bit. Actually, there were a few points throughout the match in which Li went forehand-to-forehand for a couple of exchanges, but after she didn't win the point right away, she lost patience and hit back to Zhang's backhand. Anyway, the match was much closer than the scores show, and the performance Zhang put on really was something to watch and learn from.

Men's teams continue today, with Austria playing Korea for the bronze at 2:30 (Beijing time), and China playing Germany for the silver and gold at 7:30 (yay for non-Asian teams going for medals!). Also, women's singles preliminary rounds begin today at 10am.

Friday, August 15, 2008

US vs Korea, as it happens!

Match-ups: Wang Chen vs Kyungah Kim; Gao Jun vs Yeseo Dang

Wang vs Kim: should be a tight match, about 50-50. But had the match-up been reversed (with Gao playing Kim and Wang playing Dang), it would be more to USA's advantage... both Gao and Wang have few issues with choppers, but Gao is much more comfortable with them (probably has a 90% winning rate against choppers), and Wang is much more able to keep up with Dang, who plays a typical Chinese-bred fast, rallying game. Anyhoo, here's how its going-

Game 1- 6-11 (10:09am); Wang's strategy was more or less correct, putting her shots to Kim's middle, but losing on service games (not very good return of serves in addition to being faulted for her own serves).

Game 2- 11-9 (10:19am); Wang wins, returning serves much, much better than in the first game, and being much more steady and consistent. Veteran's patience ;)

Game 3- 9-11 (10:32am); Wang loses a close one; at 9-9, Kim called a time-out and won the next two points. Wang didn't look as sharp in this game than in the previous one, and her being slightly conservative probably cost her the game. However, with the game still this close, there's no way to tell what the outcome will be. Wang is by no means out.

Game 4- 1-3 (10:35am); Wang is trailing and calls a time-out... things don't look great, but we'll see if she can turn it around.

Game 4- 13-15 (10:49am); Wang loses a nail-biter. After her time-out, Wang regained her composure and tied the game at 4-4. From that point on, it was a see-saw game. Down match point at 8-10, Wang saved two match points to tie it at 10-10. From this point until the end of the match, Wang had two set points (at 11-10 and 12-11), but couldn't convert, and lost 13-15. Close, as expected, but no cigar.

Gao vs Dang: hard to say what will happen, but it definitely won't be easy for Gao. Now there is an unbelievable amount of pressure; because of playing styles, Dang has the advantage over Gao (Gao and Dang are probably matched at 40-60, 50-50 at best), but also, Gao now has to deal with a must-win situation. The US can't afford to go down 0-2 for a number of reasons. 1) it would put a lot of pressure on the doubles team 2) it would definitely kill confidence 3) if USA is going to win, they have to survive until they get a favorable match-up.

Game 1- 11-8 (11am); Gao rallies to come from behind down 2-6. She's looking nice and loose. Since she's looking this good, I'm thinking she should play two singles; with the Olympic rules, teams don't have to decide who is playing doubles before the match starts, so coaches can make on-the-spot decisions. Since two out of three of Korea's players are choppers, and the one non-chopper (Dang) will be out of the way, Gao will completely have the advantage going into her second singles match. Of course, this is all given that the US gets that far. But, anyway, on top of the playing style advantage, Gao is much calmer and cooler than Wang, and handles pressure much more smoothly. In other words, you wouldn't feel nervous or antsy putting her into a must-win situation, but you may be somewhat worried or have some reservations putting in Wang. In any case, we shouldn't get too ahead of ourselves... we have to win this match and doubles before we can talk about later match-ups.

Game 2- 10-12 (11:11am); Gao led by at least two points throughout the whole game until... she was up 10-8, but lost four straight points to drop this game at 10. Also, she didn't really help herself out by missing a serve at 6-5 to let Dang tie it at 6-6. What's worse, she seemed to have pulled something either in her right hamstring or her lower back; Dang sent a shot wide to Gao's forehand, and she may have slightly injured herself going for the shot.

Game 3- 9-11 (11:23am); This game was similar to the previous game- Gao led by at least two throughout the game. She was up 6-4, but then found herself down 6-8, 8-10, and then lost at 9-11. The tweak in her leg from last game appears to be affecting her a tiny bit. Given how close all of these games have been, I think if she can pull out of the fourth game, she has a very good shot at winning the 5th. It's going to come down to which player can stay mentally tough and which can convert in the clutch. This next game is a must-win for Gao.

Game 4- 11-8 (11:32am); Gao pulls through another very close game. Now it goes down to a nerve-wracking 5th set. If Gao minimizes her unforced errors, the outcome of this game should be very similar to the previous one. Dang is an extremely aggressive, offensive player, but makes many unforced errors. If Gao can stay consistent and out-steady Dang, Gao can definitely come out on top.

Game 5- 8-11 (11:43am); Gao loses the match. In this set, Dang changed her strategy and adjusted beautifully, serving everything long. By doing this, Dang changed the tempo and rhythm of the game to suit her style; she would serve long to Gao's backhand, Gao would open up the point, and in straight-up rallying points, Dang has the upper hand. Previously, when Dang served short, there was about a 50-50 chance she'd win the point because of Gao's excellent control. However, against long serves, it is much harder to place your return where you want to, and you feel pressured from the get-go. Anyway, with the US down 0-2, it is highly unlikely that USA will win.

Gao/Crystal vs Kim/Miyoung Park: At this point, since our chances of winning are pretty slim, it sort of doesn't matter who we put in for doubles, but Gao is back in because both Kim and Park are choppers. Anyway, we'll see what happens.

Game 1- 12-10 (12pm); As a pleasant surprise, Gao and Huang take the first game. They played smart table tennis against the two choppers, alternating pushing and looping, and being very patient.

Game 2- 5-11 (12:07pm); US plays sloppily and drops this game rather quickly. This may be a sign of mental fatigue or a decrease in confidence, but let's wait to see if they can recompose themselves.

Game 3- 11-4 (12:15pm); US coasts through this game, with both Crystal and Gao playing perfectly against choppers.

Game 4- 7-11 (12:21pm); US was up 5-2, but drops this game at 7. Again, we're going down to the wire in a 5th set. If Gao and Crystal lose this game, the US is done.

Game 5- 5-11 (12:33pm); US loses the match and loses the tie. It was a tough fight, but Korea comes out on top, winning the tie 3-0. Just looking at the 3-0 is very misleading, because every set of every match really was a dog-fight, and, although US was definitely the underdog, they definitely still had a good chance of winning. Unfortunately, the match-ups didn't come out in our advantage; this tie could have just as easily been 3-1 for the US. In any case, Korea now moves on to play the winner of Japan/Hong Kong.

The US loses its chance of getting a medal in teams, which was the event in which they had the best (and probably only) shot of medaling. However, singles play begins with preliminary rounds on 8/18/08, and the main draw on 8/20/08 (Beijing time). Crystal Huang will play Yang Fen of the Congo in the preliminary round.

US BEATS ROMANIA!

Yay for the US women's team! This morning, they got one step closer to the bronze medal, beating Romania 3-1. Wang Chen played first against Romania's Elizabeta Samara, and lost 3-1 (9, -6, 7, 9), but Gao Jun coasted through her match against Daniela Dodean, winning in straight sets (7, 6, 6). Evidently, Gao's experience, calm and cool personality, and of course her playing style (penhold, & pips) trumped youth, speed, and power. Crystal/Gao won relatively easily over Iulia Necula/Samara 3-1 (8, 7, -16, 7). Finally, Wang Chen took care of Necula easily in straight sets (5, 6, 2). Next they play Korea, who lost to Singapore in the first leg of the gold/silver playoffs, and if US beats Korea, they move on to play the winner of Japan/Hong Kong (Japan beat Austria 3-0 in the other leg of the bronze playoffs, and Hong Kong will almost definitely lose to China in the other leg of the gold/silver playoffs, which start in about a half hour). Since 2 of Korea's players are choppers and our veterans, particularly Gao Jun, have basically no issues with defensive players, we definitely have a good shot at winning; if we had to play Singapore, we could have basically counted ourselves out, but playing against Korea is a much better match-up.

In other Olympic news, USA's Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson took the gold and silver medals, respectively, in the women's individual all-around (gymnastics), and Phelps coasted to his 6th gold medal in the men's 200m individual medley, helping to put USA ahead of China in number of medals. USA now has amassed 44 medals (with 14 golds, 12 silvers, and 18 bronzes), and China has 37 (with 23 golds, 9 silvers, and 5 bronzes). I also saw my first Olympic event today, watching USA play Cuba in baseball, and was sorely disappointed at USA's 5-4 loss in 11 innings. To make things worse, Taiwan lost to China (really, how embarrassing...) in the adjacent ballpark 8-7 in the 12th. In any case, it was a good day, because the new ballparks (built just for the Games) are beautiful. That's all for now, but let's keep our fingers crossed for the US, who plays Korea at 10am on 8/16/08 (Beijing time)!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

us to go for bronze

Tomorrow morning at 9am on 8/15/08 (Beijing time), the US women's team will take on Romania in the first round of the bronze medal playoffs; the top team from each group will play for the gold/silver, and the #2 team from each group will try for the bronze. The teams on the women's side going for the bronze are Romania, USA, Japan, and Austria, and the teams going for the gold/silver are China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore. Tomorrow's match against Romania should be an interesting one, for a couple of reasons: the US team is a team of veterans and very experienced players in Wang Chen and Gao Jun, and the Romanian team is a team of young blood and fresh legs in 20-year old Daniela Dodean (ranked #47 in the world) and 19-year old Elizabeta Samara (ranked #61 in the world), both of whom I have seen play in Junior Circuit tournaments. Dodean and Samara have played against USA's Wang Chen and Crystal Huang as recently as May of this year, with Dodean losing to Wang Chen 3-2 and Samara beating Crystal 4-2. Also, Romania just came off of a nail-biter, beating Poland 3-2, with Dodean winning at 9 in the fifth against Poland's Xu Jue. The win could affect the team's mental game by either tiring them out or by giving them a huge boost in confidence, so we'll see what happens tomorrow. Finally, the US coach is a former player of Romania's men's national team, so we'll see if that will help in terms of predicting Romania's line-up or strategy. I personally think that the US should win, but it'll be close; if our veterans come out of the gates strong and establish their presence and authority early, they should be able to control their matches. But if they allow Romania's players, sure-to-be psyched and pumped, to start off on a roll, who knows what'll happen. If USA wins, they will play either Japan or Austria for the bronze medal at 10am on 8/16/08 (Beijing time).

In the gold/silver playoffs, China will play Hong Kong at 7:30pm tomorrow night, and Singapore will play Korea at 2:30. There really isn't much of a question who will win the gold; China will definitely take first place, and Singapore should take the silver relatively easily. However, at this stage, with the silver medal at stake, it's hard to say what will happen between Korea and Singapore. We'll just have to wait and watch.

So, the best that the USA can do is bronze, but at this level of play, 3rd place ain't bad at all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

US in the first day of action- steph

Table tennis matches began today, and the US women's team finished the day 1-1. They played Singapore in the morning and lost 3-0, but beat the Netherlands 3-1 tonight. Although Singapore is the #2 seed, the US team definitely had a chance to beat them, as long as the match-ups were about even. But, the US got off to a shaky start and didn't really recover, with Wang Chen losing to one of Singapore's rising stars, Feng Tianwei, 11-2 in the first game of the first match. In any case, their match against the Netherlands was a critical one, and they pulled through. Wang Chen recovered and regained her composure beautifully, winning 3-2 against Li Jiao, currently ranked #15 in the world (-6, 9, -4, 4, 3). Next, Gao Jun took care of Li Jie easily in straight sets (5, 4, 4) as Gao usually does with choppers. The US next lost their doubles match (Wang Chen/Crystal Huang vs Li Jie/Elena Timina) 3-1 (-9, 9, -6, -9). But Gao put the tie away, beating Timina in straight sets (7, 5, 7). The US will take on Nigeria at 14:30 on 8/14/08 (Beijing time). If they beat Nigeria, they will advance to the semifinals (which will be played on 8/15/08).

China, as expected, dominated in their matches, with the men's team beating Greece 3-0, and the women's team beating both Croatia and the Dominican Republic 3-0. Next, the men will play against Australia in the morning and Austria in the evening, and the women will play against Austria. The women's match should be an interesting one, because the two singles players, Liu Jia (ranked #17 in the world) and Li Qiangbing (daughter of national icon and Wang Liqin's personal coach, Li Xiaodong) are excellent players, and they should feel absolutely no pressure; the pressure will be completely on the Chinese, both men and women, because not only will every single pair of eyes in the country be focused on them, but also because everyone expects them to win. Anybody who plays China, in either singles or teams, should just relax and go all out- if China wins, fine, because it wouldn't shock anyone, but if China loses, the whole world would freak out. China's opponents, especially contenders like the Koreans, MUST take into account the amount of pressure on the Chinese players, consider that a huge advantage, and play like they have nothing to lose.

Check back soon for thoughts and comments from US women's coach, Doru Gheorghe!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Matilda Ekholm -- Are some National Olympic Committees against women?

Just read an interesting article on ittf.com. Sweden's National Olympic Committee didn't nominate Sweden's #1-ranked female table tennis player, Matilda Ekholm, to represent Sweden in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Matilda, 25 years old, was actually ranked top 100 in the world and "qualified for the Olympic singles against international opponents."

Why wasn't she chosen? Well, the article suggests that maybe a few country's National Olympic Committees are simply prejudiced against women. The following four women's respective National Olympic Committees refused to nominate these ping pong athletes, despite their having qualified for the Olympics: Nesrine Ben Kahia (Tunisia), Safa Saidani (Tunisia), Karen Li (New Zealand), and, of course, Matilda (Sweden).

This Olympics will be the second Olympics in a row in which Sweden will have no female table tennis representative. I have no clue what the Swedish Olympic Committee is thinking...I think they've made a huge mistake. Why not allow your country's best female ping pong player who is ranked top 100 in the world to compete in the Olympics in her prime age?

What do you guys think? Is this discrimination or is it a fair judgment of those women's odds of advancing in the table tennis competition? Is there more to the story than the ITTF article is letting on?? Let us know!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

hello from beijing!!!! -steph

Hey from Beijing!! I'm psyched to be here, and the energy here is INSANE. At the airport, there are people everywhere with Olympic costumes and garb, waving little Olympic flags (I got one =P), and welcoming everyone to Beijing. I knew they redid the airport and that it was supposed to be tremendous, but I still got off the plane expecting huge crowds and overall dirtiness. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new airport was beautiful, bright, and clean. The taxi was clean, too, which was also a pleasant surprise. I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised... everyone on the planet has known that Beijing would bend over backwards to get itself ready for the Games.

Despite the brightness inside the airport, it was a little bleaker outdoors; it was hazy, dark, and humid. It's raining now, and it has been pouring, thundering and lightning-ing for the last few hours. Seems like I brought some bad weather :( Hopefully the weather clears up in the next few days! Well, in any case, rain and bad weather is a non-issue for table tennis players =P Anyway, so far, China and USA are tied in number of medals at 8 apiece, and Michael Phelps took the gold in the 400m medley, breaking the record by about 2 seconds. USA's men's basketball team is going to take on China's team in about an hour. Trust that all eyes will be on this game!

The first day of table tennis is on 8/13 at 10am (Beijing time), and USA's women's team will play Singapore's team, seeded 2nd behind China, in Group B in the qualifiers. The team is made up of Gao Jun (currently ranked #25 in the world), Wang Chen (currently ranked #20 in the world), Crystal Huang, and my friend and doubles partner, Jackie Lee as a back-up. It will definitely be tough, but USA certainly has a chance of upsetting Singapore.

Go USA! :D