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.