653 Athletes Registered for 2009 USA Table Tennis National Championships in Las Vegas

Dec. 14, 2009, 5:56 p.m. (ET)

The 2009 USA Table Tennis National Championships at the Las Vegas Convention Center will see 653 athletes participating on 92 tables for one of the 57 national titles up for grabs and a piece of the $32,000 prize money. The Dec. 16-19 event features the best players in the country who are U.S. citizens and will try to qualify for the USA Table Tennis National Team.

The top 16 place finishers in men's and women's singles will earn a right to compete at the 2010 USA Table Tennis World Team Trials, which will be held at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, March 4-5. Additionally, the top four boys and girls place winners in the junior and cadet singles divisions will make their respective U.S. national teams.

For the first time, USA Table Tennis will provide fans an opportunity to watch the USA Table Tennis National Championships live via web stream video at www.tabletennis.teamusa.org/live, starting on Wednesday, Dec. 16. The webcast, produced in conjunction with the Dyyno, will provide viewers an opportunity to watch the nationals in high quality video for free.

This year's championships looks to be a battle between the old and new with aging foreign-trained players dominating but will be challenged by upcoming U.S.-trained players, including some top-rated junior-aged players.

Men's Singles
On the men's side, the field is led by top-seeded and four-time men's singles champion Ilija Lupulesku (Chicago, Ill.), 42, who won the 2007 National Championship, but skipped it in 2008. He is the 1988 Olympic Games silver medalist for his native Yugoslavia. The left-handed "Lupi" is known for his off-table, topspinning game. When in trouble, he'll lob the ball back high into the air, returning smash after smash until an opponent misses or he counter-attacks.

Seeded second through fourth are three more aging immigrants. Seeded second is Fan Yiyong (Newcastle, Wash.), 40, now a U.S. citizen and eligible for the first time. Yiyong is a former member of the Chinese National Team, finishing third at the Chinese Nationals in 1991. He was the Chinese National Junior Champion in 1985 and is known for his ferocious topspin attack, with one of the best backhand topspins in the world. He's been a U.S. coach since his arrival in 1998.

Seeded third is David Zhuang (West Windsor, N.J.), 46, the defending and six-time men's singles champion. Zhuang is a pips-out penholder, known for his steady and deceptive blocking and sudden forehand smashes. His serve and return of serve may be the best in the country. He's been a full-time coach for many years.

Cheng Yinghua (Boyds, Md.), 51, who is seeded fourth, is a four-time men's singles champion and last year's runner-up. A former long-time member of the Chinese National Team, he came to the U.S. as a coach in 1989 and won his first USA men's title at the age of 38 when he fist became eligible in 1996. Cheng won in 2004 at the age of 46, the oldest player ever to win the men's singles title in the modern era. He's been a full-time coach in the U.S. for twenty years. He's one of the best all-around players, equally comfortable attacking or blocking.

The fifth through eight seeds are all USA-trained players looking to establish themselves as contenders. Lupulesku, Zhuang or Cheng has won every men's singles title since 1993, except in 2001 when Eric Owens claimed the title.

Fifth-seeded Mark Hazinski (Mishawaka, Ind.), 24, a three-time men's singles finalist (2003, 2005, 2007), is a two-winged topspin player, with great power from both sides.

Sixth-seeded Han Xiao (Germantown, Md.), 22, is a two-time men's doubles champion and a 2007 semifinalist in men's singles. Technically an immigrant, he came to the U.S. at the age of two. He will turn 23 on Saturday, Dec. 19, the day of the men's singles semifinals and final. He's a two-winged topspin player, known for his quick, penetrating backhand topspins.

Seventh-seeded Marcus Jackson (Riverdale, Md.), 17, is the No. 1 Under-18 and Under-22 player in the United States and brings a two-wing topspin technique. Jackson is coached by Barney J. Reed (Chula Vista, Calif.), 31, who is the eighth seed.

Reed, a former USA National Team member, brings a two-winged topspinner attack and is best known for his shot-making. He also recently made an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in early December.

Women's Singles
It's not exactly going out on a limb that Gao Jun (Gaithersburg, Md.), 40, is the prohibitive favorite to win Women's Singles for the ninth time in her ninth national championships. She's never lost at the USA Table Tennis National Championships, in singles or doubles. She is also eight for eight in women's doubles, and seven for seven in mixed doubles.

After skipping the last four years to focus on playing in China and attending college, she has returned to the United States. Gao is also a three-time U.S. Open Women's singles champion. Formerly ranked No. 3 in the world and a long-time member of the Chinese National Team, Gao won a silver medal in Women's Doubles at the 1992 Olympic Games for China. She is a pips-out penholder with a deceptive blocking game that relies on consistency, placement and change of pace and depth.

Challenging Gao will be USA-trained prodigy and two previous national champions.

The prodigy is second-seeded Ariel Hsing (San Jose, Calif.), 14, who made the final in women's singles at last year's nationals. Hsing is the top-ranked U.S. junior girl and now ranked second in women's singles. Ariel brings a powerful two-winged attack, which will be a contrast to Gao's controlling blocks if the two meet. 

Third-seeded Amy Feng (Rockville, Md.), 40, could be the comeback story of the tournament. Feng is a four-time women's singles champion, winning consecutively from 1992-1995 before Gao's arrival. She is back in the U.S., after playing in China for several years, and is now out to win a fifth title. She's a lefty, two-winged topspinner known for her deceptive high-toss serves.

Fourth-seeded Jasna Rather (Fort Worth, Texas), 38, is better known under her former name of Jasna Reed. Rather battled with Gao Jun at the nationals for years, but never claimed a title until Gao returned to China. Rather was the 2005 U.S. women's singles champion. She won a bronze medal for women's doubles at the 1988 Olympics, playing for her native Yugoslavia. She is now a full-time coach at Texas Wesleyan College.

In addition to Hsing, another trio of juniors, all U.S. born and trained, may also challenge Gao's reign. They are led by fifth-seeded Lily Zhang (Palo Alto, Calif.), 13, the 2009 Canadian Junior Open Champion and the defending USA National junior girl's champion, where she upset Hsing; sixth-seeded Anne Deng, 15, of Oklahoma City, OK, and eighth-seeded Natalie Sun, 13, of Mountain View, CA.

Also, the USA Table Tennis Youth Olympic Games Team Trials will be held. For information and participants on this event, click here.

The USA Table National Championships will start daily at 9 a.m. (PST) in the Las Vegas Convention Center Hall C3. For a complete schedule of events and registration information click here.


USA Table Tennis Media Contact:
Anthony Bartkowski, (719) 510-7331 or abartkowski@comcast.net

About USA Table Tennis: USATT is the national governing body for table tennis in the United States. Created in 1933 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Its staff serves the 9,000-plus members and nearly 300 clubs that are affiliated with USATT. It oversees a wide variety of membership services, the national teams, rules of the game and numerous online instructional and historical articles. USATT is governed and run by the nine-member board of directors, committees and professional staff. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the world governing body for table tennis, as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).