Young Talents First to Qualify on 2018 USA Hopes Tour

By Matt Hetherington | March 05, 2018, 10:46 p.m. (ET)

Lily Yip Table Tennis Center marked the first stop on the 2018 USA Hopes Tour. Each event hosts a 2 day training camp, followed by a regional qualification tournament, from which the top contender qualifies for the US Hopes contingent to compete in Canada at the North American Hopes Qualification. Led by Pieke Franssen along with support from a handful of other coaches, the training camp attracted 30 players, 20 boys and 10 girls. Over the couple of days of training the players learnt vital development skills and engaged in technical and physical training as well as all-important match practice.

The tournament kicked off with the players anticipating tough battles to try and earn the top spot. There were some clear talents in the boy's singles, a handful of players rated over 1850. The players to beat was Ainish Dassarma sitting at 1951 USATT rating. The seedings prevailed as the top contenders succeeded in the group stages. Perhaps on of the biggest clashes was the exciting quarterfinal thriller between Darius Fahimi (1881) and Jason Li (1898). The match would go the full distance and feature some real fighting spirit from both players, along with outstanding rallies. In the end Fahimi, with his more powerful forehand game would overcome his smaller, quicker opponent. 

Connor Lee (1913) and Charlie Wang (1925) would meet in the Boys semifinal. Wang's left handed serves and powerful forehand third ball attack proved to be a major factor in the match as he fought his way into the final in four games. Fahimi and Dassarma would prove to be an epic semifinal showdown as the powerhouse from Westchester took on another quick and energetic contender in Dassarma. 

Ainish Dassarma took control of the match early and showed he was ready to chase down every ball, giving everything for each point. Pure determination would take him through to the final where he would meet with Charlie Wang. 

The final was an exciting match of styles and would prove to be a crowd-pleaser, another match going the full stretch. The small stature of Ainish Dassarma was amplified by his confidence and energy as he laid everything on the line. Wang's left handed serve proved effective and again some stunning forehands came from his side of the court, he combined strokes together and finished with devastating forehands. 

The topspin hook serve of Dassarma would be a significant player in the match, causing a large number of serve receive and judgement errors from Wang. Combined with his fighting spirit and willingness to chase down everything it was Dassarma who clawed his way through to victory in the end and became the first boy to win on the 2018 USA Hopes Tour. A well earned result!

Top 4 Placings: 
1. Ainish Dassarma
2. Charlie Wang
3/4. Connor Lee
3/4. Darius Fahimi

In the Girl's Singles Event there were fewer contenders, but still only one spot available, the competition was fierce and a big upset waiting in the wings. In the group stages, a tough match went down between Ivy Liu (1788) and Annie Shangguan (1777). Liu was quick to hit the ground running and sealed a 3-1 victory to come out at the top of the group. 

In Group 2 it was Faith Hu who dominated proceedings, rated at 2056 she was the highest rated player in the tournament, both boys and girls. Marjolaine Encabo (1654) emerged second. 

The semifinals would see Ivy Liu enter the final, seeming comfortable with the left handed game of Encabo. The two regularly compete and practice together at LYTTC, as do many competitors, making these important matches even tougher when it comes to crunch time. Liu would advance to the final. 

The biggest upset of the tournament would come in the semifinal stage as Annie Shangguan began to grow in confidence. Shangguan made solid openings and took control in the rally situations to raise questions from Faith Hu, the clear favorite in the tournament. As Shangguan grasped the upper hand, the difficult task ahead began to show as the pressure on Hu mounted. She clung on but didn't quite seem as sharp as usual in the rallies, Shangguan overpowering, and going from strength to strength. In the end Annie Shangguan would pull off the upset and advance to the final for an anticipated rematch with Ivy Liu. 

The final would be a complete turnaround from the group stage with Shangguan seeking to avenge the earlier result. Uncertainty entered Liu's game as Shangguan's confidence continued to build and present an intimidating force. It would prove to be too much and she comfortably took out the final. Congratulations to Annie Shangguan on the upset and victory!

Top 4 Placings: 
1. Annie (Ann-Ping) Shangguan
2. Ivy Liu
3/4. Faith Hu
3/4. Marjolaine Encabo