2020 US Olympic Trials Men's Qualifier

By Larry Hodges | Feb. 27, 2020, 11:50 p.m. (ET)

There were eight groups of three, with the eight winners advancing to Stage One, the Final Sixteen. Here are the Results, and if you page down, you can see the Stage One groups - two groups of eight.

Two small items here about the results. First, the two groups of eight are listed as "Mens Qualifying Round," but it's actually Stage One, but the software apparently insists on labeling it that way. Second, to get the seedings in the proper order, where world ranking for those in the top 250 in the world supersede ratings, they had to give temporary ratings to three players so the software would put them in the proper seeding spot. (This is also true on the women's side.) This is why Kai Zhang, Nikhil Kumar, and Nicholas Tio are listed with ratings of 3000, 2950, and 2900.

One of the more interesting things I saw in watching the matches here is the contrast in "All-Distance" players vs. "Close-to-Table" players. The All-Distance players will often back off the table, both on defense but also to give themselves more time to play forehands - they are often very forehand-oriented. (And they will, when they see a chance, loop winners off the bounce. They just don't "force it.") Close-to-Table players usually stay right at the table, topspin balls right off the bounce, often for clean winners. It's a risky way to play, but the shots are devastating. Good examples here of All-Distance players would be Michael Landers, Chance Friend, and Kunal Chodri. (At the world-class level, see Xu Xin.) Good examples of Close-to-Table players would be Ted Li, Aditya Godhwani, and Michael Tran. (At the world-class level - see most of them.) While players should, when necessary, be able to play at all distances, relentlessly attacking from close to the table is usually considered the more modern game.

Now let's see what happened in the matches. We'll start with Group One, where every match was an "upset."

Group 1: The trend was set in the first match, when the third seed, 16-year-old Aditya Godhwani (2401), upset top-seeded chopper-attacker Earl James Alto (2604), 9,-5,9,6,12. Aditya said, "Most players who push with medium pips give no-spin, but he can vary the spin. He also has a very good hook serve. It took a while to get used to him." In the second match, Aditya defeated Tahl Leibovitz (2438), -11,7,8,8,4, by relentlessly attacking his forehand, thereby avoiding Tahl's potent backhand. In the final match, Tahl also upset Earl James, 9,11,4,6.

Group 2: Top-seeded Dan Liu (2574), a two-winged looping penholder, won over Joseph Cochran (2373), 5,3,10,6. He also won against Seth Pech (2438), 9,6,8,5, to become one of the two players to advance without losing a game. Joseph upset Seth for second, 7,10,-7,7,10.

Group 3: Top-seeded Michael Landers (2561) won Men's Singles at the US Nationals way, way back in 2009 - and yet he's only 25. He defeated Paul David (2357), and in a rematch of that 2009 final, once again won against Samson Dubina (2444), 11,-9,3,7,6. Samson defeated Paul for second, 9,9,8,8.

Group 4: Top-seeded Kunal Chodri (2557), Men's Singles Finalist at the 2014 Nationals, won against Chi-Sun Chui (2339), 9,5,5,9, and Krish Avvari (2453), -5,7,9,-8,3,8. Kunal against Krish was an interesting contrast of Kunal, who attacks from all distances, often backing up to play more forehand, while Krish plays more at the table, topspinning almost off the bounce. In the final match, Krish defeated Chi-Sun, 12,11,4,3.

Group 5: Top-seeded Ted Li (2548), only 14 years old (and coached by Stellan Bengtsson), won against Eliel Sosis (2323), 14,10,-12,4,9. Second-seeded Timothy Wang (2511), three-time US Men's Singles Champion way back in 2010, 2012, and 2013 (and yet only 28 years old), also won against Eliel, 4,7,5,8 (but having to come back from down 3-7 in that last game). Then came the big clash to see who would advance - what I can't help but call Tim and Ted's Big Adventure as the two battled into the seventh game. Ted relentlessly rips winners from both wings, almost off the bounce, while Tim plays more all-around, playing all distances and both looping and blocking as needed. At 3-3, Ted gets three in a row (the last on a net dribble), and down 3-6, Tim calls a time-out. It seems to work - Tim ties it at 8-all. Down 8-9, Tim serves long, Ted backhand topspins wide to Tim's wide, wide backhand, but Tim's already stepped way over and rips a forehand winner, 9-all. On the next point, Ted blocks Tim out of position, forces a weak loop, and then counterloops a winner. The last point was interesting - Ted pushes quick to Tim's middle, and Tim starts to backhand loop. At the last second, he changes his mind and steps over to loop forehand - but loops into the net. Match and advancing to the Final Sixteen is Ted Li, 8,9,-9,9,-5,-5,9. Stellan told me a little about the match afterwards, and said that Ted could have won 4-0, but Tim's experienced allowed him to pull out game three and force the match to seven games.

Group 6: Top-seeded Lefty Mishel Levinski (2541) won against Stephen Chu (2323), 7,5,7,-11,11. He has an interesting style, where he can attack at the table or off, though he mostly stays pretty close, with a powerful backhand and a nice finishing forehand. Chance Friend (2512) also won against Stephen, but it was a battle - 9,-11,10,-9,11,10 - yeah, every single game went nine or deuce, and seemingly every other point had Chance fishing and lobbing - he's the definition of an off-table player - though he also attacks effectively from that distance. In the final match, it was Mishel over Chance, -9,9,9,-8,5,8.

Group 7: Top-seeded Adar Alguetti (2540) was the other player to advance without losing a game. He won over David Zeng (2302), 6,7,5,5, and against Theodore Tran (2520), 8,3,9,4. In the match for second, it was Theodore over David, -10,12,9,-7,11,4.

Group 8: In the first match, Michael Tran (2531) defeated Jeff Ruiz (2295), 4,-8,5,8,4. Donglong Hao (2531), a chopper, also won over Jeff, 11,10,7,8. In the final match to decide who would advance, Chopper Donglong went up 3-2 in games. Michael had one game point at deuce, but Donglong won, 3,-12,-7,7,4,11.

And so the group winners, advancing to the Final Sixteen, were Aditya Godhwani, Dan Liu, Michael Landers, Kunal Chodri, Ted Li, Mishel Levinski, Adar Alguetti, and Donglong Hao.