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2020 US Olympic Trials - Mens Stage 1: Rounds 3 and 4

By Larry Hodges | Feb. 29, 2020, 8:40 a.m. (ET)


Zhou Xin, 16-0 after four rounds. Photo by Bruce Liu.

The play is incredible in these matches - great conditions lead to great play. The lighting is excellent, with red rubberized floors. The matches have both an umpire and scorekeeper. Some of the matches went a little late, due to a lighting problem - a light near the side of the gym began flickering, and they weren't able to fix it. This affected play on one table, and so instead of sending out all eight matches each round, they were only able to send out seven, and then send out the eighth as soon as the first match ended. However, this should be fixed for tomorrow.

And here are the Results! The current standings after four of seven rounds - and remember that the top four from both groups advance to a final RR of eight, with carry-over matches.

Group One

Zhou Xin, 4-0
Zhang Kai, 3-1
Jishan Liang, 3-1
Gal Alguetti, 2-2
Dan Liu, 2-2
Aditya Godhwani, 2-2
Ted Li, 0-4
Mishel Levinski, 0-4

Group Two
Nikhil Kumar, 4-0
Nicholas Tio, 4-0
Yijun "Tom" Feng, 4-0
Sharon Alguetti, 2-2
Michael Landers, 1-3
Hao Donglong, 1-3
Kunal Chodri, 0-4
Adar Alguetti, 0-4

Zhou is, so far, easily the class of Group One, going 16-0 in games. He has, without a doubt, the best backhand counterloop in the country. The battle for the next three spots is wide open, with five players at 3-1 or 2-2. Group Two has three players at 4-0, with three others in contention for the fourth spot (or better). The three undefeated players in Group Two, and their game record, are Tom Feng (16-2), Nikhil Kumar (16-3), and Nicholas Tio (16-5).

In Group One, none of the sixteen matches went seven, and there were only two upsets. The main upset was Dan Liu (2574) over Jishan Liang (2668), -7,6,3,9 . . . and 18!!! That last game was quite a story. Here's what happened. (Jishan is a lefty shakehander who power-loops from both sides. Dan is a two-winged penhold looper.)

Jishan was up 10-9, but lost two in a row and was down 10-11 match point. He had a great counterlooping point to deuce it, 11-11. And now, with Jishan serving, a strange thing happened - the server won the next fourteen points in a row! That made it 18-all. Over and over the server served and ripped, with the receiver seemingly unable to stop this pattern. (I don't think there was a point in this streak where the server didn't loop the first ball.) Because both were serving more side-top then backspin, they couldn't drop the ball short, and so they either pushed or flipped long, and the server kept crushing it. At 12-all, there was a crazy point where, after Jishan serve and ripped, Dan was back lobbing. He lobbed back several, and then one hit the edge. Jishan, incredibly, was able to readjust and still looped it, and after a counterlooping duel, Jishan won the point. There was a streak of four points in a row, starting at 13-all, where both players served and ripped clean winners. Finally, at 18-all, they have two counterlooping points in a row, and Dan wins both. Afterwards, I asked Dan about the match, and all the difficulties with stopping Jishan's serve and loop. He said that the lefty Jishan had changed from mostly serving short to the forehand to short to the backhand, and he had trouble adjusting.

Jishan would also win against Ted Li, 7,9,-6,9,4, and is now 3-1.

The other upset - he's really racking them up - was Aditya Godhwani (2401) over lefty Mishel Levinski (2541), -5,8,7,11,6.

Dan Liu, after his win over Jishan, played Gal Alguetti. This was one of the best matches to watch, as Dan is very steady with his two-winged attack, but doesn't have as much point-ending power as some of the others, while Gal is like a wall, who not only blocks everything back quick, is just as quick to counterloop a winner off the bounce against just about any ball. Gal's forehand loops are probably the quickest off the bounce of any of the men. He rarely backs up, so opponents are constantly forced to play Gal's machinegun-like rallies. After Gal wins the first two, they are at 9-all in the third. They have two great rallies, where Dan seems to almost win the point over and over with his attacks, but Gal almost effortlessly blocks them back, moving Dan around, and sometimes counter-spinning, until Dan finally misses. In disgust, he tosses racket across the table, and is yellow-carded.

But the great rallies continue, and Dan barely pulls out the next two. But Gal wins the match, 11,8,9,-10,-9,8. This puts Dan and Gal both at 2-2.

Another big match in Group One was Kai Zhang (2642) vs. Gal Alguetti (2626). This was a battle of Kai's relentless two-winged topspins - he has one of the best backhand loops against block here - and Gal's quickness. Often the rallies were straight backhand-to-backhand. Kai won the first three, but Gal won game four, 11-9 (with a loud scream). In the fifth, Gal leads 10-8, 12-11, and 13-12, and Kai probably ran a mile during these points as Gal ran him about, but Kai finally wins, 11,7,9,-9,13.

In Group Two, there were two upsets. The main one was Yijun "Tom" Feng (2640) over Sharon Alguetti (2658), #4 seed in the group over #3. Tom, a two-winged penhold looper, was the 2015 US Men's Singles Champion and a member of the 2016 US Olympic Team. He has a nice reverse pendulum serve that he often serves short to the forehand. Both were in the same situation of trying to go to college while training for table tennis - Tom had actually taken two years off from table tennis at one point. Sharon had just started college last fall, while Tom is graduating at the end of this summer from New York University, with a degree in Sports Management, a concentration in Sports Law, and a minor in Economics. Tom won the match, -7,7,8,9,-5,6. Afterwards, Tom said, "He handled my serve really well. We know each other's games pretty well." With a 9,6,6,6 win over chopper Hao Donglong, Tom is now 4-0, and 16-2 in games.

The other upset was chopper Hao Donglong (2531) over Kunal Chodri (2557), 11,8,6,-5,8. Hao mostly chopped, but when he attacked, they mostly won the point. This puts him at 1-3 and in contention, tied with Michael Landers for fifth. 

There were two seven-gamers in Group Two. The first was the Michael Landers comeback against Adar Alguetti. Michael has a good backhand, but is primarily a forehand looper, and has one of the best off-table counterlooping games here. Down 1-3 in games, he fought back to win, -6,4,-3,-7,9,9,7. This put Michael at 1-3, which actually keeps him in contention, since the current #4 in the group is Sharon Alguetti at 2-2.

In the last match of the night, and the other seven-gamer in Group Two, Sharon played Nicholas Tio (2592) in possibly the match of the night. Nicholas went up 3-1 in games. In game five, Sharon led 8-4 when he accidentally ripped his hand against the table, which began to bleed badly. They took a medical timeout where they wiped the blood off his hand and tried to bandage it. Sharon went back out and, leading 10-9, served a fast, down-the-line serve that Nicholas missed to win, 11-9. In game six, Nicholas is up 10-7 triple match point - but Sharon deuces it. Nicholas has another match point at 11-10, but ends up losing 14-12 - on an edge ball!

In the seventh, Sharon goes up 4-2, and then gets a net ball to lead 5-2. Nicholas puts his hands in the air, frustrated, as if saying, "Why me?" Sharon leads 6-3 - and then, in this crazy match, Nicholas is suddenly on fire and wins six great points in a row and leads 9-6, 10-7, once again triple match point. Then it's 10-9 match point as Sharon has now fought off six match points. Then, finally, at last, perhaps with divine intervention brought down by Nicholas's raised-hand pleading, Nicholas rips a forehand winner to win the match, 9,-7,7,6,-9,-12,9. The match ended at 9:48 PM, with many of the other players hanging around to watch.

The final three rounds are tomorrow, at 12:15, 1:45, and 5:30 PM. Then the first round of Stage Two begins at 7:00 PM