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

By Larry Hodges | Feb. 29, 2020, 8:57 a.m. (ET)

Liu Juan 16-0 after 4 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
Wang Huijing, 4-0
Wu Yue, 3-1
Crystal Wang, 3-1
Rachel Sung, 2-2
Joanna Sung, 2-2
Lavanya Maruthapandian, 1-3
Faith Tung, 1-3
Kylie Lam, 0-4

Group Two
Amy Wang, 4-0
Liu Juan, 4-0
Wang Chen, 4-0
Angela Guan, 2-2
Sarah Jalli, 1-3
Tiffany Ke, 1-3
Neja Saju, 0-4
Amanda Malek, 0-4

In the sixteen women's matches in rounds 3-4, there were two upsets, both in Group One. One was major, the other not so much.

The bigger one? Crystal Wang (2482), who turned 18 just last week, defeated the top seed in the event, Wu Yue (2483 but world #30). Wu is much quicker and has great experience. Crystal has great power from both sides, and probably the most dominant backhand on the women's side, where she loops off the bounce over and over, almost never missing. When Crystal attacked, Wu would quick block side to side, often winning points by going to the middle and wide forehand. When Wu attacked, Crystal almost always counter-attacked, forcing Wu to block. Wu won a lot of points with a tricky backhand serve that she'd usually follow with a backhand loop, putting pressure on Crystal.

In game one, Wu led 10-8 and 11-10. At 11-all, Wu got the most unretrievable ball possible - she pushed the serve back with so much backspin that it hit the net, dribbled over, then bounced back over on her side! She won the next point and the game, 13-11. She'd easily win game two, but Crystal's backhand would dominate games three and four.

In the fifth, Crystal led 8-7, and Wu took a timeout. Then she scored three in a row to lead 10-8. Then it was 10-all. And now, directly from my notes, came a series of WOW! points. The first one had Crystal ripping five balls in a row, both forehands and backhands, before Wu blocks a winner to the wide forehand, 11-10. Next, Wu loops - and Crystal pulls off a chop block, and Wu loops off, 11-11. Wu then rips a loop, but Crystal effortlessly counterloops a winner, 11-12. Then comes another WOW! point, where Crystal again rips five in a row, and then misses a backhand, 12-12. The next point it happens again, except this time Crystal finishes it with a backhand rip down the line, 12-13. Then Wu serve and rips a backhand loop, 13-13. I could go on, but suffice to say Wu eventually leads 15-14, and then, anticlimactically, Crystal pushes the serve off, and game five to Wu, 16-14.

And then, just like that, Crystal takes control, dominating with her backhand, and wins the next two games easily, and the match, -11,-7,5,4,-14,7,7. Afterwards, Crystal told me a key was she had to be more aggressive against Wu's backhand serve, flipping it to stop her backhand loop. Crystal also defeated Rachel Sung (2414), 6,-9,8,10,5, and is now 3-1. Wu Yue won against Faith Tung (2189), 8,6,2,2, and is also 3-1 - and all three of her wins are 4-0.

There were two other seven-game matches on the women's side, both in Group Two, where much of the action today seemed to be taking place. Wang Huijing (2498) won the first three games against Rachel Sung (2414), but Rachel won the next three. In game seven, it was 5-all, then Wang was up 10-6, and won the match, 5,9,6,-3,-9,-10,8. It was another interesting contrast in styles; Wang is an inverted penholder, with a conventional jab-blocking backhand - so she uses only one side of her racket. These days most penholders use reverse penhold backhands, and it's rare to see this style of backhand at the higher levels. Rachel was a more conventional inverted shakehander, but a lefty. Wang is now 4-0, but her game record is 16-6, with only one of the wins 4-0. Rachel dropped to 2-2.

The other seven-gamer was Lavanya Maruthapandian (2193) over Kylie Lam (2099), -8,-4,6,6,5,-8,5, with Lavanya's strong counter-hitting game prevailing.

In Group Two, Wang Chen (2457) won both her matches. She won easily over Tiffany Ke (2297), 4,3,3,4 - Wang is from China (where pips is more common), and knew how to play Tiffany's forehand pips, while Wang attacked all parts of the table with her own backhand pips. Wang's backhand is aggressive, quick, and consistent, and she has great placement with both her forehand and backhand.

Against Amanda Malek (2131), Wang had a much more difficult match. Amanda relentlessly attacked Wang's middle, especially with her backhand loops, and won the first two games - 11-7 in the first, and up 9-4 and 10-5, pulls out game two 11-9. But from there on, Amanda made too many mistakes, often missing her backhand loop, plus she had trouble with Wang's serves, which were sometimes hidden, or at least borderline hidden, by her arm. After Wang won the next three games, Amanda led 5-1, care of her backhand looping. But Wang tied it up at 6-6. At 7-9, Amanda backhand loops Wang's serve, and the umpire calls it off (so 10-7 match point), but Amanda and some from the crowd claim it hit the edge. Wang said it didn't, and the umpire didn't see it, so the point stands. Match to Wang, -7,-9,7,3,4,7, who improves to 4-0 - and her other three matches were all 4-0 wins. She's seeded fourth in the group, and with her earlier win over #3 seed Angela Guan, she's in a good position.

Joining Wang Chen at 4-0 were Liu Juan and Amy Wang. In games, however, Liu Juan has a perfect 16-0 record, while Wang Chen and Amy Wang are both 16-2. (As noted above, the only 4-0 player in Group One is Wang Huijing, but she's 16-6 in games.)

The final three rounds are tomorrow, at 11:30 AM, and 1:00 and 4:45 PM. Then the first round of Stage Two begins at 6:15 PM