Liu Juan and Wang Huijing have qualified for the 2020 US Olympic Team. Photos by Bruce Liu.
The three women's Olympic spots are now set. Who are they? Let's find out what happened!
Going into the Sunday, Liu Juan was leading with a 4-0 record, Wang Huijing, Amy Wang, and Crystal Wang close behind at 3-1, and Wang Chen still in contention at 2-2. They each had three more matches to decide the Olympians. (Lily Zhang already has the first spot due to her world ranking.)
Here are the results! Page down to see complete results.
Amy Wang (3-1) vs. Wu Yue (1-3). Wu isn't really in contention at this point, but for Amy, it's pretty much a must-win. In the first, Amy led 10-9, was down 10-11, won 13-11. She's very aggressive on both wings - Sean O'Neill (Olympian and five-time Men's Champion) said, "Amy's forehand has improved dramatically the last six months." In the second, Amy is again up 10-9. Up 11-10, she misses an easy backhand smash, and then goes for huge forehand flip against the serve - and misses that as well to lose 13-11. Wu also wins game three, 11-8.
In the fourth, Wu leads 10-9, but Amy flip kills her serve, 10-all. Amy goes on to win, 13-11. Amy runs out game five, 11-5, but Wu does the exact same thing in game six, winning 11-6. The two are taking turns being hot - whoever's on is smacking in winners from both wings. In the seventh, one of them is hot - and this time it's Amy's turn as she runs away with it and the match, 11,-11,-8,11,5,-5,4.
Crystal Wang (3-1) vs. Wang Chen (2-2). Both are in contention. If Crystal wins, Wang Chen is almost for certain eliminated. If Wang Chen wins, Crystal's chances go down dramatically. It's a battle of Crystal's dominating backhand and power from both sides, vs. Wang Chen's quick pips-out backhand, ball placement and change of pace, serves, and experience. In the first, Wang Chen leads 10-8, but Crystal deuces it - but loses it, 10-12. Crystal wins game two, 11-8. But from there on, Wang Chen was masterful in moving Crystal around and she won the next three games and the match, 10,-8,7,8,8.
Wang Huijing (3-1) vs. Angela Guan (0-4). Wang knows how to play choppers and easily wins the first two. Then came game three, where Angela suddenly could do little wrong, and the hardest smashes were returned with ease. There were points where Wang ripped "winner" after "winner," where Angela would be chopping, then lobbing, then chopping again, until Wang would finally push, and then they'd start over. There was one point you had to see to believe! And most of this happened at deuce. But Wang finally won, 17-15! Angela would then play even better and win game four, 11-5, but Wang took the match, 4,5,15,-5,8.
But here's a tidbit - Angela and her mom (a former championship chopper herself) are having more fun here than anyone else! They both smile and laugh even when she loses, and her mom cheers the nice shots of opponents. It's a nice break for Angela, but she'll be back in class on Monday, at University of California at Berkeley, where she's majoring in Data Science.
Liu Juan (4-0) vs. Rachel Sung (0-4). Just when you think Liu is unbeatable, someone comes along and almost beats her. Rachel is out of contention, but the great lefty rallier pushes fellow lefty Liu to the limit, going up 3-1 in games. But Liu won the next two to force the seventh. Liu now really turned it on, and leads 6-0, and wins the match, 4,-7,-9,-10,5,9,2.
Amy Wang (4-1) vs. Wang Huijing (4-1). This was a huge one - but unfortunately, had some controversy. Whoever wins is probably going to make the team, while the loser could only back her way in via a tie. Going in, the thinking is Amy (17) will dominate with her backhand and increasingly efficient forehand, while Wang (39) will use quick blocks, forehand loops, and experience. What surprised me was how Huijing often dominated with her aggressive backhand punch block - often smacking them in just as hard as most shakehand backhand smashes.
In the first, Huijing had several ads before winning, 14-12. She then won two of the next three games to go up 3-1 in games. In game five, Huijing led 10-8 double match point, but Amy scored three in a row, and led 11-10 before winning 13-11. Amy also won the sixth, 11-6, and so a match that almost ended 4-1 was now into the seventh game.
And now things got nasty. At 3-3, Huijing served to Amy's backhand. It appeared to hit the net, and then hit the edge as Amy lunged for it. So, it's a let, right? But neither umpire saw it, and Huijing said she didn't see it hit the net. Amy looked frustrated as she was sure it hit the net, as did most spectators. Jumping ahead, we checked the video after the match, and it clearly hit the net, and so should have been a let serve. Now let's not impeach the umpires - they are volunteers and it's easy to miss these things - but the score was now 3-4, and there was now a very heated argument between the players, the coaches, the umpires, and the referee (Joe Yick). But the point stood. Amy scored the next two in a row to go up 5-4, but then lost the next five, and so lost the match, 12,5,-6,8,-11,-6,7.
Wang Chen (3-2) vs. Rachel Sung (0-5). This was another must-win for Wang Chen to stay in contention. And things started out her way as she won the first two easily, 8 and 3. But Rachel won the next two, and led 6-0 in the fifth - and barely held on to win, 11-9. The sixth was all Wang Chen, 11-3, and so we're into the seventh. Rachel pulled away early, leading 3-0, then it was 4-4, and then Rachel led 8-6, 9-7, 10-8, 10-9, and finally, 11-9. Match to Rachel, -8,-3,8,6,9,-3,9, and Wang Chen is now eliminated. It also ended a bad streak for Rachel, who had already gone seven games against Wang Huijing, Liu Juan, Amy Wang, and Wu Yue - and lost them all.
Wu Yue (1-4) vs. Angela Guan (0-5). They were no longer in contention, but they still had a great match, like most attacker vs. defender matches. The points were spectacular, but you probably had to be there. Match to Wu Yue, -10,7,-9,9,4,6.
Crystal Wang (3-2) vs. Liu Juan (5-0). This match started late, due to a late men's match, and so finished after the others. At that point, this became a hugely consequential match. If Liu Juan wins, as most expected, then Liu and Wang Huijing clinch the two Olympic spots available. However, if Crystal wins, then both she and Amy Wang are still in contention. But can Crystal, rated "only" 2482, challenge the undefeated Liu Juan, rated 2651? Um . . . yes.
Crystal, 18, is completely dominant in backhand rallies, and simply has more power than Juan or any of the other women. Liu, 35, has much more experience, and moves very well while looping from both wings with her lefty penhold style. Liu easily wins the first, 11-4, and is just too good. Except Crystal didn't get the memo, and powers her way to three straight close-game wins, winning them at 9, 10, 10. All eyes are now on this match as it truly is the Olympic match.
Alas, for Crystal, as well as for Amy Wang, reality set in as Liu took control of the rallies, and followed up her serves aggressively, and became more and more dominant the rest of the way in winning, 4,-9,-10,-10,8,7,3.
And the minute Liu won that last point, she and Wang Huijing became Olympians.
But it's not over yet! There's one more round to go. However, there's only one match that really counts.
Liu Juan (6-0) vs. Wang Huijing (5-1). Both are now Olympians, along with Lily Zhang (who qualified due to her world ranking). But only the first two players will play singles - Lily and whoever wins this match. The #3 player will only play in the Team event.
It's a contrast in penhold backhands, with Liu (35) playing with a modern reverse penhold backhand, where she mostly loops, while Wang (39) plays with the "old-style" convention backhand, punch-blocking the ball off the bounce, all over the table. Both are strong on the backhand, but Liu's forehand and footwork are a little better.
In the first, Wang leads 10-9, 11-10, and 12-11, but Liu wins, 15-13. In the second, it's 9-all, and Liu wins again, 11-9. In the third, it's all Liu, 11-6. In the fourth, Liu leads 4-1 and 6-3, then it's 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, and 9-9. Wang leads 10-9. She rips a seeming winner, but Liu effortlessly blocks it back to the wide forehand for a clean "ace" winner. Liu then has a match point at 11-10, but Wang serve and rips a forehand. Then it's Liu's turn - she serve and loops a winner, and then, after a vicious rally, Liu gets a net-grazer, and Wang hits it off. Match to 13,9,6,11.
Congratulations to the 2020 US Olympic Women's Team of Lily Zhang, Liu Juan, and Wang Huijing!