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2020 Oregon State Championships – Paddle Palace

Article and Images Courtesy of  Tom Lackaff, Table Tennis Info

The 2020 Oregon State Championships mirrored each the sturdiness of custom and the inevitability of change. In stark distinction to the nice and cozy, festive Labor Day setting in years previous, this 12 months’s video games started on the chilly morning of October 24. Dried leaves rustled within the chilly wind outdoors the Paddle Palace Membership in Tigard, Oregon, the place champions, each defending and aspiring, did collect.

In accordance with each state legislation and customary sense, the event was run below strict COVID-19 protocols. The spacious membership restricted its occupancy to twenty, with masks required always (even throughout matches, in contrast to present European league guidelines). The occasion was closed to spectators. Gamers neither modified ends between video games, nor shook fingers afterwards. Regardless of these deficits of etiquette, members by some means nonetheless managed to play good.

Open Singles

Jiwei Xia, the 31-year-old head coach on the Paddle Palace Membership, has been steadily padding his already spectacular résumé with state championships ever since transferring to Oregon from his native Tianjin, China. The 2-time defending Oregon state champion entered this 12 months’s event because the prohibitive favourite, his customary place.

Certainly one of his star college students, up-and-coming native 16-year-old Dean Schultz, proved his promise by overcoming a tricky spherical robin group and sweeping his progressively more durable quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

There’s a distinctive dynamic when a trainer and a pupil transfer from the realm of nurturing tutelage to that of gladiatorial fight. Think about if “The Karate Child” ended with Daniel-san combating Mr. Miyagi for the championship. Whereas they each may really feel conflicted between honoring their relationship and the aggressive self-discipline which unites them, there may be completely no method Mr. Miyagi goes to eat a crane kick simply to encourage the boy.

Each finalists had been conscious about the fraught dynamic between them. For Xia the competitor, victory was all the time the purpose, and one which was by no means unsure. For Xia the trainer, nevertheless, the purpose was to provide Schultz significant observe. Towards this finish, he purposefully pushed lengthy so as to invite Schultz to loop, one of many abilities he should hone so as to bridge the 500-plus gulf between them in USATT rankings.

“I attempted to show him some higher-level stuff,” associated Xia, who largely taught by instance.

With coach Jiwei Xia in management each step of the best way, he secured the three-peat in three straight, (11-4, 11-5, 11-6). Schultz could have his identify engraved subsequent to his coach’s on the distinguished state championship trophy.

For Dean Schultz, it was each a humbling and inspiring expertise to achieve the state finals at such a younger age. Enjoying Xia was “very intimidating,” he mentioned, “however I gave it my all… Perhaps subsequent 12 months we’ll change the primary and second place names on the trophy,” Schultz added, his eyes betraying a playful smirk in any other case obscured by his masks.

Ladies’s Singles RR

The ladies’s singles featured 4 fierce opponents with a spread of ages and kinds. The highest seed was “nearly 15”-year-old Cheery Zhang, the defending champion with a robust forehand topspin assault. The second seed was Leezan Da, a long-pips-wielding block-and-smash specialist who recognized as “over 50.”

The third seed was Paddle Palace membership director Jen Beeler. The 39-year-old Oregon native was a varsity athlete at close by Tigard Excessive College, profitable state championships in soccer, basketball and softball. At this time, she stored the trains operating on time, and even discovered time to make use of the enjoying abilities she has been training with—who else?—coach Jiwei Xia.

Rounding out the spherical robin was Eden Choi, a tenacious defender with quick pips on her backhand. An enormous underdog on paper, she performed with poise and self-discipline method past her 12 years. About enjoying older, more durable gamers, she mentioned, “It’s cool, it’s a enjoyable alternative.” Together with her optimistic, carefree mindset, she made her opponents sweat bullets along with her low, vicious forehand chops buzzing like homicide hornets with venomous backspin.

On the finish of the day, multi-sport star Jen Beeler claimed her first state desk tennis championship. Though Beeler prefers an attacking recreation, wielding an authoritative inside-out forehand smash, it was her capacity to adapt to her opponent’s varied kinds and play extra strategically which netted her the title.

The championship hinged on her tense match with Cheery Zhang, who gained the primary recreation. After profitable the subsequent two, Beeler trailed 5-8 within the fourth. She then merely determined to win, reeling off 5 straight factors to earn two match factors. Serving, Zhang saved one to get inside some extent of deuce. The following level was as tense as a violin, the gamers buying and selling pushes for a seeming eternity till certainly one of Beeler’s caught the top line and fell out of attain, and together with it Zhang’s probabilities for this 12 months’s title. 

After Beeler blasted by way of Leezan Da in three straight, her second straight upset, this put Da and Zhang in place to battle for second place. As soon as once more, the Zhang discovered herself in one other tense match, this time going the complete 5 video games with Da.

With first and second locations to be engraved on the state championship trophy, each gamers gave it their all. Da, utilizing lengthy pips on her backhand, pissed off Zhang with blocks and demoralized her with smashes. Nonetheless, Zhang persevered in her forehand topspin assaults at each alternative. Tied at 7-all, Zhang confirmed her championship type by closing on a 4-1 run to realize engraved immortality.

In Oregon, Jiwei Xia towers above the sector like a scarecrow. Whereas his cavernous shadow could also be intimidating to some, particularly throughout this spooky time of 12 months, keep in mind that the aim of a scarecrow is to guard these below his watch. As evidenced by the fast progress of his college students, akin to Jen Beeler and Dean Schultz, Jiwei Xia is undoubtedly elevating a robust crop in his area.

On Sunday, motion concluded with two age occasions, one for the younger and one for the (ahem) previously younger.

Juniors RR

The highest seed was Kevin Nguyen, the 13-year-old defending champion rated 2062. Kevin might have been forgiven a contact of overconfidence when he noticed the yawning chasm in ranking factors between himself and those that stood in the best way of a second straight state title. The sector consisted of Nate Wilkinson (925), Eden Choi (772) and Ben Zhang (500, estimated).

16-year-old Nate Wilkinson possesses a strong attacking recreation, utilizing backhand jabs to arrange forehand haymakers. If pushed off the desk, he has the all-around recreation to remain within the level, however is all the time searching for the counterattack.

12-year-old Eden Choi, who displayed masterful protection in yesterday’s Ladies’s Singles, got here out with a extra aggressive mindset as we speak. Not about to let any boys bully her round, she liberally peppered her chops with choose hits and loop kills.

9-year-old Ben Zhang is a promising younger participant using a sophisticated arsenal of photographs, together with the newfangled “banana flick.” Though it was a bit on the unripe facet, as Ben himself remains to be fairly inexperienced, this dedication to studying trendy ways will make him very harmful with a number of years of observe.

Nguyen, certainly one of many success tales to emerge from the Paddle Palace youth program, has developed a technically sound tactical recreation punctuated by an enormous forehand loop. Regardless of his enormous benefit in firepower, nevertheless, the highschool freshman was cautious to not overlook anybody.

“I attempt to think about them as the identical stage so I don’t underestimate them,” says the smart Nguyen. Maybe he managed to photoshop a portrait of an equitable opponent akin to 16-year-old Open Singles finalist Dean Schultz, absent from as we speak’s contest, onto his opponents.

Regardless of the technique, it labored, as Kevin Nguyen stayed targeted and gained each match in straight units to say his second straight state title up to now. In what amounted to the title match, Nguyen the tactician stored strain on Wilkinson with a cruel barrage of forehand loops to his backhand. Nate Wilkinson completed runner-up, fearlessly going toe-to-toe with Nguyen at each alternative.

Though attendance was low this 12 months as a consequence of COVID-19, there may be nonetheless a promising procession of precocious gamers in Portland. With the intention to enhance the extent of competitors for the Paddle Palace juniors program, coach Jiwei Xia has been working with fellow coach Lingshuai Meng in Seattle. Meng, like Xia a Chinese language expatriate, works in junior growth with the USATT Hopes Program.

Xia and Meng have engaged their college students in what they name a “dialog,” or an ongoing collection of joint coaching camps ping-ponging backwards and forwards between the cities. With two such devoted coaches, there isn’t any restrict to the place this “dialog” could lead on these proficient juniors in a number of years.

Over 40 RR

After witnessing the subsequent era at work within the morning, the afternoon’s consideration shifted to the exploits of these born earlier than the Reagan Administration. Eight gamers shaped two round-robin teams, with the highest two finishers in every progressing to the semifinals.

The highest seed in Group 1 was Duc Nguyen, a cussed defender who chops with lengthy pips on the backhand and appears to smash with the forehand. Group 2 was headlined by Nikos Antoniadis, the very portrait of aggression who by no means hesitates to unleash a imply forehand loop.

The teams had been vigorously contested, high seeds going through many spirited challenges, however in the end completed in keeping with seeding. Second seeds Sarit Roy and Kevin Younger additionally superior to the semifinals.

In Sarit Roy, Duc Nguyen confronted his doppelgänger: an impregnable wall of long-pips backhand protection, interrupted solely by forehand assaults as unpredictable as they’re unreturnable. The important thing distinction of their enjoying philosophies was that, as a substitute of chopping along with his lengthy pips away from the desk like Nguyen, Roy makes use of his to chop-block proper off the bounce. In the long run, Nguyen’s extra conventional type chopped Roy down, however not and not using a good combat.

Within the different semifinal, Kevin Younger threw all the pieces however the kitchen sink at Antoniadis. Younger fired a fusillade of left-handed mid-range loops like classic Mikael Appelgren, however in the end to no avail. “I give him all of the credit score on the planet,” Younger graciously mentioned of Antoniadis afterward. “He performed stronger photographs when it counted.”

This arrange the ultimate that Las Vegas predicted: Duc Nguyen and Nikos Antoniadis, the 2 high seeds. The primary recreation was all Antoniadis. Portray the corners along with his forehand loop like a Clayton Kershaw slider, he cruised to a simple 11-4 win.

In recreation two, nevertheless, Nguyen started to frustrate Antoniadis along with his spin variations. They marched in lockstep, 6-6, 8-8, 10-10, till Antoniadis pulled forward with a 3rd ball assault to the forehand. Then, after a protracted rally, it was the out of the blue extra affected person Antoniadis who compelled an error, forging a 2-0 lead.

Down however not out, Nguyen additional fine-tuned the changes he made in recreation two to construct a 9-5 lead in recreation three. Antoniadis, out of the blue on the ropes in opposition to Nguyen’s assaults, buys a while with a defensive topspin. Nguyen ends the comeback try with an inside-out forehand smash to get on the board, profitable recreation three 11-9.

In recreation 4, Antoniadis jumped out to a 5-1 lead along with his trademark forehand assaults to the corners. Nguyen fought again to tie it at 9-all, and seized the early initiative within the subsequent level with an over-the-table backhand assault with the lengthy pips. When Antoniadis defended with a weak backhand topspin, Nguyen had an opportunity to say recreation level with an assault.

As a substitute, Nguyen chopped the moonball again along with his pips, all however inviting Antoniadis to assault. Two forehand bullets later, and Antoniadis held match level. He transformed on the primary alternative when his defensive topspin led to Nguyen lacking a forehand smash.

“I assault as a lot as attainable to get him in misery,” defined the victorious Over 40 champion, Nikos Antoniadis. “I performed my recreation.”

After the thrilling end, the masked opponents blended into the nice din of standard Sunday afternoon open play. Such is the fantastic thing about our sport, {that a} newcomer might by no means guess by look alone who’s a champion.

Picture Courtesy of Tom Lackaff

Posted by Paddle Palace Club on Monday, October 26, 2020

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