(By Steve Hopkins)
Cary Cup – More Thrills in 2018
Once again, the Cary Cup has brought together players not just from up and down the East Coast, but from all corners of the United States and abroad. The event began in Cary NC in 2001, but expanded in 2014 when it moved to the Triangle Table Tennis facility in neighboring Morrisville. In its 17th year, this premiere event is now a 4-Star tournament with over $15,000 in prize money, featuring 12 events and nearly 200 players – one of the largest events in North America.
The Thursday and Friday events included round robin events by rating and serve local players as well as those who wanted to compete in the Triangle Club to acclimate with playing conditions before the weekend. On Thursday, there was an 1150 event, a 1500 event, a 1900 event, and an Open. And on Friday, there was an 1800 event and an Over 1800 event.
THURSDAY: The headline on Thursday was Jimmy Butler pulling off two upsets in a row to win the Thursday Open RR. Butler, who has a long list of accomplishments including being on US National Teams, Olympic Teams, World Team Cup Bronze Medalist, reaching a world ranking of number 70, and winning multiple National Championships, entered the event as the third seed. 2487 rated Butler then upset the No.2 seed (Hammed-Taiwo Adeyinka 2534) in the Semis in a 5-game thriller (-5, 8, 10, -10, 9) to reach the Finals. And in the Finals, Butler upset top seed Jishan Liang (2641) in three straight (9, 4, 10). Watch the full Jishan Liang v. Jim Butler Final here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um3v4ZELWMU)
FRIDAY: With so many top players preparing for the weekend’s main event, the Over 1800 Event on Friday was very competitive. In fact, seven players over 2400 competed in the event. Not unlike the Thursday Open, the top 4 seeds did advance – but with a wrinkle. That “wrinkle” was Hammed-Tawo Adeyinka 2535 who upset Kai Zhang 2610 on his march to the Finals. Ultimately Hammed fell to the top seed, Jishan Liang, in the final (3-1). On Thursday, Hammed had been a victim of a similar upset, so this result in the semifinals shows balance on one level. On another, however, this showed some volatility in the seeding and helped set the table for an exciting main event.
MAIN EVENT (Saturday/Sunday): The Giant Round Robin is the signature event of the Cary Cup. Players are arranged by rating and ultimately must win their way into a Division. And after being placed in a Division, only the top finishers move out of that second round robin and into the single elimination round.
In the Preliminaries, there were a few upsets outside of the Top 20: Chris Xiao (2015), Zelin Ye (2015), Gregg Robertshaw (2085), TJ Sawner (2092), and Martin Del Vecchio (2107) all found themselves in Division A where nearly all of the other players were between 2200 and 2700 in rating.
Division A had a few surprises at the top as well, as three of four top seeds in the four groups fell to the player ranked immediately below them: Hammed-Taiwo Adeyinka (2534) upset the tournament top seed Kaden Xu (2715), Jishan Liang (2641) upset Jinxin Wang (2672), and Kai Zhang (2610) upset Yijun Feng (2679). The top four players from each of the four round robins advanced to the Division A Finals single elimination round, so these upsets affected seeding but did not prevent any of the top players from advancing.
On Sunday, the Single Elimination rounds had fewer upsets. Hammed-Taiwo who had been one of the big stories of the previous day, fell to Yijun Feng in the quarterfinals. Jishan Liang avenged his Thursday event loss to Jimmy Butler and then defeated Canada’s Jeremy Hazin in the quarterfinals. Top seed Kaden Xu defeated Kai Zhang to book his spot in the semifinals. And Junhan Wu defeated Jinxin Wang to take the fourth semifinal spot. Despite all of the shifts and upsets along the way, the final four players included four the top five seeds in the tournaments.
Jishan Liang defeated Yijun Feng (4-2) and Junhan Wu defeated Kaden Xu 4-1 to set up the final.
Junhan Wu, a recent arrival in the US from China, was a dominant player throughout the event. He was the only top seed in Division A to advance unscathed (having won all four matches in the preliminaries and all seven matches in the division without dropping a game). His path to the Finals was not quite as dominant (defeating Jinxin Wang 3-1 and Kaden Xu 4-1), though his 40-2 win record in total games clearly showed he was the favorite.
From the toss, Junhan Wu was off to the races in the finals. The first point was a classic third ball attack by Wu with a careful serve followed by a dominant forehand winner. He and Jishan then traded points to 4-4 before Wu pulled away. The first game ended 11-7 in Wu’s favor and he then sized up his opponent and pressed forward. Game two was tied at 4-4 before Wu run off seven in a row to win the second game 11-4. The third game followed a similar script with Jishan up 5-3 before Wu buckled down and ran off a series of points to win that game 11-5. The final game was also tied 5-5 before Wu pulled ahead. Jishan fought back two points to get within one 7-8, but then Wu closed out the match 11-7.
Amazing control, crisp serves, great returns, solid spinning attacks from both sides and a dominating elite forehand that was a level above all of the competition. The 2018 Cary Cup Champion is China’s Junhan Wu.
Congratulations to Junhan Wu, all of the other competitors, and to Triangle Table Tennis for another thrilling Cary Cup event.
Cary Cup Giant Round Robin Finals:
2018 Finals: Junhan Wu / Jishan Liang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=21&v=pYqbHEyBStY)
2017 Finals: Kaden Xu / Jinxin Wang
2016 Finals: Zhang Bohan / Zirui Zhao
2015 Finals: Kai Zhang /Jishan Liang
2014 Finals: Eugene Wang / Li Kewei