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Hungary 2022 WTT Youth Contender By Sally Moyland

(By: Sally Moylan)

Finally, after a 5-hour drive, we got to Hungary. This was my second tournament of the three in Europe on this tour. I am very excited to say that I was at my first WTT youth tournament in Europe! The first WTT one on the tour was an adult tournament.

We went to check out the competition stadium before heading to our Airbnb. I had my coach and a practice partner with me this time. She participated in the adult tournament and came along with me throughout the next two youth tournaments in Hungary and Slovakia. Check-in went smoothly, as I had experience with youth tournaments already. I met a Taiwan coach just outside the check-in room. He was like, “I thought you were here earlier, I needed you to help translate when I was doing check-in.” “Well, were you able to get it done?”, I asked. “Yeah, I just said whatever. I had no idea what they were talking about…” I had a little giggle.

After my quick check-in, I had a one-hour session just to get familiar with the space and lighting. It was a little tough for me to get moving and in the zone, but it was for sure better than my last tournament. I saw a few familiar faces over there. Instead of just the two that were in Ecuador, the entire Indian team came to Hungary. And of course, I knew all the Taiwanese players.

Our apartment was around fifteen minutes away. It was located in a nice plaza. Under our apartment were a T-mobile shop and a bakery. The door was locked at the time, and no one was answering. To be honest, we felt really lost (we weren’t exactly sure at the time if that was in fact the right place). It was the only apartment-looking thing around, so we hung out for a bit. I decided to call the contact information that was on our papers. The guy on the other end wasn’t an English speaker, but a couple of minutes later, a young lady came to bring us up which indicated that he must’ve done something. We went up one flight and entered the front desk area on the second floor. I panicked a little when they couldn’t find our name on their list. Luckily, it was just that our room was on the third floor which belonged to a different owner and that owner just managed to be a little late to pick us up. Phewww…at least we got somewhere to stay. We did have to wait a while until the owner finally got to us. And boy, was it cold! Anyhow, we got in and checked the place out. One guy seemed to be checking the paperwork, the other guy was more of a translator, and there was also a lady that had the keys and passcode, so a total of three people helped us out. My overall feeling about the place was great. It had a washing machine, a kitchen, utensils, a couple of bedrooms (three beds), a TV, a dressing room, etc. Additionally, the place was cleaned to perfection. After putting our stuff down, the translator took us to our private parking lot. You needed a card to get in and out. On the way there, I had a quick chat with the guy. He was a friend of the owners, just there to help out. His job was actually working with F1. Yeah… a racecar guy. I learned that he was working in Austin, Texas,  and got back to Hungary less than a week ago. At this point, we were at the parking lot. There were quite a few empty spots when we got there. We parked, then learned the path to walk back. That was about all we needed to know, so they headed off and we were now on our own. We went to get groceries first because we knew everything in Europe closed early (at least, that’s how we viewed it). We got meat, bread, veggies, and snacks, and I got some ice cream. It took some effort, but we also managed to find the eggs.

If I remember correctly, I got a burger for dinner. That thing was so huge. My coach still made noodles, but I didn’t have much. The burger seemed to be more than enough. Somehow, during our dinner time together, we stumbled upon one of my videos from 5 years ago. It was a ten-year-old me playing league. First of all, I was so cute back then… Oh my goodness! Second of all, my coach got so excited seeing my forehand. It was actually really good. Arguably, in some ways better than the one I have now. Anyhow, we enjoyed the match where I happened to end up winning. I know this is kinda silly, but the little me doing forehand loops five years ago helped me visualize and in a way helped me to get some feeling back.

Day 1:

Up bright and early, we headed over to the competition arena. Here’s a little on what the place was like, since I didn’t mention it earlier. So, you go in and to your left was a hallway that went a long way down. Towards the end, you’d find the training hall. If I’m not wrong here, the training hall had approximately 12 tables. Off to the right of the entrance was a hallway that led to the check-in area (we went there on the first day) and the stairs for the bleachers. From the entrance, if you looked to your upper right, there would be a third hallway. You would go in, immediately turn right, and basically follow the tunnel. Once you see light again you’re pretty much at the competition hall. From there you could either enter the stadium or keep on going down the hall – which would lead you to the Call Area.

We got there before any of the matches started so we were able to practice in the competition hall. Usually, in between matches, you would go to the training hall. I did a few drills to try and find some feeling. Before I knew it, it was time for my first match already.

I went to the call area and told them my coach, told them my shirt color, chose a ball, and did all that good stuff. Then, it was really game time. Surely enough, my first match was wobbly. My goodness, I couldn’t make three shots on the table. Luckily, my opponent couldn’t make two. After getting past that first match, I scurried to the training hall in hopes to get a few more drills in before my next match. My coach helped me through it a bit and things slowly got better and felt more under control.

My shots still may not have been super stable yet. But, my energy level and confidence level grew back in my second match. Even when things got a little off in the second game, I managed to pull myself back from a 4:10 score. After that, I felt even more on fire. Totally ready for the knockout rounds in the afternoon!

On our way back home I got a chocolate pastry from the bakery downstairs. Oh! That thing was so good. I forgot what we had for lunch. It was probably noodles with some meat, or something along those lines. After that was a small nap. I got up an hour later and checked the draws. Ooof! Tough draws….

My first match wasn’t too intense just yet. I got past that with three straight games. Next up was Japan. I played arguably the toughest country to play in this tournament almost right off the bat. Tough draws…. I went to check in for the match and was asked if I wanted to choose balls. As usual, of course. So, I go to the “ball picking table” and go through the few balls that were there. Nope. So bad. Those balls were so egg-shaped I swear they just came out of a hen. Anyhow, I look back at the umpire and put on my cutest puppy face asking for more balls. Ha! It worked! They gave me a box full of new balls. They weren’t super round, but still better than whatever I started with there. Maybe around fifteen balls in, an umpire suddenly goes, “That’s the one!” – it had been a minute or so and he had been waiting around just hoping that I could find a good one soon. When I confirmed that indeed it was a round one, the relief and happiness I saw in him… absolutely hilarious. I continued, looking for a second ball. Immediately, the same umpire says, “That has to be a good one.” Now, I knew he was just joking around trying to get me to finish up faster, but it was important to use quality balls during matches, so I took my time. I finished up with a couple of good round ones. Off to the match with Japan!

In the beginning, when both players walked in to do the coin toss, our umpire started talking to me. “Are you tired?” Usually, I would not have appreciated this kind of question. I didn’t know what it was with him that made me kinda want to answer him. He was like a young grandpa that was rocking the nice guy/funny guy vibe. “Not yet”, I said.

This round of 32 match with Japan started out rough. I lost the first game by seven whole points. That’s alright, though. At least I was calm and in the zone. Due to that, I was able to come back strong in the second game and level up the match. I started the third game with a 3:0 lead. She then got a net. And another net. I almost got to the second one in which I bent really low. Oops. I was stuck! Kneeling on the floor, I had to stretch my left leg and give it a rest before I was able to get up. “Are you ok?”, the umpire asked. “No.” “Can I have a medical time-out?” “Yeah, sure.” Here’s the story in case you don’t know already. My left knee cap popped out and back in just around three weeks before this tournament. That was painful…. Holy crickets, that’s painful even thinking of it now. Anyhow, my coach, doctor, parents, friends, and I, all put huge amounts of effort to get me back in action. We made it happen, but I did need a knee brace. Also, mobility and strength (though I may not feel it in the moment) were definitely worse than before. That means my left leg would get tired much easier, although I could move around well except for bending low.

So, I get into a medical time-out and a huge guy with this firefighter Halloween costume comes over to me. He had a big medical bag full of stuff and asked me how he could help. I asked for ice. No ice. I asked for icy hot or some kind of muscle spray. Didn’t have that. Dude – you’re at a sports tournament and don’t have the stuff to relieve muscle pain? He looked sad he couldn’t help… that was kinda cute. They went to find muscle spray and I let him spray me just cause he obviously really wanted to help. Luckily for me, it was just a muscle cramp. I asked the umpire how much longer I had (a medical time-out lasts fifteen minutes). “Ummm… Less than five minutes.” “Alright, I’ll be up in a second.”

This round of 32 match was just a hectic one. After the time-out, I got sweat on the table and had to ask the umpire to help clean it at least once or twice. Good for me, he was very chill about it. Some umpires would get annoyed when they needed to get up and wipe the table. As play continued, I managed to pull through with a 3:1 victory, winning by just two-point margins in the third and fourth games.

I had probably less than forty minutes before my next match, which meant only twenty minutes of practice (you needed to turn in your paddle twenty minutes before the match). This was my last match of the day. Round of 16 in the U17 event against a U19 world-ranked top-ten player from India. We encountered each other a couple of times in Ecuador and our “Head to Head matchup” was 1:1. I was slightly worn down but still mustered up the energy for the full five-game match. It was crazy intense, and I was lucky enough to be the one on top. As my dad always says, “Both winning and losing hurt. Winning just hurts less.”

My legs were super fatigued walking back home from the parking lot. For dinner, I had that same huge burger because they were the only guys open so late. I’m telling you – stuff in Europe is not going to open at night, max is into the evening. Remember the ice cream I got? I didn’t have a good appetite for the burger but I had a lot of ice cream….

Day 2:

The second day started off with the U19 groups. All WTT youth events have very similar (if not exactly the same) schedules. The first day will be U17 and U13. The second day will start U15 and U19, and finish U17 and U13. I’m not sure when they do the U11, that’s a little far out for me. The third day should be the last day.

I had two matches to play in my group for the U19 event. I took victory in the first match smoothly. My second match started out well. It was against Hong Kong. She had pips on her backhand side, and was probably slightly older since she didn’t participate in the U17 event. I had a 2:0 lead and I started out the third game with a few lucky points. It was here that I got a little “Oh, I’m sorry” feeling. Very bad. You should acknowledge your luck, but you still gotta beat them into the ground. Don’t copy me here. This could easily be a turning point, and it was for my match. I started hitting wimpy shots and she was still coming at me strong. I hope you can learn from my mistake and hopefully not make it yourself. Don’t be feeling bad for your opponent during a match.

It for sure was a bummer to lose a match like that. However, I had to let it go quickly. I still had a whole U17 event waiting for me.

Picking up from where we left off yesterday (R16), today I was going to play in the quarterfinals. My opponent had long pips and was from Thailand. I didn’t know of her until I searched for her matches. And my goodness me, what a surprise… She just happened to be the recent Asian Youth U15 champion. That did put me on my nerves a little. My Taiwanese friends came to me and told me about her during my warm-up. They were like, “Japan lost to her because they just kept powering the ball. Her underspin is really spinny. Don’t be dumb and loop everything, OK?”. Ok….

So, preparing for the match to be tough I got ready for long rallies and spinny shots. Surprisingly, my friends were quite right. I won two games without powering and lost the third because I tried to add too much quality that caused many unforced errors. No worries, though, I adjusted and finished off the match in the fourth game.

Now, onto the semifinals. You think a long pips from Thailand is as weird as it can get? Let me tell you… You’re wrong big time. My next opponent was from Poland. Her style was probably as funky as a table tennis racket can get – long pips on the backhand and short pips on the forehand (before checking her paddle up close, I thought she was using anti-spin on her backhand side). I was wondering if her paddle actually weighed anything. That just seemed soooo light. Anyhow, despite the unique style (and to be honest, weird technique), she did have quite a good hit rate. Her step-around forehand smack smacked my soul out of me in the second game. Her weakness was more her serve and receive due to her being unable to generate much spin with pips on both sides. I took advantage of that and put the pressure of high quality onto her early in the rallies. Sticking to my strategy point by point, I advance to the finals with a 3:1 victory.

This was a big moment for me. I was on a finals stage in an international tournament. And against such a strong country (Japan)…..oh boy. Looking back, I seemed to be more excited than nervous though I couldn’t tell at the time. We were the last match of the day. The whole arena was only left with the sound of us playing, coaches clapping, and maybe a few people cheering. I was really in the zone, just totally dialed in. As an athlete, that’s the feeling you strive for, or at least that’s what I strive for during tournaments. It’s at that moment you feel nothing but the fun of competing and you can, in a true sense, enjoy your sport.

Our first two games were very back-and-forth. She lost the first game with two game points as I did, too, in the second. I actually believe in some sense she was a stronger player than me. However, I was the more aggressive one when it came to rallies. That’s what got me through the next two games by slim margins. It was tight, but nonetheless, I came out on top. A 3:1 victory over a second Japanese player for the championship. What a feeling…. My coach got excited after the last point, but for me, it was just a short sigh and a large smile. The sigh was because I was drained out. The smile was because of pure happiness in my first WTT victory.

The awards ceremony was held right after the match. The champion trophy was at most 2 millimeters taller than finalist trophy, and that’s me imagining it being taller. Also, the trophy had weird eye shape things on it which was… interesting. No matter, no worries, I still had a great time. We got some pictures, and I was lucky enough to bring a U17 title and a piece of plastic back home.

Day 3:

For the U19 event, I lost to a Hong Kong girl in the round of 32. This would be a different Hong Kong girl. She also had pips on her backhand side, though. Ok, I gotta tell you guys something.  Probably the most “What the HECK” moment of the tournament was this one right here. The umpire asked me if I wanted black or white for the coin toss. I chose black. So, he had the black side face up to start the toss. Then, he didn’t really flip the coin. Instead, he just turned it onto his other hand making the white side face up. “White.” Proceeds to turn to my opponent. “Do you want service, receive, or side?” What on earth was that?! My opponent was just as confused and in awe as I was. Can’t say much other than “what the heck” to that one, can you? As for the match…. We’ll just say that it was one heck of a match in itself, but I think our story of my trip to Hungary has been long and exciting enough.

Here’s a quick recap. I won the U17 girls’ title – my first WTT youth title. I had a first-time experience with WTT medical timeouts. I also played a tournament in a knee brace for the first time. My U19 journey ended a little earlier. Comparing my feelings after both events, I played well in both but, again, as my dad says, “Losing and winning both hurt. Winning just hurts less.” The more I play the more I feel it and agree with it. But overall, this trip was a great one. And as always, I want to give a big thanks to my parents, my coaches, and Bowmar Sports.

Thank you guys for reading!! I’m heading off to Portugal at the moment to compete in a WTT Youth Star Contender, then I’ll be headed to Tunis for the World Youth Championships. Wish me the best and I hope you can enjoy more of my trip reports in the future! See you next time!

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