(By Sally Moyland)
Just a little over ten days after my return from Portugal, I was going on to tackle another tournament – the US Open that was held in Las Vegas. I’ve never gotten to the bottom of why it’s been Las Vegas each year, but I guess it’s a thing. I do sincerely feel bad for players from the East coast, as it’s a long journey.
The first day arriving at Las Vegas wasn’t too hectic for us. Dad dropped me and Mom off at Mandalay Bay as he went to check us into our hotel. I was at Mandalay Bay to check-in as well, but for table tennis rather than lodging. The tournament was held in Mandalay Bay’s Convention Center. Although it would be closer if we stayed at their hotel, we decided not to. Three simple reasons – high price, no stove, and the fact that we didn’t want to engage with any casinos. I’m quite sensitive to smoke, and people who gamble tend to smoke and… you know what I mean. Back to checking in. Since we didn’t stay at the expected hotel, all the signs that pointed in the direction of the event were out of sight. They didn’t put up any signs for the outer hallways. So, first thing we notice once we’re inside is that the competition hall had moved locations from where the Nationals had been in July, and that we were just slightly lost. It took us almost fifteen minutes until we saw some people heading upstairs. After going upstairs, however, we were lost again. I mean, seriously, this place was huge. Anyhow, we found our way. Gotta give the credit to Mom here, as I was kinda just wandering. While Mom helped me on the check-in part, I headed in to try and reserve a table for later practice. Now, I do have to say that there were some improvements from last July. The space was definitely larger, but the tables were the same ones that I didn’t like last time. Surprisingly and luckily, the balls didn’t seem to have as weird a reaction to the tables anymore.
Slowly, more people showed up. And before I knew it, the place was jam packed with players. Luckily for me, I did manage to hold a few tables and so, was good. Along with the many people that showed up, my coach and a few fellow teammates came. We had a good couple hours of warm-up together. I was still in form from Portugal, so I didn’t encounter as many problems during warm up as I usually would have.
After practice, Mom and I left for our hotel. Dad came to pick us up. Once making it into our room, I noticed that the layout was more like an apartment rather than a hotel room. It had nice space, two tables, a stove, a microwave, dishes, cutlery, two beds, a sofa bed, and a TV. As for the bathroom….my goodness, absolutely the best one I have ever come across. The most used thing by me and my family throughout the week of competition would be the jacuzzi. A pleasant massage at the end of each day. More than once would I go in for a shower and bath while everyone was still having dinner and come out to find my parents sound asleep. Ah yes…losing track of time in paradise. Who is there to blame for such a crime?
My first day of competition was one of the lighter days. I was still quite nervous, though, and couldn’t really eat anything. Subway cookies were probably my only source of nutrition.
I had one event that day – U15 girls’ singles. Starting at eleven and playing from the quarterfinals, we were scheduled to finish at 7:30 PM. Crazily enough, we had an almost three hour delay and ended up finishing at 10:30 PM! Even so, I pulled through to take my first gold of the tournament. U15 champion was one of my pre-tournament goals.
I had two adult events on this day. I advanced through both the group and R16 stages of Women’s singles. In the quarters, I encountered a very strong player. She was the only opponent that I played in this tournament to have higher rating than me. She had middle-long pips on her backhand side and smooth rubber on her forehand. Though the kind of pips that she used was quite uncommon, I still had confidence. I took the first game of the best of seven match pretty quick. Then, I got a little rushed and fell behind in the second game. Though recovering a bit, I still dropped the game by a three point margin. Not only in best of five matches are third games important, third games are just as equally important in best of seven matches. From the second game, I had managed to stabilize myself, and that led to better performance in the third game. I was leading 10:6, but with just one point to go, I started to space out. It wasn’t an immediate flip, but I still lost at deuce. Now, that was a hard blow. Getting hit by a comeback like that was really harsh on the momentum. Somehow, I found the way to get it back even, 2:2. But honestly, starting from the third game on, I could already feel my opponent gaining confidence in her shots. She also switched up her serves much more. I quickly dropped the fifth game. Down three to two in games and dragging at least five points behind in the sixth, an originally very confident me was now kind of lost for direction. However, at this point, my opponent seemed to have taken the match a little too lightly with that large lead, as she started to drop consecutive points. I brought the game to a one point margin at 9:10. It was her with the serve, and she decided to serve a flat ball. I tried to catch the half-long, but missed the timing by just a bit. It was a very abrupt end to such an intense match, but I had to accept that I had lost a really good chance for a medal in the Women’s singles event. Trying to get over the devastating moment, I sat there for about five minutes just staring into nothing. Gathering my emotions, I got up. My mixed doubles partner – a coach- was waiting for me. We were to play our first match together as well as our last match of the day. We didn’t practice much doubles with each other. But, since we both had fairly good individual skill-sets, we were a pretty solid doubles team. Our opponents were from Australia, and it was my first time seeing any players from there come to the US Open. One of them used pips on the backhand side. Nevertheless, my partner and I managed to advance by taking three straight games.
On this second to last day of my competition, the number of matches that were scheduled just sky-rocketed. I was supposed to play eleven matches. But, with my last match expected to end at 8 PM, we all knew that it would have to be delayed. My hopes of getting all of them done really wasn’t high. Since I played the U19 girls’ singles on this day, let me explain the special situation. Most of the top youth players attended the World Youth Championships just around two weeks ago in Portugal. Some players, unlike myself, had more events to play after finishing the teams competition. I only had the teams event, so I came back early. And, even with an extra few days back in the States, I still only had one week before coming to the Open. Besides just going through a long trip trying to come back, they would still have bad jetlag. Another reason many players didn’t come was because of school work. A lot of them had a Finals test week conflict with the competition week. As it turned out, from the girls in Portugal, I was the only one that participated in the US Open. However, almost all the boys came, and that led to a massively intense competition among them.
In the semi-finals of my U19 singles event, I was matched against a player that I had competed against and lost to two years ago. However, I managed to overcome her this time and advance
to the finals. My finals opponent was someone that I had competed against recently, but with poor results. The last two matches that I had played against her were just so extremely depressing to think about. The first time I played her was in the 2021 National Ranking Tournament. I had really high confidence in that tournament. The match started out in my favor. I jumped out 2:0 and was 6:3 up in the third game. She then called a timeout. After her timeout, I totally lost the thread. It was in the moment when I thought of winning that I became rushed to close out the match. This hazardous emotion led to clumsy mistakes. The tides turned and I found myself down 7:10 in the final game. After a crazy recovery, I still lost the last game 10:12, and that hurt pretty bad. The second time we played hurt even more. I was actually down 0:2 in games this time. After coming back to tie it at two a piece, all the momentum was on my side. Starting out the last game with a large 5:0 lead, I managed to lose it and find myself yet again down 7:10. Also again, I come back to make it even, but still fall short, this time 11:13. So, now you know the sad story of my history with this opponent. Let’s see how our third encounter went.
Taking gold in the U19 event was also one of my main goals this time, so I was very focused. The first advantage that I made sure to have was a clear mind. Going through detailed pre-game preparation was very important. The other advantage was my mental state relative to hers. I was the one fighting and challenging her. I kept this mental state throughout the match, and that definitely helped me stay focused.
I started out the first game trailing behind, then fought back to take it. The next game was quite the opposite. I took a strong lead but then she made a strong comeback and took the game. At one a piece, the third game was critical. And let me tell you, this third game had crazy ups and downs and drew a lot of attention. Bunches of people came in from all directions to watch us. It was as if we were on Table 1. I was leading by six points at 9:3. But, it was like I had a curse with this opponent or something, as she started to come back on me, again. I was very cautious about the score and knew that the third game was, quite frankly, a match decider. After dropping three consecutive points, I myself called a timeout at 9:6. Coming back from my timeout, things didn’t seem to get better. I was the one getting nervous and she came to even it up at nine a piece. I found the guts to serve long topspin as a surprise attack. It got me an ace as she hit it wide when trying to go down the line. My sideline coach indicated for me to serve it again. I was down for the strategy since it had worked and was very straightforward. Of course, I directly missed my serve. Come on, man! Now, that was a big mess up. Not only were the audience and I shocked, even my opponent’s expression was “What just happened? Did I just win that point?”. Making my only service error throughout the whole tournament almost cost me. Luckily, I caught myself and won the deuce marathon at 14:12. Then, I successfully took the fourth game to capture my first ever U19 title. This finals was my last match of the day. Since it was pretty late, we all agreed to move the U19 and U15 mixed doubles to the next day. I was ok with it since we hadn’t even started the mixed doubles event.
Outside of my singles matches, I also competed in two other doubles matches – mixed doubles (adult) and U19 girls’ doubles. In the girls’ doubles, we dropped the first and only match to the eventual gold medal team. For the mixed doubles match, we were up against Canada. That was quite the challenge, but we managed to win and advance to the semis!
It was the last day of competition for me, and my most relaxed day as well. I had finished all my singles events. No matter good or bad, they were all behind. After a early morning defeat in
the semifinals of my mixed doubles event (adut), the rest of the day was mixed doubles (U15 and U19) with my “real” partner. We had already been tested at the Pan American Youth Championships, and had worked well together and were a very strong pair. In this tournament, we accomplished an incredible feat by taking gold in both age groups without dropping a single game. It was definitely fun to step out and play more doubles events. Personally, it was an awesome ending to this tournament.
This US Open had some of the worst schedule delays ever, but I also had a lot of fun. Out of the seven events i participated in, I obtained 6 medals – 4 gold and 2 bronze. My performance was quite solid, and I was happy with how I did. But, because of staying focused throughout the tournament I could see the problems I needed to work on. Ever forward!
Thank you to Butterfly for all the support and the always joyful experience at the booth. Also, a big thanks to my coaches and teammates. I hope to see you soon in the next tournament. Bye!
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