(by Steve Hopkins)
USA Table Tennis continued its T2 Challenge Series this week. The team format from previous versions has ended (Team Butterfly overcame Team Nittaku 6-3 in that Series). This week, the event matches two top juniors against each other with the event held at the California Table Tennis Center, a Butterfly Club in Rosemead, California. It is chopper Rachel Yang against a more offense-minded, all-around player Alex Wu. Alex’s style is a mix of defensive and control shots which he uses to set up his big topspin forehand. Rachel is a strong chopper and style clearly game Alex trouble from the beginning.
The first game went easily to Rachel. The second game also went easily to Rachel. It took Alex a while to get used to playing a defensive player, and perhaps it took both players a little extra time to feel out their often defensive-minded opponents in an era where both generally play offensive minded players.
Alex had a better start to the third game and toward the end of that game he finally seemed content to play defense to defense, mixing in some bigger shots after patiently waiting for his openings. After being down 7-9, he came back and won four points in a row to take the third game.
Early in the fourth game, Alex continued his winning tactics. He stayed safe with his returns and picked his moments to attack. The first five points went to Alex, and then the traded points with Alex nursing his lead and playing with better pace. Game four to Alex 11-6 to even up the game score.
The fifth game is a continuation of the previous two with Alex now controlling the pace and playing his backhand patiently with the two players pushing to each other – but with Alex then opening the topspin with a big forehand. The players were evenly matched with the score tied at 4-4, and then 5-5, and then again at 6-6. It was Rachel that finally pulled ahead – building a 10-7 lead and then closing out the game 11-7. Rachel up 3-2 as we enter the Fast5 portion of the match – where games are shorter with the winner being the first to 5 points.
Game 6 is a momentum change with Rachel playing chops, and Alex becoming more offensive minded. Both players were still very strong with their underspin shots from both sides, but at each opportunity for his forehand attach, he plays strong shots and presses the pace. Alex was up 4-2, needing only one point for the victory, but it was Rachel who ran off three points in a row to seal the win.
Rachel Yang over Alex Wu 4-2.
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