(by Steve Hopkins)
USA Table Tennis continued its T2 Challenge Series this week with an Encore Edition of Thursday Night Live. The team format from previous versions has ended (Team Butterfly overcame Team Nittaku 6-3 in that Series), but USATT continues to bring us quality table tennis. This week, the event matches two young, up and coming players against each other with the event held at the California Table Tennis Center, a Butterfly Club in Rosemead, California. The players this week are Nick Tio and Ted Li.
Nick Tio is from Irvine and as the commentators (Sean O’Neill and Mark Thompson” pointed out in the lead-in to the match, Nick is in great shape heading into the World Championships in February as a part of Team USA. Perhaps everyone expected Nick Tio to cruise except for the 15-year-old from San Diego, as Butterfly player Ted Li started fast was strong throughout.
The first game went easily to Nick Tio. Neither player dominated in regard to pace or score, as both seemed tentative early. But it was Nick that built a 2 point lead, and they held on for an 11-8 win. The second game followed a similar pattern, with very standard points on both sides with sort serves and returns followed by an initial loop and a flurry of controlled attacking shots from both sides. As the second game continued, the attacks became stronger and the pace quickened. At 6-6, a blistering forehand by Nick was intended to gain an advantage with an exclamation point, but instead it was a Ted Li counter that set Ted out to a 2 point lead. With the script reversed, it was Ted who then held on for an 11-10 win.
Nick Tio led for the whole third game. He won the first 3 points, then the lead narrowed and expanded – but with as close as the matches had been, the small lead early on was enough to maintain a lead and coast to a victory.
The fourth game was yet another script reversal. It was Ted Li who jumped out to the early lead (6-2) and who then held on to even the match 2-2.
Game five continued with the same basic pattern of play. Most serves were short and most serve returns were short as well. Ted Li turns long shots towards Nick Tio’s backhand – and Nick takes on the role of aggressor either with cross court backhand attacks or by stepping around and attacking with his forehand. On the flip side, Ted Li has been allowing Nick to be the aggressor, but he has stepped into the pace with strong counter attacks – often finding open seems for winners.
With the Fast 5 rules in effect allowing a winner to score only 5 points, it was Ted Li who struck first. Ted won the first of the shortened games 5-1 giving him the advantage of 3-2 in the match.
Nick Tio started strong in Game 6 with an all-out forehand attack. Nick also changed up his serves, pressing the pace with longer serves looking to press the pace. After a very quick series of points, it was Nick who evened up the match with his own 5-1 win.
The stage was then set for the seventh and final game. First point to Ted Li returning three strong Nick attacks. Second point to Nick with a big forehand loop for a winner. Third point to Ted Li with a backhand heavy angle that moved Nick very wide to his left. Fourth point to Ted who played a heavy-spin, controlled loop that Nick didn’t control (3-1 Ted). The fifth point saw a strong Nick Tio loop countered by a flat Ted Li backhand that pressed Nick into missing his next attack (4-1 Ted). Nick saved one match point with a long serve that was missed. Nick followed that up with a strong crosscourt forehand attack that brought the score up to 4-3. But after a timeout, Nick missed a forehand loop giving Ted Li the upset win.
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