Article and Photos Courtesy of Tom Lackaff, Table Tennis Info
After setting the record for 90-degree days here in Portland, summer is at long last chilling the heck out. While the weather may be cooling, the table tennis is hotter than ever! Case in point: the 2018 Oregon State Championships, a USATT-sanctioned event, held September 8th at the Paddle Palace Club in Tigard, Oregon, brought out a pantheon of table tennis luminaries. Champions past and future battled to see who would represent the present.
The first event of the day, the Open Doubles saw eight teams competing for the title of top tandem. The top two seeds in the singles draw, Paddle Palace pros Jiwei Xia (2621) and Ryan Hoarfrost (2195) paired up to form double trouble, blazing their way to the finals without dropping a game. In their way stood two steely-eyed veterans of Oregon table tennis: Hau Lam (2119) and Jay Crystal (1957, also the year he was born!), each a former state champion in the Open Singles. Before the match, Jiwei expressed a simple game plan: “We will try hard,” although a hint of a sly smile perhaps betrayed a justifiable confidence. Hau’s goal was also simple: “Just try to survive and not get blasted out too bad.” Easier said than done against such formidable firepower!
Hau and Jay, an ideal pairing of big lefty-righty forehands, put up an admirable fight but never really got into a rhythm. Ryan’s befuddling variety of high-toss inside-out serves created an abundant buffet of attacking opportunities for Jiwei to feast on. After Jay and Hau lost the first two games at 3 and 4, it was looking grim for the more tenured twosome. When Jiwei’s chop-block dribbled over the net to go up 4-0 in game 3, it looked all but over. Perhaps remembering their modest but attainable goal of not getting blasted out, Hau and Jay rallied admirably to tie it up at 8-all. Could the momentum be shifting? Not so fast, said Jiwei and Ryan, who summarily rattled off three straight points to seal it. Joked Hau: “We did our job: not at zero!” More than that, both teams put on a great show. Congrats to Jiwei and Ryan, truly a dynamic duo!
OPEN SINGLES RR
After the thrilling doubles action, partnerships are dissolved and players go off in search of individual glory. A total of 27 players threw their hats in the ring, making for a highly competitive field. The Open Singles trophy dates back to 1939, with first and second places engraved each year. Could anyone stop Open Doubles winners Jiwei Xia and Ryan Hoarfrost from etching their names on the eightieth row? As anyone who has played for any amount of time can attest, anything can happen in table tennis. After all, tournaments wouldn’t be much fun if they just handed out the prizes to the top seeds!
The top two players in seven round-robin groups graduated to the elimination rounds. Of these 14, only one was not seeded first or second: unrated Pradeep Anthony Roy overcame his group’s #2 seed Samir Patel to advance, only to run into tough-as-nails chopper Nicholas Daescu (2025), who dispatched him in straight sets. Congrats, Pradeep! As Bruce Willis said in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party, pal!”
Inevitably, some former doubles partners became rivals. In the quarterfinals, Open Doubles finalists Hau Lam and Jay Crystal got reacquainted under decidedly different circumstances. Game 1 came down to the wire, with Jay pulling it out at deuce. Hau quickly got even with an 11-5 win in game 2. Game 3 saw some great counterlooping rallies, with Hau’s right-handed side-topspin curving into Jay’s left-handed mirror image, creating a mesmerizing lateral arc in the ball’s trajectory. At 7-all in this pivotal game, Jay ripped a forehand loop down the line for a winner, giving him the momentum to secure the game 11-8. In game 4, Hau came out more aggressively and builds a 6-3 lead. Up 7-5, Hau caught Jay out of position with a step-around inside out forehand loop to Jay’s southpaw forehand, forcing an error. Hau ran it out 11-6, and this seesaw battle continued to the deciding fifth game. In game 5, it was 3-all when Jay hit his own inside-out forehand loop for a winner, firing him up. Jay kept the pressure on Hau with slow, 1970s-style loops and sudden smashes, finishing on an 8-1 run to snatch this match from his doubles partner.
For his efforts, Jay earned a matchup with Ryan Hoarfrost in the semis, with the winner guaranteed at least a runner-up nod on the timeless trophy. Ryan came out blazing and dominated the first game 11-1. Leading 5-1 in the second, Ryan whipped a backhand loop-kill crosscourt that Jay can only look at wistfully. Trailing 8-1, Jay went for broke and landed a rare winner against one of Ryan’s sinister serves, but Ryan wasted little time in securing the second game 11-3. With history on the line, they went to the third game to either end or extend the match. Jay seized the initiative and hit a forehand winner down the line to notch the first point. Tied 5-all, one of Jay’s patented throwback slow loops forced an error. The classics never go out of style! They proceeded in lockstep to 9-all, but Ryan calmly looped his way through the next two points and secured his spot on the trophy.
In the other semifinal, the aforementioned chopper Nicholas Daescu faced top seed Jiwei Xia. A lefty from Romania, Nicholas has a variety of unorthodox but effective strokes which made Jiwei pay attention to his spin variations. Not afraid to attack, Nicholas got a few good shots in but lost the first 5-11. In the second, Nicholas seemed to adjust to the power of Jiwei’s loops. Nicholas led 4-2, 5-3, and 7-6 before Jiwei, pumped after smashing a lob across Washington and somewhere into Canada, runs the table for an 11-6 win. In the third, Jiwei served and loop-killed his way to a convincing 11-3 win and a spot next to Ryan in the finals.
Since both of these Open Doubles champions had already guaranteed a place on the Open Singles trophy, the only question was the age-old koan of Abbott and Costello: “Who’s on first?” Leading 4-3 in the first, Jiwei ripped a backhand loop from his forehand court for a winner, drawing oohs and ahs from the crowd. Jiwei pulled away for an 11-5 win. In the second, Jiwei continued hitting loops that flouted the laws of physics. Ryan’s serves are deadly, but Jiwei used his lightning-quick backhand flip to seize the early advantage, building a 9-1 lead. Ryan won a few power-looping exchanges but Jiwei again wins the game 11-5. In the third, Ryan stayed aggressive, forcing Jiwei to block. Attacking the middle allowed Ryan to neutralize some of Jiwei’s two-winged looping game and stay even, 3-3, 5-5, 9-9, until it is deuce in the do-or-die moment for Ryan. A service winner gave him game point, and another loop to Jiwei’s elbow forced an error to extend the match! Revitalized, Ryan jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth game. Down 4-6, Jiwei hit a ridiculous sidespin chop-block for a winner, but Ryan’s endless variety of serve variations and topspin pressure allowed him to pull away for an 11-7 win. We’re going the distance, folks! The crowd was buzzing: Game 5 in the Open Finals! Can Ryan pull off the huge upset?
Serving the first point, Ryan cast his vote in the affirmative with a forehand winner. It went back and forth, 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, with tightly contested spinny chess matches over the table spontaneously erupting into brilliant counterlooping rallies. Jiwei holds the edge in such exchanges, however, and led 5-3 when they switched ends. On the next point, topspin pressure from Ryan forced Jiwei to miss a forehand long. Trailing by a point, Ryan then missed a backhand flip. Up 6-4, Jiwei turned the tables on Ryan’s “loop to the middle” strategy, handcuffing him for the point. A service winner later and Jiwei is suddenly up 8-4. Undaunted, Ryan fires an inside-out forehand loop kill for a winner. Now up 8-5, Jiwei’s forehand clipped the net and sailed long, and the crowd started buzzing again. Each player then took a turn missing a forehand, giving Jiwei a 9-7 lead. An off-speed, heavy-spin loop gave Jiwei a 10-7 lead and three championship points. On the first, more heavy spin from Ryan forced an error from Jiwei’s backhand. There’s a reason Jiwei is Oregon’s top player: he knows how to adjust his tactics. On the next point, he ripped a backhand loop-kill for a thrilling 11-8 win! Congratulations to both players for securing your places on the immortal trophy, and to Jiwei for the championship!
OVER 40 RR
Eligibility for this prestigious event was determined using a cutting-edge biometric scanner that calculated each entrant’s age in years, expressed this number in millimeters, and converted this distance into the diameter of a perfect circle laser-cut in a sheet of metal. Once the metal cooled, the infallible machine would roll a regulation Nittaku 3-star premium 40-mm ball over said piece of metal. If the ball did not drop through, or get stuck exactly halfway down, the fraudulent youngster was politely but firmly told to try again next year. Why not just calculate the player’s age, you ask? Extra layers of security!
In all seriousness, this event drew a competitive field and produced a number of exciting matches in the three round-robin groups and the elimination rounds. In the final, lefty Samir Patel (1622) faced top seed Hrishi Bhalwankar (1666). Taking the initiative with a third ball attack at 6-all, Samir held on to win the first game 11-9. In the second, Hrishi was looking to attack more with his big forehand but seemed to have trouble decoding the deceptive motion on Samir’s serves, resulting in another 11-9 win for Samir. In game 3, Hrishi’s forehand started to hit its mark and he got on the board with an 11-6 win. In the fourth, it is looking like anyone’s match at 2-all when Samir closed on a 9-3 run to secure the minor upset for a major title. Congratulations Samir!
WOMEN’S OPEN SINGLES RR
After a spirited round-robin, including an impressive showing from Juniors semifinalist Cheery Zhang (1216), the finals of the Women’s Open came down to two former Open Singles state champions: Judy Hoarfrost (1929) and Simone Yang (2168). These two former USA Team members know each other’s games well, so it came down to who could execute her game plan. In game 1, Simone raced out to a 5-0 lead before adding insult to injury with a net ball. They proceeded to split the next ten points, thus giving game 1 to Simone 11-5. In game 2, Judy came out swinging and smashed home a forehand winner for the first point. Unfazed, Simone calmly used her backhand pips to control Judy’s spin and run off nine points in a row. Judy wins three of the next four, giving Simone six game points. Two backhand smash winners bring Judy to 6-10. Two forehand smash winners pull her to 8-10, but an errant backhand ends her spirited comeback and gives Simone a 2-0 lead. Game 3 stays neck-and-neck to 8-all but Simone’s unrelenting forehand attacks give her the next three points and the championship. Congratulations Simone!
While table tennis is a game for kids of all ages, the Juniors event puts a hard cap at 18. These whippersnappers may not yet be eligible to vote, but they nonetheless waged brilliant campaigns. After some spirited rallies in the semis, the finals came down to the top two seeds: Kevin Nguyen (1251) vs. Dean Schultz (1692). Although Dean was a heavy favorite, Kevin was gunning for an upset. In game 1, Dean sprinted to an 8-1 lead before Kevin mounted a mini-comeback and cut it to 8-4. Dean got his mid-range looping game dialed in and won the first game 11-5. In game 2, Dean again jumped out to an 8-1 lead and ran it out to an 11-2 win. It looked like Dean was going to run away with the match, but Kevin wasn’t giving up the title without a fight. In game 3, Kevin got the timing on his blocks down and was able to move Dean around and look to counterloop, propelling him to a convincing 11-7 win. Suddenly we had a match on our hands! Game 4 saw both players raising the stakes with brilliant looping attacks from all angles. At 4-4, Dean smashed a lob into the next court. He continued to pressure Kevin with medium-speed, heavy-spin midrange forehand loops. Down 5-7, Kevin punch-blocked one of these spinny devils to Dean’s open forehand court for a winner. Another clutch point later and it’s 7-all, but before Kevin can square up the match, Dean set his phasers on stun and finished on a 4-1 run. Congrats to both players for a great match and to Dean for the championship!
OVER 60 RR
An elite group of players bore the distinction of being alive when John Lennon and Paul McCartney hired George Harrison to play lead guitar in their skiffle band The Quarrymen. For this distinguished group came the chance to be crowned the state’s top sexagenarian. After an impressive run to the semifinals of the Open, two-time former state champion Jay Crystal was looking for more. In his way stood a formidable gang of veteran paddle slingers. In the end, unrated dark horse Duane Smith was all that stood in the way of the title. Armed with pips and tenacious chopping game, Duane chased down nearly every one of Jay’s bullet forehands. In the end, Jay’s unrelenting attack was too much, and he looped and smashed his way to a straight-sets victory. Duane was having so much fun, however, a casual observer would have thought he was dominating the match. Congrats to Jay, back on top once again!
TIGARD STREET FAIR CHALLENGE
Running concurrently with the championships was the Tigard Street Fair, where Paddle Palace set up a booth and a table for public use. Many were called but an elite eight were chosen to participate in a spontaneous tournament back inside the club. Playing for a $50 Paddle Palace gift certificate, the field was whittled down to Justin McClain, a tennis player with a two-handed backhand, and Mike Nelson, a self-professed “non-sporting person” (though a dominant run to the finals would indicate otherwise). Mike played a steady control game, patiently waiting for his opening, whereas Justin had a very aggressive two-winged topspin attack. In game 1, Mike led 10-8 when Justin staved off two game points with his double-fisted backhand attack. Mike was too steady, though, and held on to win the first game. In game 2, Justin was getting his forehand more involved but still looking to step around and attack with the backhand, a winning strategy as he won 11-9 to even the match. Game three saw each player refining his style, Mike playing close and tight and Justin swinging for the fences, with Justin again eking it out 11-9. Leading two games to one, Justin continued to wield his sledgehammer backhand to an 11-8 win, and the championship was in his two-fisted grip. For alleged amateurs, he and Mike had the crowd riveted with their thrilling rallies. Congratulations to all participants, and to Justin McClain, the 2018 Oregon Street Fair State Champion!
Paddle Palace has for decades established its prominence in the world of table tennis equipment, and this tournament cemented the competitive dominance of its 2-year-old club. It’s Xia Jiwei’s world; we just live in it! Given his reputation as a top-notch coach and the abundance of talented up-and-coming young players in the area, his greatest threat to dethrone him may very well be one of his own disciples.
This was a wonderful event, not only for the many professionals and serious competitors but also for us amateurs and spectators. Integrating with the street fair was a great way to share our sport with the community, and inviting people off the street to compete was a stroke of genius. Clearly, a good time was had by all!
- USATT Ratings Results