Atlanta Fall Table Tennis Open – Roger Dickson

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For a second weekend in a row, Sameh and I were on the road to a very nice venue for some table tennis.  This weekend, Sept. 29,  it was the Lucky Shoals Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Usually I head down the night before, but this time we decided to drive down the morning of the tournament. Little did I know that in Atlanta yellow on Google Maps meant a five lane road was down to two lanes, so we got to the Center 5 minutes after the tournament started! While that didn’t bother Sameh, I just never recovered from the long drive and it made for a long day!

Sameh was surprised to see he was the #2 seed with a rating of 2515! Having played at this venue during the summer, the strongest players were low 2300 to high 2200 level. Number one seed Yijun Feng, who is just 15 years old and has a 2522 rating, was in China training during the summer, so was not in Atlanta when Sameh played here before. In fact the two players from the summer event were now the #7 and 8 seeds and had to play each other in the first round robin qualifier!

None of the Open group top seeds were upset, so the quarter –final matches had some spectacular points and very high level matches! Sameh drew an unknown quantity in a visiting Czechoslovakian junior player. In match play at the Atlanta leagues over the past few weeks he was undefeated! The youngster roared out of the gate to a 7-1 lead against Sameh but couldn’t hold on as experience won the first 13-11. Game two saw the youngster again charge ahead only to be reeled in by the steady play and often surprising backhand attack from Sameh. Winning the second at 12-10, Sameh quickly ended the comeback hopes by winning the last 6 points in a row for an 11-5 win and important 3-0 match win.

The other quarter –finals were at least 3-1 match scores, and several of the games were several deuce points long! Carlos Ko survived University of Mississippi stand out Zhiqiao “Joe” Xie 14-12 in the fifth, just to draw Yijun in the semi-finals! Yang Yu - who is in his last year at the University of Mississippi – got by John Mar in a tough 3-1 match for a semi-finals match with Sameh.

Yang Yu stormed out to a 5-1 lead just to be caught at 9-9! Sameh ends the first game with several well played counter loops all over the table! Just like the first Yang Yu comes out on fire but just can’t get the game put away and again loses tight at the end! Mean while the other semi –final is 1-1 in games and Carlos has a 8-6 lead in the 3rd. Yijun’s coach calls a great time out and the 15 year old player is like a old veteran, winning the game 13-11! Facing elimination a determined Carlos is getting offensive control but over plays his attack trying to end the point too quickly and Yijun advances to the final. As tight as that match was, the opposite happened with Yang Yu and Sameh! With a two game lead Sameh focused on moving the ball to wide angles and the minor tactical change put more pressure on Yang Yu and he made more errors in that game than the first two combined - Sameh advances 3-0!

Yijun is a new generation penhold table tennis player, attacking with both sides of his racket and the quality of the backhand attack was enough to get him the first game of the Finals with Sameh. The second game was controlled by Sameh’s service variation and the critical first attack. In the third game Sameh pulls ahead early and the crowd is amazed that Sameh takes a time out when Yijun gets two in a row to get the score to 10-6. In a best of five this game is very crucial and by taking the time out Sameh forced Yijun to think about the possible serves Sameh could use. The point was anti-climatic as Yijun misplayed the serve and Sameh had an easy game finisher. Up 2-1, getting the lead was critical for Sameh and being focused on that gave him a big advantage as he wins the fourth game for a 3-1 Open finals win!

Roger Dickson

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