The Under 15 individual events were held on the final day of the NZ Junior Table Tennis Championships, the boys field holding a particularly competitive and close matched group of players from the quarterfinal stages. Victor Ma was out to win his first national title with tough competition from Yang Shen of Croydon, Victoria in the draw. Shen the 2012 Oceania Cadet Champion and Ma the current Oceania number 1 it was sure to be tough. Ruofei Rao was looking to repeat success with some of her usual competitors waiting to take their shot at her, Rao was the 2011 Under 15 girls champion in North Harbour.
|Victor Ma crowned 15s singles champ|
Image courtesy of Trimage Photography
In the boys singles draw Victor Ma set on his way with 2 straight set wins in his first and second rounds over Mana Placid from Canterbury and Frank Fu from Wellington. Yang Lun Zhao struggled at times with Lawrence Shum but finally came through his match to win 3-1 before beating Dean Shu in straight sets. The result is somewhat surprising considering Shu and Zhao met in the final stage of the under 13 boys last year where Jon Jon came back to win a narrow 3-2.
Kevin Lin was the big contender in his quarter of the draw. Despite strong chances, Alfred Dela-Pena wasn't able to close out his 2-1 lead over Lin who went from strength to strength during the match. He did well to pick up any loose balls that drifted long with his forehand which made a crucial difference in the match. The 3-2 result led him into a semifinal match with Yang Shen who had accounted for Roger Wang, a member of last year's Oceania Cadet Team.
The big twist came in the semifinals. While Victor Ma had some trouble holding his head above the water against Yang Lun Zhao, he closed out the first 2 sets both 12-10 before Zhao fired back by winning a set. Ma seemed to be missing some of the easier balls but when the time came he made all the right shots, winning the fourth set 11-5 to advance to the final. The big twist was in Kevin Lin's matchup with Yang Shen, the match swayed with Shen taking the first set before Lin fought tooth and nail to win the 2nd set 15-13, giving him the momentum to continue to a 2-1 lead. Shen hadn't finished yet and won the 4th set but when the big question was asked it was Kevin Lin who brought all his game to the table and won the final set 11-7. Kevin seems to have blossomed in 2013, coming seemingly from nowhere to pickup some great results in tournaments.
In the final it was tense moments for Victor Ma who took to some big leads but when the important points to close out the set were called for he let his foot off the pedal. Winning the first set came down to a strong focus at deuce to win those last couple of points but in the second even with an 8-3 lead he let Lin back into the game and Lin took advantage of that, clawing back from an 8-3 deficit to level 9-9 and then draw up the match 1-1. In the next set it was much the same, going down to the line. Ma was executing some fantastic third ball attacks yet in the rally the big shots just weren't landing as often as they needed to. It was close but Ma was able to take the third set 14-12 before bringing the title home in the 4th set, knuckling down to get the job done and winning 11-4.
|Lea Lai Van (NCL) quarterfinalist in the u15|
Image courtesy of Trimage Photography
Ruofei Rao repeated her success of the Under 18s though the final was different this time after the efforts of Nai Xin Jiang. Nai Xin played well to overcome Lea Lai Van in straight sets and then storm on to the final by beating yesterday's under 18 girls finalist Grace Huo also 3-0. The big shots were landing for Jiang today. Hui-Ling Vong ended the streak of Zhiying Cheng who had beaten her 3-2 on two occasions in the teams and individuals, she brought her big game and won 3-1. In her semifinal she faced Ruofei. Having performed well against her in the teams, Vong didn't quite look as comfortable this time round with Rao really putting the pressure on. While Vong trailed 2-0, she made a big move in the 3rd set and held a 10-8 lead, but Rao showed she was ready to sweep the event by claiming 4 points in a row to win in straight sets.
In the final match it was Ruofei who proved a little faster, stronger and more tactful. While Nai Xin on a few occasions was able to dig the ball in with her short pips to the middle and then play some devastating forehand shots down the line, it was Ruofei who won out, with more consistency and some great placement before lining up for the big winners. Jiang worked hard but didn't seem to have the answer on this occasion, nevertheless a great effort to be in the final.
U15 Boys Doubles Champion
Image Courtesy of Trimage Photography
The champions of the doubles exited the singles draw in the quarterfinals and were looking for revenge and of course a medal! Dean Shu and Alfred Dela-Pena were crowned champions after a very close semifinal match with singles finalists Victor Ma and Kevin Lin. The match went down to the wire but Shu and Dela-Pena showed sheer determination to win 3-2, they met Frank Fu and Olav Dahl in the final after Yang Lun Zhao and Roger Wang had suffered defeat to Andrew Mei and Logan Xu 3-2 and Dahl and Fu had capitalised on the opportunity, beating Mei and Xu 3-2 also. In the finals however it was Shu and Dela-Pena who made the most of their surprise opponents and really showed no sign of struggle as they blitzed their way to a gold medal in 3 sets.
In the girls doubles it was a repeat of yesterday's under 18 girls final where Nai Xin Jiang and Zhiying Cheng had overcome Ruofei Rao and Grace Huo in a close and hard fought 5 set duel. Well it occurred all over again, the pairs met in the final one last time and again it was the pair of Nai Xin and Zhiying who really brought the fight to the higher seeded pair. The left and right combination of Jiang and Cheng, combined with the well used short pimple rubber of Jiang to set up attacking balls proved to make the difference as they battled to a repeat 3-2 win to claim the 15s title to add to yesterday's success.
In the mixed doubles the big contenders Nai Xin Jiang and Dean Shu were eliminated by the young Alexander Zhou from Canterbury and partner Hui-Ling Vong. In a strange match it was 11-9, 11-9 and 12-10 for the 3 sets going in favour of the lesser favoured pair while Shu and Jiang won their only set in a very decisive manner 11-1, the second set of the match. A great win for Vong and Zhou who met with Victor Ma and Ruofei Rao in the final. In that final they fought incredibly well, while Rao and Ma were eventually the winners it was Zhou and Vong really fighting it out, while their one set was won 11-6, the 3 they lost were 11-9, 14-12 and 11-9, the sign of a close and entertaining match.
Congratulations to all the participants and medallists and of course a great big thank you from all of us to the staff of Auckland Table Tennis' ITTF Hotspot centre, tournament manager Shane Warbrooke, controller David Jackson and the many coaches who travelled here. We wish our friends from Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Australia safe travels home and it was our pleasure to host you here in Auckland in 2013!