Saturday 20 July 2013

Success for the Rao's at the Final Asking

It was a great display of table tennis by Roger and Ruofei Rao who took out the Under 18 singles titles at the NZ Junior Table Tennis Championships today and then combined to win the Under 18 mixed title as well. There were a number of big names falling in the main draw as the pressure of the biggest junior event of the year all boiled into action.

Roger Rao wins the U18 Boys Singles
In the Under 18 Boys Singles the big upset came early in the round of 32 with Auckland's Guan Chao rising to the occasion and pulling off a 5 set win over Croydon, Victoria's Yang Shen. The win for the local was met with a standing ovation around the stadium, well deserved for the scale of the upset over the 2012 Oceania Cadet Champion. Dean Shu was also making noise taking a 3-0 win over Michael Zhang and a hard fought 3-1 win over Liam Young before he bowed out to Roger Rao in the quarterfinal stages. 

Roger Wang avenged his 2012 loss of the under 15 final by defeating 3rd seed Victor Pollett before losing in the quarterfinals to Croydon's Dillon Chambers who was yet to suffer defeat in the teams or singles to that point. Yang Lun Zhao showed that size is no barrier as he battled a 5 set win over Alfred Dela-Pena, the North Island Under 13 champion and followed it up with a huge 3-1 win over Daniel Lowe. Zhao made the semifinals where he lost to Chambers. Roger Rao accounted for a determined Victor Ma in his semifinal in straight sets and set up a chance to reverse the result of the team competition in the finals showdown between Rao and Chambers. 

Quick off the mark and showing slightly more tact and aggression it was Roger Rao who showed no sign of letting up, even as he trailed in each set. Not letting his Australian opponent get too far away he worked hard to push through to the end of each set, playing tight to shut down the Croydon players strong attacking game and executing well timed counter shots. With the NZ support behind him he sailed to a 3-0 victory. Rao once again a New Zealand singles champion in the Under 18 boys.

Ruofei Rao wins the U18 Girls Singles
In the girls singles Auckland were dominant in the draw, save for the efforts of Lea Lai Van of New Caledonia. Lea defeated Maggie Ngo 3-0 and then went on the offensive against Ruofei Rao, winning the first set 13-11, losing the next two with 9 before Rao took the 3-1 win. Nai Xin Jiang repeated her victory of the teams in 4 sets over Mariam Seif while Grace Huo accounted for Angel Huang 3-0 and then Nai Xin by the same margin in the semifinals. 

Ruofei had beaten Ola Ratka by a substantial margin in the first round and after her win over Lea she faced the top seed, Grace Huo. With seemingly little difficulty it was Rao who opened first on most occasions, dominating her opponent in the open rallies and in the opening attacking plays. The first two sets fell with comfort before Huo made a stand, but even at deuce it was Rao who made the final strike and won the final 3-0 just like Roger.

In the Under 18 Mixed Doubles Victor Ma and Angel Huang had beaten Canterbury's Jesse Wilson and Mariam Seif 3-0 in their semifinal while Roger Rao and Ruofei had overcome compatriots Dean Shu and Nai Xin Jiang. In the final Victor Ma was making all the big plays, some incredible shots. Angel Huang kept the ball tight with heavy backspin balls causing some issues for Ruofei. While Ruofei struggled in the opening sets and Ma and Huang took a commanding 2-0 lead, she found her ground for the rest of the match with some sharp attacking strokes and fast reflex counters. Slowly but surely the Raos found their pace and started reeling back the points. Despite their best efforts Ma and Huang couldn't hold on and the match slipped away from them with the two singles champions combining to win 11-7 in the 5th and deciding set after having come back from 2-0 down.

Michael Zhang, finalist in the U18 Boys Doubles with
Nathan Watson
In the Under 18 Boys Doubles the pairs fell like flies. Expectation went out the window and seeds were unplanted. The pair of Roger Rao and Daniel Lowe found themselves at the mercy of Croydon's Dillon Chambers and Jakob Smith who defeated the local pair 3-0. With the top seeding in hand they moved into the next round but met a road block in the form of Manawatu's Nathan Watson and Southland's Michael Zhang. With the momentum of the previous match it was the Australian pair who soared ahead to a 2-0 lead, but Zhang and Watson held fast, switching from passive to aggressive, loose to tight and they came fighting back all the way to the very end. 18-16 in 5 long sets and the kiwi pairing prevailed, a fantastic result for the two. Victor Pollett and Liam Young were probably hot favourites to win with two of the toughest pairs out of contention. They had a close 5 set duel with Alfred Dela-Pena and Roger Wang but fell to Victor Ma and Dinyar Irani, the eventual winners. Zhang and Watson fought back from 9-6 down in the 5th to beat Taichi Akaoka and Guan Chao who had been up 5-1 at the half. In the final it was plain sailing for the Auckland pair of Irani and Ma who took advantage of lots of attacking opportunities and played strong opening balls and counterattacks with great placement to cruise to a 3-0 win.

In the Under 18 Girls Doubles it was the young generation proving they had the energy to make it through with Nai Xin Jiang and Zhiying Cheng combining to make a sensational effort in the event. They won 3-0 over Canterbury's Ola Ratka and Mariam Seif and then stormed through the final with Zhiying playing some astounding offensive table tennis. A hard pitched battle, Grace Huo and Ruofei Rao fought hard but in the 5th set it was the two young players who claimed gold. Well done Nai Xin and Zhiying!

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