Tuesday 19 August 2014

Zhang Secures History for USA

Lily Zhang has secured a momentous victory for herself and for team USA by winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Having already beaten the nerves of the prestigious competition, Lily had battled hard to progress through the quarterfinal round. Her big chance first presented itself in the semifinal where she played against Doo Hoi Kem, the top seed from Hong Kong.

Lily Zhang claims Bronze in Nanjing
The top seed from Hong Kong proved to be too tough a match for Lily, winning out in all the crucial stages of the match to win in 5 sets. We hadn't seen the best from Lily yet though and it was her display for sheer determination in the bronze medal match which showed why the USA and fans around the world were so firmly behind her in support.

Facing Miyu Kato from Japan, Lily had to rise to the occasion for her chance to reach her big goal, to win a Youth Olympic Games medal. She did just that. Executing highly accurate placement on her backhand was the opening weapon of choice for Zhang, effective at first it was Kato who was still fighting hard to keep on the ball. Every game was incredibly close, fans were on the edges of their seat and there was a full audience in the stadium. In fact it was the first 5 games which were all sealed with a 2 point difference, showing the passion and drive of both players in this once in a lifetime occasion.

Kato took the first set in deuce but Zhang was just finding herself in the match, as we had seen in many of her matches in the tournament. The second set fell in Lily's favour and drew the match to 1-1. We started to see longer rallies as both players clung on for each point with a high percentage of backhand exchanges where Zhang tried to focus on pulling the ball across the middle and then wider out to the backhand line. Some of these exchanges were successful but in others it was Kato who forced the error to take the point. Zhang took the lead 2-1 and was ahead in the 4th but a string of lucky points from Kato brought her back into the game and she stormed back from 9-5 down to win the game 11-9. This would prove to be a test of confidence and character for Lily Zhang as the match drew at 2-2.

The remainder of the match was no less close than the beginning, but we started to see Lily Zhang taking more control in the points, her placement becoming a little stronger and more tactical, some variation beginning to force errors from Kato. The end result closed in and Lily Zhang clenched a 3-2 lead and stormed onwards towards the finish line.

U21 finalist earlier this year now a bronze at YOG for Lily Zhang
with US coach Lily Yip.
With a match point on her side and a rally which pushed both players to their limits, it was Lily Zhang who claimed victory and achieved her goal of winning a medal at YOG 2014. Hands in the air with excitement and tears of joy for Zhang and a big show of support and congratulations from a smiling and excited Lily Yip who stood in the coaches corner. A long and exhausting campaign for both Zhang, Yip and Avvari but a successful result for the USA in Nanjing with still the teams event to go! Well done team USA!

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