Triangle Table Tennis was lucky enough to host the 2017 USATT National Team Trials March 23-26. With 4 former Olympians in the field (Kanak Jha, Lily Zhang, Wu Yue, and Wang Chen), strong play was expected throughout the competition and the players did not disappoint. Though the official Trials started on Friday, Thursday night was do-or-die for 4 players on the men’s side. TJ Beebe, Shuja Jafar, Gregg Robertshaw, and Richard Perez all battled to get into the next 3 days of competition, with only room available for 3 players. The seedings held true and Richard Perez, despite a strong showing, was left out in the cold.
Day 1 of the National Team Trials gave us many competitive matches, as well as some upsets and drama. Adar Alguetti, rated 2526 coming into the Trials, upset top seed Kanak Jha in the second round, taking the match 11-9 in the decisive 7th game. Adar eventually went on to be the Day 1 Men’s Qualifier, beating Nick Tio in the finals. On the women’s side of the draw, the top two seeds met in the finals, with Lily Zhang beating Wang Chen 4-2 and thus becoming the Day 1 Women’s Qualifier. This match provided some fodder for the audience, as Wang Chen was called for multiple illegal serves and did not take it well.
Day 2 started oddly right off the bat on the women’s side. Wang Chen, now the top seed, defaulted 5 points into her first match, leaving only Sunday to potentially qualify. This left the door open for 2016 Rio Olympics veteran Wu Yue who, dropping just 2 games on the way to becoming the Day 2 Women’s Qualifier, beat Angela Guan in the finals. On the men’s side, it looked like a collision course to the finals for brothers Sharon and Gal Alguetti. However, both lost tough matches in the semifinals, Gal being knocked out by the eventual qualifier for Saturday. Kanak Jha and Kunal Chodri met in the finals, with Kunal coming back from down 3-2 to win 11-8 in the 7th game, earning the title of the Day 2 Men’s Qualifier.
Day 3 had a buzz as soon as the doors opened. Everyone knew it was the last day to qualify and the atmosphere in the building reflected that. With both remaining Alguettis in the draw and playing well, most expected one of them to raising their arms in triumph by the end of the day. On the women’s side, questions loomed about whether or not remaining top seed Wang Chen would even play, let alone be victorious.
In another drama-filled match, Wang Chen was called for more illegal serves which seemed to derail her mentally. After getting down 7-0 in the second game against Grace Yang, she intentionally missed returns and, completing the picture, served her last ball into the ground to lose 11-0. She defaulted again and her day was over before it started. Day 2 Finalist Angela Guan, a chopper from California, made the best of her opportunity and got back into the finals, this time against Crystal Wang. Angela wore Crystal down, as choppers are wont to do, and came out on top as the Day 3 Women’s Qualifier. Due to her strong play throughout the tournament, Crystal was awarded the 4th and final roster spot.
On the men’s side of the draw, it looked again like a potential finals showdown for the Alguettis with both remaining brothers into the semis for the second straight day. Just when you thought it was a lock, though, Nikhil Kumar came roaring back from down 3-0 and ended Sharon’s tournament in a flourish, while Gal ran into a newly confident Kanak Jha and had to watch the finals from the sidelines. Kanak and Nikhil had a see-saw battle trading games and shots, with Kanak eventually taking the match 11-8 in the 7th and thus becoming the Day 3 Men’s Qualifier. Nikhil, having just played 14 consecutive games, now had to play Nick Tio for the final roster spot. Nick, who had hung around for hours unsure of whether or not he would have a chance to play again, seized the opportunity and punched his ticket to Germany in 4 straight games, winning at 9, 9, 10, and 11.
The 2017 USATT National Team Trials were exciting, compelling, and a ton of fun to watch. We are proud that we were given the chance to host and hope that everyone involved had as positive an experience as we did. For Qualification Round photos, click here, for Day 1 photos here, for Day 2 photos here, and for Day 3 photos here.