With over 220 players registered and nearly 1,400 matches played over 4 days, the 2018 Butterfly Cary Cup was our biggest tournament since our opening in 2014. With participants representing 18 different states, Washington D.C., Canada, Nigeria, India, and Bermuda, we had a well-rounded field with strong competition in each event.
Matches started Thursday afternoon with the U1150 event. Danny Wan (1065) was the top seed and took care of business during the round robin stage, dropping only one game before advancing and getting a bye into the semifinals. In the second group, the players that came out went according to seeding, but the final group saw the #2 and #4 seeds advance. Once in the single elimination bracket, Kevin Sun (859) upset two players above him and found himself in the finals after beating Danny Wan. On the bottom half of the draw, overall #2 seed Jehziyh Rawlins (1061) squeaked out a 5-game match against Raga Avanasi (552 entering the tournament) to give himself a shot at the trophy. In the end, he proved to be too much for Kevin, winning 3-0 (12, 7, 4).
Thursday evening, players had options to participate in one of three events: U1500, U1900, and the Thursday Open. In the U1500, #1 overall seed Todd Klinger struggled in group play and was bounced in the first round of single elimination, though he wasn’t alone there. Out of 8 matches in the round of 16, 7 were upsets! Oddly, the regressed back to the mean in the quarterfinals, as each match went to the higher seed. Young Rachel Wang (724) stole points everyone she met on her way to the finals, where she met Madhav Arepalli (1337). Both players competed hard, but Madhav was able to secure the victory, winning 11-5 in the fifth game.
In the U1900, not a single round robin group went according to the seeds, as there were upsets all over the place. Once into the 16-person bracket, top seed Roy Laronde (1893) took no prisoners and lost only two games en route to the finals. On the other side of the draw, Ritika Rajamani from California (1793) had plans of her own, winning three straight matches against higher rated players and earning a chance to claim the top prize. The finals went back and forth and was eventually decided 11-9 in the fifth, with Roy narrowly beating Ritika. Ritika, through this event and others, went on to increase her rating 133 points to 1926.
The final event on Thursday night was the Open. This was the first opportunity for the top players to show off. The two top seeds for this event, Jishan Liang (2641) and Hammed-Taiwo Adeyinka (2534) both made it through the group stages without losing a single game. Adeyinka has only been in the US for a few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped him from establishing himself as a player to be taken seriously. After the 16 person bracket was filled with the top 2 players from each group, everything went as expected until the semifinals. Jishan quickly, and unexpectedly, found himself down 2-0 to Gabriel Skolnick (2361) from Pennsylvania. Gabriel’s blistering forehand counters were giving Jishan fits as the righty took the first two games at 9. However, as top players tend to do, Jishan dug deep and rattled of three straight to send Gabriel to the consolation match. In the other semifinal, USA table tennis legend Jimmy Butler (2489) faced off against Adeyinka in a very close match. Jimmy’s offensive power and Adeyinka’s athleticism and defense made for a very entertaining match and couldn’t have been much closer. Jimmy scored just 5 points more than Adeyinka throughout the match, which was just enough, and punched his ticket to the finals with a fifth-game victory (-5, 8, 10, -10, 9). Though Jimmy was playing well, nobody in the center could have predicted the outcome in the final. Jimmy went on to beat Jishan 3-0, utilizing his signature backhand to keep Jishan off-balance and unable to use his big forehand to dictate points. Certainly an exciting ending to an action-packed day!
Friday featured a Training Camp during the day, run by Head Coach Brian Pace, followed by two 48-player events in the evening. During the camp, Brian was able to work with students on both skills and tournament strategy ahead of their upcoming events. The U1800 and the 1800+ events are great warm-up events for players entered in the Giant Round Robin on Saturday. These events give them a chance to get in the correct mindset and work out any last minute jitters before the Giant Round Robin main event.
The U1800 had a full field of 48 players, with the top two players advancing from each group to the round of 16. #1 seed Olufemi Ogundipe (1799) had a rough start and never recovered, failing to make it out of group play. The story of the day, however, was #11 seed Sen Nie (1643) winning his group without losing a match and continuing on to the knockout stage. Once there, he continued to make his presence known, storming all the way to the finals. Coming through on the top of the bracket was young Benjamin Kang (1703) from Maryland. Both players struggled with illegal serves in the final and lost points as a result, but Sen was able to adjust a little quicker. When it was all said and done, Sen took the match in 5 games (10, -5, 5, -6, 6).
The 1800+ event was the second chance for the high-rated players to exhibit their skills. The top six seeds all went undefeated in their groups, expending little effort to do so. Past that, the rest of the groups ended up in dogfights to try to advance, with #4 and #5 seeds in groups sometimes getting to the next round. However, the cream quickly rose to the top after the round of 16, leaving nobody under 2200 standing. Higher seeds continued to dominate into the semifinals, pitting Jishan Liang against Ange Cedric Oba (2492) from Westchester, and Hammed-Taiwo Adeyinka against Kai Zhang (2610), also from the New York club. Jishan lost a close first game, but quickly righted the ship and rattled off the next three to put him in the finals. Kai and Adeyinka battled for nearly 35 minutes in a very close match, but the Nigerian was able to keep the momentum late and won the 5th game 11-8. Jishan and Adeyinka squared off for the last match, but Jishan had more firepower than Hammed could handle and won 3-1.
Saturday morning, 160 players started their preliminary round robin groups for the Giant Round Robin. The morning session is a seeding round for the afternoon, placing participants in one of five divisions (A, B, C, D, or E). After the dust had settled, Division A had a rating range of 1934 to 2715 and all 40 tables were ready to accommodate 20 groups of 8. Division A advanced the top 4 from each group straight to the round of 16 on Sunday, though final group standings did affect placement into the bracket. Overall top seed Kaden Xu (2715) won all of his matches comfortably until the last of the day, against the feisty Adeyinka. Hammed shocked Kaden, and everyone else present, by winning 3-2 and staying undefeated on the day. This upset put Kaden into the bottom half of the bracket on Sunday, with a potential semifinal meeting with #2 seed Junan Wu(2709) on Sunday.
At last, it was Sunday morning and time to watch the day unfold. The round of 16 went as expected, with not one match going past the fourth game. The quarterfinal round gave us Kaden vs Kai, a rematch of the 2017 Butterfly Cary Cup quarterfinals. Last year Kaden won 3-0, but this year Kai pushed him to the limit, barely losing 11-8 in the fifth game. Canadian National Champion Jeremy Hazin (2540) took game 1 against Jishan, only to lose the next three. Adeyinka continued his streak of exciting matches, forcing Yijun Feng (2679) to five games, only to lose steam at the end and fall to the 2016 Olympian. Junhan quietly took care of business, beating 2017 Butterfly Cary Cup Finalist Jinxin Wang (2672) 3-1. This win resulted in both 2700+ players meeting in the semis, the first round to be best of 7 games. Both players came out firing with incredible counterloop rallies. However, Junhan demonstrated amazing speed time and time again, countering balls that Kaden was sure were good for winners. In the end, Wu came out on top, winning 4-1 and waiting to see who would meet him in the finals. The other semifinal featured Yijun and Jishan. Feng had a rough history against Jishan, losing all 6 of their previous meetings. The games were competitive, with both men attacking from either wing. The seesaw battle ended in the 6th, with Jishan headed to the finals in an effort to replicate his 2015 Cary Cup title. In Jishan and Junhan’s only previous meeting last year, Wu came back from a 2-1 deficit and won in the fifth game. This time, Liang proved to be no match for Junhan’s speed and power. In under 26 minutes, Junhan Wu dismantled Jishan 4-0, looking every bit of his highest rating of 2788.
Since 2002, Cary Cup has grown to be a premier tournament in the US, drawing top players from all over the country, and this year was no exception. Thank you to all who participated, spectated, and helped us pull it off.
To see more pictures from the weekend, you can go to our Facebook photo page.
To see matches from the 2018 Butterfly Cary Cup, please go to our YouTube page.