Teens clinch table tennis bids

CARY, N.C. -- Like many of their peers, teenagers Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Erica Wu are taking a trip to Europe this summer.

But these three Californians are going to London with Team USA for the Olympics.

Hsing, 16, of Valley Christian (San Jose, Calif.), qualified for this summer's London Games when she won the women's tournament on Friday at the North American Table Tennis trials. Hsing's come-from-behind six-game victory over Canadian veteran Chris Xu on Friday secured one of the two available women's berths.

Canada's Zhang Mo, who won last year's Pan-American Games, had already clinched an Olympics singles spot before the trials because of her high world ranking. Zhang, 15, a sophomore at Palo Alto (Calif.), needed to win her final match on Sunday against Canada's Anqi Luo to clinch the final singles berth.

She didn't disappoint. Zhang kept her career record perfect against Luo, dominating the last two games of the match for a 4-1 win to clinch the second women's spot. With the victory, and Hsing's win on Friday, the American women also qualified for the three-player Olympic team table tennis competition, and as a result, Wu -- a sophomore at the Westridge School (Pasadena, Calif.) -- will join them in London in July.

"I had confidence in Lily that she could beat Anqi," said Wu, who finished third among the Americans with a Sunday-morning victory over teammate Judy Hugh and became Games-eligible with Zhang's victory. "I was more nervous on the first day when Ariel was playing Chris. And when Lily was playing Chris, too [in the semifinals]. Because both times, if they lost, my chances would be very, very small. So I'm very grateful to both of them for winning those two matches."

Zhang had to fight through a shoulder injury that had been bothering her since the U.S. Trials in February.

"The doctor told me to take a break for six weeks, but I didn't really listen to her," said Zhang, who only lost once all weekend and won five straight to make the team. "But now I can relax."

Hsing and Zhang each had to get past Xu, a 43-year-old Olympic veteran from Vancouver. Xu has perfected a "chopping" forehand, which generates nasty backspin on shots that float through the air and die on the other side of the net. It's an especially difficult style for less-experienced players, who are often eager to finish points quickly, to combat.

Hsing beat Xu 4-2 in the finals on Friday night, going down 2-1 before winning three straight games. Zhang faced Xu in the semifinals a day later, eking out a 4-3 win after falling behind 2-0.

"I used to be scared to play adults in international tournaments," said Hsing. "But now I realize there are so many things I can learn from them. They have so much experience and they sometimes have some tricky shots you don't see too often. Even if I lose, I try to see what I can learn."

Zhang said patience was the key to beating Xu in the match that turned the weekend in favor of the U.S.
"I had to slow down and not rush," she said. "I pushed most of the points and then [went for winners] when I had the chance."

Xu provided such a change-of-pace that Zhang's coach put her through a short practice even at the end of a long day on Saturday.

The trio will be joined by Houston native Tim Wang, 20, who earned the lone American men's berth. They breathed a collective sigh of relief at the end of the tournament.

"It feels like I've been waiting for this opportunity for so long, it's been my dream ever since I was a little kid," said Zhang. "Now that it's finally here, it feels like it's still a dream. It just feels amazing."