Written by José Miguel Montoro.
On Saturday, I played in my first ever official table tennis competition in the US - the 2017 Sacramento Fall Open. It was a big deal for me, and you can read my thoughts before the event in my previous Eastfield post.
The event was located in the gym at Sacramento's Inderkum High School. There were 167 players in total, split into several different events organized by ratings. I participated in the following groups:
- Under 1075
- Under 1200
- Under 1375
The structure of the tournament was: round-robin groups of three players, followed by a knockout for the group winners - until the last two players remaining played in the final for their event.
It was very interesting to meet the other players that go to this kind of event. There were players of all levels and ages playing together - men and women, boys and girls. I guess it's common in table tennis, but that was one noticeable feature of the tournament for me.
As you can imagine, there were a lot of Asian players. Not only because this is table tennis, but also because here in California the Asian population is high. I love to see the Asian kids play - there's a different quality to their game, a certain flow or way of movement that seems more elastic. It was very enjoyable to see the higher-level players play.
There were many Indian players too. There's a club in Milpitas, CA called the Indian Cultural Center where a lot of the best USA players were trained. The main coach for the US Olympic table tennis team coaches there too! I guess that made the sport especially appealing for the Indian kids and parents that hang out there.
Finally, there were several players from my current club - San Francisco Sunset TTC. I travelled with one of them. He is 14 years old and a better player than me, with a ranking around 1300. I also met two other guys from the club there and our coach Masaaki managed to come along - which really made a difference, as you will see.
Analyzing My Matches
Under 1200 Group
This was the first event I played on Saturday morning. I was really nervous for the first game - my first official table tennis tournament! I ended up playing against an older guy that I believe is more tricky than anything. He wasn't technically very good, but his rating was above 1000. I beat him anyway, 3-0. I was relieved to have won at least one game. It wasn't really a very difficult game.
My second game was against an Indian kid, and I lost 3-0. I was still nervous, and I'm not used to playing kids. I couldn't do much. He wasn't great, but I was not very focused or in control. It was a bit disappointing, but I expected it and I didn't feel bad since I won my first one at least. So, won 1 - lost 1, and that was the end of Under 1200.
Under 1075 Group
I had a big break of almost five hours until the next event, so I went to have lunch with my wife - who came to the tournament with me. I really appreciated it, because I was able to talk about my feelings and impressions with her, and it helped me stay centered and relaxed. She likes sports and she's very supportive. I'm a lucky guy!
Nevertheless, when the U-1075 started I was actually more nervous than before. I think it was because my coach Masaaki had finally arrived at the venue and he was watching. I didn't want to disappoint him.
Well, the U-1075 group was pretty weak. I played a kid that seemed to have just started playing and a woman that did it just for fun. I won both matches 3-0 and qualified for the playoffs! But I had played really badly. Masaaki was seeing me and he told me that regardless their level, I should attack and play my best. I was ready to apply that to the next group.
Under 1325 Group
This group was indeed more difficult. Again, the first match was against an older man with good strokes but not very technical. But now, I was losing! And I knew I wasn't playing my best. So, after the first set, Masaaki grabbed me and coached me. He said:
"Look, you're just putting the ball there. You're not doing your game. You're afraid. And that's not the way to go. You should go and commit to your strokes, to what we have been training for and what you know how to do. And you might miss, and that's fine, missing is ok. But just playing like that, defensively, is not the way to play and it won't get you anywhere."
And it was true and I knew it. I was afraid of missing and losing, and that's why I wasn't fully committing, fully going for it. It's hard to explain but it totally made sense.
And then I decided I was going to go for it, and the game changed. I lost the first set, but I ended up winning the match 3-1!
After that match came what Masaaki called "my best match so far". With his advice, I played an Asian kid that was obviously in an official club, and that was obviously much better than me. But I managed to stand against him and even win a set! Masaaki was satisfied, and I was too. Which is another great example of the fact that winning is not the real win. Playing your best is the real win, and it should be your main goal.
Under 1075 Playoffs
Since I won my round-robin group of U-1075, I qualified for the playoffs. They happened after all the other groups were finished. My opponent was an adult Indian player. This is the only game I (partially) recorded, you can see the video below...
I ended up losing 1-3 and I wasn't very satisfied with my performance. Masaaki was busy with other players and only came after the second set. I tried my best but this guy had a good block and understood pretty well my game. I found I wasn't able to attack properly, while he was punishing my weak backhand a lot. I didn't like that it was the last game, but oh well, fine.
It was definitely a great experience, and I hope I can repeat it soon. I loved the atmosphere, the dedicated players, and playing different people. I think I learned a lot and I definitely gained more confidence. Can’t wait for the next USATT tournament to happen!
If you watched my match and have any advice for me, it would be very much appreciated. Please leave a comment on YouTube.