"Thursday Night Live: T2 Challenge" Kicks Off Its National Run
by Warren Rosenberg
July 21, 2020
The Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, NY, having just recently reopened for play after the mandatory Covid-19 Pause, wasted no time in becoming one of the first New York Metro-area venues to bring competitive sports back to the viewing audience. USA Table Tennis, the sports national sanctioning body, announced two days ago that it had partnered with the international T2 Diamond Table Tennis League to launch the innovative and exciting “Thursday Night Live: T2 Challenge” which is scheduled to play out over the next eleven weeks from venues in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston.
The first four events are being staged at the Westchester Table Tennis Center. While only a small viewing audience is allowed on site due to New York’s continuing social distancing mandates, the events are streamed live by USA Table Tennis and can be accessed at https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis and viewed on YouTube afterward.
In the first ever Thursday Night Live: T2 Challenge, two familiar competitors, Yijun “Tom” Feng and Kai Zhang, faced off across the table in what many believed would be a repeat of their February 29th U.S. Olympic qualifying match.Tonight’s match proved to be more exciting, adopting the structure of the popular international T2 league. The T2 Diamond format provides a shorter, quicker, and more high pressure competition than the traditional table tennis match. A T2 match has a 24 minute time limit, 11-points required to win a game but no two point advantage requirement. If the match is undecided after 24 minutes of play, then a special set of rules come into play. Games that are played after the 24 minute limit are shortened to 5 points in the best-of-seven series. This format makes for a much faster-paced match and heightens the competition in the final games.
As play started at 9:00pm, Feng drew first blood and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in game 1 after just 40 seconds of play. By 2 minutes and 45 seconds (2:45), Zhang had narrowed his deficit to 5-4 and, at just under 4 minutes of play, took 7-6 lead and ran that lead up to 10-8 less than 2 minutes later. But the Olympian, Feng would not relent and took the first game 11-10. With 11 minutes left on the 24 minute clock, Zhang took the second game, 11-9. Feng then jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in game 3, running the score to 9-1 with 7:35 left on the clock, and won the game 11-4. With just over 2 minutes left, game 4 was tied at 6-6 and the excitement began to build. Play began to favor Feng who took a 9-7 lead with just under one minute left and he went on to win game 4 by an 11-9 score, taking a commanding 3 game to 1 lead over Zhang as time ran out.
Now things got interesting as the novel T2 Diamond format kicked in. Down 3 games to 1 in the match, things looked bleak for Zhang. But in the first of the Fast Five games, Zhang prevailed with a 5-2 win bringing Feng’s lead in the match to 3-2 in the best of seven format. Zhang then took game 6 from a frustrated Feng and evened the match score at 3 games each. The first to make 5 points in the seventh, and final, game would take the match and become the first ever winner of the T2 Diamond format on U.S. soil. After battling to a 2-2 tie, Feng advanced, 3-2 and then 4-3, over Zhang and it looked like Feng was on his way to victory. But Zhang, who had lived in Pleasantville and trained at the WTTC would not accept a defeat at home, taking the next, and final two points, winning game the 5-4, and taking the match 4-3.
MetroSports interviewed Zhang after the match and he told us that, “I think at the beginning I was too tight and for many balls, I couldn’t really move. Because I was down 1-3, I said, ‘OK – it’s time to try my best – and I’m very happy that I won.”
Tom Feng is a 2015 U.S. Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles Champion and a member of the 2016 US Olympic team. He is also a pivotal member of the 2018 NYU national championship table tennis team.
Kai Zhang is intimately familiar with the Westchester Table Tennis Center having been a resident of Pleasantville and calling the WTCC his “home court”. A student at S.U.N.Y. Binghamton he holds the titles of 2018 iSET National Collegiate Table Tennis Championship Singles Champion, 2017 U.S. Open Adults Team Champion, and 2016 New York State Championship Men’s Single and Under 18 Champion among many others.
Westchester Table Tennis Center owner, Will Shortz, said, "It's nice to have live sports back in the New York Metro region and, with our new 50% expansion of the WTTC, we look forward to much more."
The next three weeks back at the Westchester Table Tennis Center will feature matches between Juan Liu, Sharon Alguetti, Amy Wang, Adar Alguetti, Jennifer Wu and Tahl Liebovitz.