Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 28, 2012

Palo Alto's Zhang wins first U.S. national title

Paly junior avenges loss in last year's national championships in addition to earning a silver medal in women's doubles

by Keith Peters

It has been a very busy year for Palo Alto's Lily Zhang, who is quickly rising to the top of the table tennis world.

The 16-year-old Palo Alto High junior started the year by making the U.S. Olympic team and later competing in the London Games.

Just this month, she competed at the World Junior Championships and U.S. Championships, just a few days apart.

Zhang capped her best year yet in the sport by winning her first U.S. National women's singles championship on Saturday in Las Vegas. She also earned a silver medal in doubles.

'It was really a great moment," Zhang said Thursday morning of her first U.S. Championship title at the senior level. "For the past three months I've been working really hard with my coaches, so the hard work paid off."

Zhang won three preliminary matches leading up to the finals, where she defeated fellow 2012 Olympian and former training partner, April Hsing of San Jose, 11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 11-2, 9-11, 6-11, 11-9.

The victory avenged Zhang's loss to Hsing in the same title match in 2011.

"I was happy to avenge that loss," Zhang said. "We both were expecting us to be in the finals."

Hsing was seeded No. 2 and Zhang No. 4. The top seed was Jasna Rather, Zhang's doubles partner. She was upset in an earlier round by No. 5 seed Erica S. Wu. Zhang then topped Wu in the semifinals.

In addition to the gold in singles and the silver in doubles, Zhang lost in the semifinals in Mixed Doubles, lost in the semifinals in the Girls' 21-under singles and finished second in the Jr. Girls Teams.

All that action was spread over five days, just one day after a long plane flight from India.

Just a few days before the U.S. Championships got under way, Zhang was busy at the World Junior Championships from Dec. 9-16 in Hyderabad.

Zhang made the quarterfinals of Under 18 Girls' Singles, regarded as probably the best showing of a U.S. junior at the World Junior Championships.

In reaching the quarterfinals, Zhang knocked off the No. 5 seed (Bernadette Szocs of Romania) and No. 6 seed (Petrissa Solja of Germany), before losing to the No. 4 seed (Gu Rouchen of China).

"Both were really big tournaments," said Zhang. "Both were really good experiences for me."

Zhang, however, did have to battle jet lag and time zone changes before beginning play in the U.S. Championships.

"The first day I was really, really tired," she said. "But, I adjusted pretty well."

Next up for Zhang will be the National Team Trials, Feb. 7-10 at the Top Spin Club in Campbell. At stake will be berths on the U.S. National Team and the World Table Tennis Championship Team, which will qualify her for next year's major championships.

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