Hsing, Ho claim table tennis spots in Olympics

For Canada’s Andre Ho and American teen Ariel Hsing, this weekend just got a whole lot less stressful.

They can pack their paddles for London.

Ho and Hsing qualified for this summer’s Olympics on Friday by winning the first tournaments at the North American table tennis qualifier.

"It’s like the best feeling in the world," Hsing said. "I’ve been dreaming about it, I’ve been wishing for it, but when I actually won, it kind of hit me unexpectedly. … I’ve never felt like this before."

Their victories leave three open spots — two for men, one for women. One men’s opening will be filled Saturday, with the other two berths being decided Sunday.

Ho earned the first spot by beating Canadian teammate Pierre-Luc Hinse in a five-game men’s final.

Then Hsing won the women’s tournament with a come-from-behind six-game victory over Canadian veteran Chris Xu.

Hsing, an aggressive 16-year-old from San Jose, Calif., trailed 2-1 before reeling off the final three games against Xu — a "chopper" who was content to play defensively and try to force Hsing to beat herself. One of her most impressive shots was a cross-table smash for the point that gave her a 3-2 advantage in games.

"With a chopper, you have to mix it up," Hsing said. "You can’t just keep playing consistent. … You have to kind of mix up your hard shots and your soft shots. You have to know when to play aggressive. You can’t just play aggressive all the time."

Ho, a 20-year-old from Richmond, British Columbia, marked most of his points with loud screams and fist-pumps while claiming his first spot in the Olympics. After his final point, he dropped his paddle and in a spontaneous show of exuberance, bounced around the table with his fists by his waist.

"I don’t really know how to feel right now," Ho said. "It’s been a goal of mine that I’ve been working on for many years, and for me, it won’t sink in until a couple of days."

The Canadian men dominated the opening tournament. Their 4-1 record against US players included three wins in quarterfinal matches.

Michael Landers — the only American player to win his first match — won his first match against Canada alternate Pierre-Luc Theriault, who replaced "Eugene" Wang Zhen after he had trouble with his passport.

Hinse then beat Landers in a seven-game semifinal while Ho defeated fellow Canadian Hongtao Chen to set up an all-Canada men’s final that Ho controlled throughout.

"We’re very accustomed to each other’s games, and I feel like, for us, just basically who kind of executes their tactics a little bit better," Ho said. "And I feel like today, I executed a little bit better. I was a little bit less nervous than him."

Said Hinse: "His game was much more on than my game."

The American women were nearly that strong in their bracket. The only US player to lose her opening match — Judy Hugh — was a late replacement for four-time Olympian Gao Jun, who breezed through the U.S. trials here two months ago but withdrew due to an unspecified left knee injury suffered at the World Team Championships.

The participants in one women’s semifinal — Erica Wu and Hsing — were plenty familiar with each other. The teenagers from California also played here in February, when Wu claimed her first victory over her best friend and practice partner. This time Hsing got her revenge, winning Friday in four games on her way to her first Olympic berth.

The remaining seven players in each gender still can claim spots in London. The seven men were slotted into another single-elimination tournament with that final Saturday afternoon to determine the second qualifier.

"This is really hard, but this time, I’m more ready to play the next day," Hinse said. "In 2008, I wasn’t ready to play the next day . . . but this time, I’m more prepared to fight three days if I need to."

The final spot for each gender will be determined by two days of round-robin play with those finals Sunday. Any team that advances two players in either gender to the Olympics may add a third for the team competition.

Only two women’s spots were open this weekend because Canada’s Zhang Mo had already qualified as last year’s Pan American winner.