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Fiery Exchanges: Men’s Singles Semifinal Action

By Joel Lidstrom
Press Committee Member

Enticed by the cheers, I moved to the Men's semifinals match on Court 2. In progress was the #1 seed, Nikhil Kumar of California against the #6 seed, Jonatan McDonald of Texas Wesleyan. Kumar had won the opening game.
Kumar can turn on the power at the shortest of notices. A rapid-fire exchange with McDonald’s backhand is always dangerous, and it knotted the match score at 1-1.

Buoyed by his win in the second game, and with an excited cadre of supporters, McDonald was looking to jump out to an early lead. But it is Kumar, chop blocking a forehand topspin that McDonald couldn’t lift, and powering a forehand right through his opponent that gave him a 2-0 lead.

McDonald fools Kumar on a serve, and then shows that, though Kumar is fast, he can be faster. Again and again Kumar is back on his heels retrieving, as McDonald goes up 2 games to 1.
In the 4th game, the net helps McDonald to get started, but Kumar is back to dominating with his ultra-deep push service return.

To counter that, McDonald began to serve deep. Kumar could not dictate as easily from deeper in the court, and had trouble controlling his attack.
Now McDonald took it to Kumar. Kumar was reactive, and making unforced errors. Up by two, Mcdonald's backhand flick makes it three, forcing a timeout from Kumar.

Coming out of the timeout, Kumar attacked again and again, but McDonald can weather any number of deep balls, irrespective of side. Still, Kumar put him on a string, forcing his opponent to hit fore, back, fore, back, fore…and then missed back.
Kumar prevailed at 11-7.

The 5th game looked like the end of the line for McDonald. Down 8-0, he got his first three points on successive Kumar overhits. Kumar overhit again to bring it to 4-9. Then two rapid-fire exchanges, twice in a row, made the comeback 6-9.
McDonald crushed a ball to 7-10, but missed a high, short mistake from Kumar, who takes the game at 11-7. Match score 3-2 Kumar.

In Game 6, both players back up and initiate the point slowly. This proved to be to McDonald’s advantage, now quickly up 3-1. An error from McDonald, and Kumar clipping the net for a winner, evened the score.

At 6-4 we were treated to an outlandish exchange, Kumar eventually using a timing upset from a net ball to win the point. Kumar is so fast, but sometimes McDonald is faster! But his subsequent whiff on the forehand knotted it at 6.
Successive net balls from each player, followed by loose play, brought it to 9-all. Could McDonald force a seventh game?

He blows an easy put-away and it’s match point. However, his deep serve sets him up to attack, attack,
attack. With a Kumar miss into the net, McDonald was still alive.
Ugh. He dumps a service return: advantage Kumar.

Those watching must have known that McDonald would attempt the same deep serve and third ball attack that saved match point moments ago. Certainly Kumar did, and ripped the ball up the line for a winner. Kumar wins the game at 12-10, and the match at 4-2.

Curious about McDonald repeating the serve, I asked Kumar about it. He said, “Yes, he had been serving long against me all match. After he saved a match point with it, I expected it again and changed up where I returned it. I attacked to his backhand.”

It’s the oldest ploy in the books.

Kumar clinched his second consecutive Men’s Singles title after defeating teammate Ved Sheth in the finals 4-1.

(Photo of California's Nikhil Kumar, 2-time NCTTA Men's Singles Champion. Photo credit to Dennis Yanga).

About 2024 NCTTA College Table Tennis Championships
The championships are hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Visit Eau Claire CVB. The event will feature: Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles, and Men’s/Coed Teams, Women’s Teams.
PongSpace, Joola, the US Coast Guard, Visit Eau Claire and Bluestone Designs sponsor the event.
Watch the event on live stream starting Friday, April 12th on http://www.nctta.org/champs/2024/video.html

About NCTTA
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively to promote the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes elite intercollegiate competitions throughout North America. www.nctta.org

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