Ping-Ponger's Olympic chances: back and forth
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Playing in the North American table tennis qualifying trials, Landers, a 17-year-old high school senior, is one of eight players vying for three berths at the weekend-long tournament in the game commonly known as Ping-Pong.
In his first best-of-seven match of the second round Friday night, Landers swept Barney Reed of California, four games to none.
"I definitely did get very lucky. Three of those games were in deuce and I got a lot of lucky balls each game," Landers said. "Barney was a little frustrated and momentum was in my favor."
His win sets up a rematch with Canada's Pierre-Luc Hinse on Saturday morning in a semifinal. Hinse beat Landers in the first round of the tournament.
"I can't wait. I'll give it all I have," Landers said. "Every match is a learning experience. There's always something you can take away from them. I'll be able to use what I learned."
In the first round of the tournament, Landers won his opening match against Pierre-Luc Theriault of Canada, four games to two. In his second match, Landers fell to Hinse in seven games after holding a 3-1 edge.
"There's still two spots left," he said. "I know I'm playing well, so I need to go into [Saturday] being confident again. I can't think about anything that happened [Friday]."
If he loses Saturday, he will have one more chance in round three.
Landers dominated the first four games against Hinse. He was jumping, spinning and pumping his fist, as is customary for the player who has a reputation for exuberance, and to all observers, it looked as if he would have an easy path to the day's final match.
But Landers said Hinse changed his attack after falling behind.
"He played well and adjusted well," Landers said. "I missed a couple of easy balls in the final game -- there's not much I can do about it now."
Now Landers must try to rebound and secure one of the final two Olympic berths.
Landers started playing table tennis at age 2 but didn't fully devote himself to the game until he was 10, when he broke his left arm playing hide-and-seek. He has since traveled around the world trying to perfect his game and was the youngest male U.S. champion at 15 and the top U.S. player at the Olympic trials in February.
Friday's first Olympic berth went to 20-year-old Canadian Andre Ho, who defeated Hinse, 4-1, in the final.