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Kanak Jha (2019 PanAm Games by ITTF)

Revisiting Tokyo: Early Rounds

(by Steve Hopkins)

{This is a review of articles written during the Olympics. Some of this coverage appeared on the Butterfly website, but much of it was not permitted per IOC Rule 40 -which provides for exclusive use of logos and images for official Olympic sponsors for a limited period during the Olympics.  That period has now passed, so we are re-releasing articles written during the Olympics.}

 

Tokyo 2020: Singles Underway

The Olympic Games are just underway and most of the big named players won’t be in singles action for a few more days, but preliminary rounds are going on this weekend – as are early doubles rounds.

Two TeamUSA players competed on the first day and both scored 4-1 wins.  Liu Juan beat her Nigerian opponent, Olufunke Oshonaike and Nikhil Kumar topped his Mongolian opponent, Lkhagvasuren Enkhbat.  Both were also successful in their second match with Liu topping Spain’s Galia Dvorak 4-1, and Kumar topping Ecuador’s Alberto Mino 4-2.   We’ll continue to provide TeamUSA updates as Liu and Kumar move forward, and as Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang play their first matches.  Some other regional players in action fared less well – Puerto Rico’s Melanie Diaz fell to a Thai player 0-4, Brian Afanador (Puerto Rico) lost a close match to Hong Kong’s Siu Hang Lam, and Canada’s Jeremy Hazin fell 0-4 to Slovakia’s Bojan Tokic.

Mixed Doubles is now underway underway with the top 16 teams in action.  Of the 8 matches played, three were upsets.  The top seeded Chinese team (Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen) beat the Canadian team of Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang 4-1.  The second seeded Romanian team (Ionescu/Szocs) defeated Slovakia 4-1.  The third seeded French team of Lebesson and Yuan dominated their British opponents 4-0.  Things got more interested as the teams became closer in the seedings.

The fifth seeded Taipei team (Ling Yun Ju and Cheng I-Ching) easily beat India and the seventh seeded Germany team of Franziska and Solja dominated Cuba 4-0, but the 4th, 6th, and 8th seeded teams all fell in upsets.  The fourth seeded Hungarian Team (Szudi/Pergel) was pounded by Hong Kong’s Wong and Doo 0-4.  The sixth seeded Egyptian team of Assar/Meshref fell 1-4 to Korea’s Sangsu Lee and Jihee Jeon.  The 8th seeded Austrian team of Fegerl/Polcanova fell 4-1 to Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito.  More Mixed Doubles action is scheduled tomorrow.

 

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Tokyo 2020: Singles Round 2

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are just underway and most of the big named players are not yet in action, but preliminary rounds are going on this weekend.  Men’s and Women’s Singles have now progressed into Round 2.

On the Men’s side, Lebesson and Habesohn each had easy wins.  Greece’s Gionis upset Egypt’s Saleh 4-1.  Gerassimenko and Jancarik had a tight match with the Kasack Kirill Gerassimenko pulling out a 4-3 win.  Brazil’s Tsuboi topped Ionescu and Jorgic topped Robles.  Lam Siu Hang of Singapore upset India’s Gnanasekaran 4-3.  Paul Drinkhall upset Gardos 4-1 and Chuang scored a 4-3 win over Cifuentes.  Finally, USA’s Nikhil Kumar’s run ended against Sweden’s Anton Kallberg 4-0.  Kumar had already logged two wins, but the Swedish player was too much.  Still, a great first Olympics for the 18 year old Kumar.

Round 2 Men’s Action on Monday will include some recognizable names, including USA’s Kanak Jha.  Kanak will play Skachkov – when the two last faced each other at the Austrian Open in 2019 it was Kanak Jha that won 4-1.  Pucar, Assar, Groth, Achanta, and Apolonia will all be in action tomorrow morning (which will be live late tonight in the US starting at 9am EDT).

Round 2 Women’s Action on Sunday included Switzerland’s Moret over Georgina Pota, Canada’s Mo Zhang topping Russia’s Noskova, Egypt’s Meshref over Partyka.  Korea’s Shin, Thailand’s Paranang, and India’s Batra each won their match in an upset.  Batra topped Ukraine’s Margaryta Pesotska who has fared extremely well in international competition over the last year.

USA’s Juan Liu will play her third match tomorrow morning (airing tonight at 9p EDT) against Balazova of Slovakia.  Liu was dominant in both of her previous matches, and Balazova plays a similar style to her last opponent except that she is left handed.  India’s second player, Mukherjee will be in action against Taipei’s Fu Yu, and USA’s Lily Zhang will open her tournament with a match against Nigeria’s Offiong Edem at 11am tomorrow (10p EDT).

 

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Tokyo 2020: Singles Round 2 – Jha, Zhang and Liu in Action

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are just underway and most of the big named players are not yet in action, but preliminary rounds are going on this weekend.  Men’s and Women’s Singles have now progressed into Round 2.

Sunday LATE Update 1 (Monday morning Tokyo action):

Kanak Jha saw his first action in Round 2 facing Russian Kirill Skachkov. The Russian began strong, with a few big backhands – forcing errors and building a lead.  But by the middle of the first game, Kanak found his rhythm and was dropping service returns well and finding points with his forehand wide of Skachkov.  With momentum, it looked as if Kanak might tie the score at 6-6, but a miss-hit service return landed for Skachkov winner and he maintained his 2 point lead to 8-6 and then to 9-7.  Skachkov reached 10 with the next point, Kanak ran off 2 points in a row, but a Kanak forehand fell short giving the first game to Skachkov 11-9.  USA 0, Russia 1.

In Game 2, Kanak started strong with a three backhand winners.  Skachkov logged his first point with a blistering forehand exchange that was the longest of the match thus far, but in the next point, Kanak again hit a clear winner to extend his lead to 4-1.  Skachkov tied the score with two long rallies, and a tricky service winner into Kanak’s body.  Kanak began his next service with the same combination – hitting his own service winner into Skachkov’s body.  After Kanak won the next two points, the score was now 8-4, with the American seemingly controlling the pace.  Kanak held on for an 11-9 victory.  USA 1, Russia 1.

Kanak started the third game by winning a great rally. After Skachkov won a point off of his serve, the third point was also a long rally – which ended with several lobs and Skachkov diving through a barrier into a camera man, but with Kanak winning the point.  There was a short pause while staff fixed barriers and Skachkov gathered himself.  Kanak dominated the next several points, creating separation to 6-3.  Jha continued to win off of his great short game, and Skachkov seemingly needed to work harder to win points – with most being longer forehand exchanges or difficult angles.  Still, Skachkov managed a perfect middle of the game with one point off of a reaction block, one strong backhand winner, one short ball that forced an error and then an all-out step-around forehand attack for a winner.  Even with the great play, with Kanak playing calmly within himself and Skachkov seemingly working hard to maximize his effort, the score was tied 9-9.  A forehand miss by Kanak put Skachkov to 10 first, and an unforced backhand error by Kanak gave the game to Skachkov.  USA 1, Russia 2.

There was no question about which player had the most intensity in the fourth game as Kanak came out on fire.  The first ten points all went to Kanak.  Interestingly, at 10-0, there was no pause for a mercy point – Kanak received a short serve with a sweeping backhand that landed for a clear winner.  11-0 to tied the game score a USA 2, Russia 2.

In the fifth game Kanak’s first attack went long – his second, however, found its mark.  The players continued to exchange points to 2-2, and then 4-4, and then 6-6.  Skachkov got the better of a long forehand rally, and then followed that up with a strong attack.  When Kanak misplayed a short return, the Russian was up 9-6.  Skachkov held on for the 11-7 win.  USA 2, Russia 3.

Skachkov played two aggressive service returns to start the sixth game with two wins.  He follows that advantage with a great counterloop to provide a 3-0 lead.  Down a game, and falling behind early, Kanak called time out and went to confer with Coach Stefan Feth.  The fourth point ended on a Skachkov net ball.  Of the first four points played, three could have easily fallen Kanak’s way, but this is a game of inches.  Skachkov pressed his advantage with a strong attack – and then an error by Kanak left the score 6-0.  A backhand miss off of a strong angle by Skachkov moved the score to 7-0, and an unforced backhand error made it 8-0.  Kanak finally scored with a strong backhand attack – but miss hit another backhand to fall behind 9-1.  The two traded points, until Skachkov finally sealed the win 11-4.

The other American that played in the early matches on Monday was Juan Liu.  She faced Balazova of Slovakia but the result of the match was never at issue.  The two players played tight in the first game, with Liu pulling away at the end to take the first game.  Liu didn’t trail in the second game.  The third game was again tight through the middle with Liu pulling away late for the 3-0 advantage.  And, finally, it was Liu calmly winning the fourth game 11-7.  Liu never trailed by more than 2 points, and was just a little better in all aspects of the game.  This has been the pattern so far for Liu, who has been dominant in all three of her wins thus far.  A dominant win for Juan Liu and for TeamUSA.

Lily Zhang started her match an hour later as she faced Nigeria’s Offiong Edem.  From a distance, Edem was a much larger player both in height and girth – but Zhang is the power player and Edem relies on softer play and control.  The players exchanged first game points up to 6-6, and then 7-7.  Edem relies on a backhand serve and soft returns – sometimes inside-out sidespin returns.  Zhang has been playing harder serves and strong attacks.  The contrasting styles played off of each other to 9-9 and then to 10-10.  A long rally gives Zhang the 11-10 lead, but an Edem attack evened the score at 11.  Edem then surprised with a strong backhand attack to go up a point.  A 10 shot rally ended in a heavy angle winner for Zhang to tie the game at 12.  Edem’s tricky serve again causes problems and puts her up, but Lily saves a net return to tie the game again.  Edem again wins with an aggressive forehand, and when Zhang misses a backhand, Nigeria is up a game.

In Game 2, Zhang pulled ahead early as she mixed short returns and a slow spinny forehand loop with her attacks.  The change in tactics gave her a 5-1 advantage early.  Zhang continued her dominance to the end line, winning the game easily 11-2.  Zhang continued her dominance early in the third game winning the first 5 points.  Zhang maintained the advantage through the middle of the game and up 8-2 was able to hit back to back forehand winners and then a heavy-angled backhand to win the third game 11-2.

Zhang began Game 4 with a strong serve for a winner, and then an edge.  Edem then forced two Zhang errors to tie the score 2-2. Zhang then scored a forehand winner and then a backhand winner to go up two.  An Edem error and a Zhang net then left the score 6-2 with Zhang up.  Zhang controlled the pace for the rest of the game – staying up a few points and logging the 11-8 win and the 3-1 advantage in games.  USA is now up 3-1.

Zhang started strong in the fifth game winning the first 2 points.  Edem paused for a timeout.  Edem made the most of her time-out by winning the first two points to even the score.  Zhang, however, is too strong and consistent – winning the next seven points and jumping way ahead.  The final game score is 11-6.  USA 4, Nigeria 1.

 

In late action Sunday (earlier in the day Sunday US time):

On the Men’s side, Lebesson and Habesohn each had easy wins.  Greece’s Gionis upset Egypt’s Saleh 4-1.  Gerassimenko and Jancarik had a tight match with the Kasack Kirill Gerassimenko pulling out a 4-3 win.  Brazil’s Tsuboi topped Ionescu and Jorgic topped Robles.  Lam Siu Hang of Singapore upset India’s Gnanasekaran 4-3.  Paul Drinkhall upset Gardos 4-1 and Chuang scored a 4-3 win over Cifuentes.  Finally, USA’s Nikhil Kumar’s run ended against Sweden’s Anton Kallberg 4-0.  Kumar had already logged two wins, but the Swedish player was too much.  Still, a great first Olympics for the 18 year old Kumar.

Round 2 Men’s Action on Monday will include some recognizable names, including USA’s Kanak Jha.  Kanak will play Skachkov – when the two last faced each other at the Austrian Open in 2019 it was Kanak Jha that won 4-1.  Pucar, Assar, Groth, Achanta, and Apolonia will all be in action tomorrow morning (which will be live late tonight in the US starting at 9am EDT).

Round 2 Women’s Action on Sunday included Switzerland’s Moret over Georgina Pota, Canada’s Mo Zhang topping Russia’s Noskova, Egypt’s Meshref over Partyka.  Korea’s Shin, Thailand’s Paranang, and India’s Batra each won their match in an upset.  Batra topped Ukraine’s Margaryta Pesotska who has fared extremely well in international competition over the last year.

USA’s Juan Liu will play her third match tomorrow morning (airing tonight at 9p EDT) against Balazova of Slovakia.  Liu was dominant in both of her previous matches, and Balazova plays a similar style to her last opponent except that she is left handed.  India’s second player, Mukherjee will be in action against Taipei’s Fu Yu, and USA’s Lily Zhang will open her tournament with a match against Nigeria’s Offiong Edem at 11am tomorrow (10p EDT).

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