Team World Cup Recap: Final 8 for Both USA Teams
(by Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
The ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF Team World Cup opened with group play last Wednesday in Tokyo. Twelve teams (12 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams) will battle for the World Cup title with qualification based upon a combination of World Ranking and regional qualification.
All teams participated in group play – 4 equal groups of three teams. The group position determined where each team is seeded in the knock-out stages with only eight teams advancing.
The top seeds in the Men’s Division were China, Japan, Germany, and Korea. The Chinese team were heavy favorites as they were featuring Xu Xin, Fan Zhendong and Ma Long (with Lin Gaoyuan and Liang Jingkun in reserve). The top seeds in the Women’s Division were China, Japan, Taipei, and Hong Kong. The Chinese team of Chen Meng, Ding Ning and Wang Manyu were heavy favorites, though Japan’s team of Ito Mima, Kasumi Ishikawa, and Miu Hirano hoped to press the favorites as both Mima and Hirano have had wins on the tour this year.
The American teams were seeded 11th (Men) and 7th (Women) in their respective events. The TeamUSA Men’s team includes Kanak Jha, Kai Zhang, and Yijun Feng. The TeamUSA Women’s team includes Jennifer Wu, Likely Zhang, and Amy Wang.
As the 11th seed, the US Men were seeded third in their group behind Korea and Sweden. In order to advance, they needed to finish at least second. In their opening match, they fell to Korea 0-3. The doubles team of Kanak Jha and Yijun Feng lost 3-0 to the Korea team of Sangsu Lee and Youngsik Jeoung, Kanak fell to Woojin Jang in singles 3-1, and Yijun fell to Youngsik Jeoung 3-1.
However, TeamUSA bounced back from their early loss to score an upset of the Swedish team to secure a spot in the Quarterfinals. The Swede team of Kallberg/Ranefur beat TeamUSA’s Feng/Zhang team 3-0 to give Sweden the early lead. Kanak Jha then defeated World No. 25 Kristian Karlsson 3-1 to even the score. Kai Zhang overcame Elias Ranefur to give TeamUSA the lead but Karlsson defeated Yijun Feng 3-0 to even the score. In the deciding match between Kanak Jha and Anton Kallberg the two traded games from start to finish with Jha winning the 1st, 3rd, and deciding 5th games. Jha over Kallberg 3-2 (8, -8, 9, -11, 7) and USA over Sweden 3-2.
TeamUSA was one of two upsets in the Group Phase. The English team of Paul Drinkhall, Liam Pitchford, and Tom Jarvis were seeded third in their group but upset both Japan and Austria to finish first. The other six teams to advance were exactly as expected and this left the Quarterfinal pairings as China v. USA, Japan v. Germany, Korea v. Brazil, and England v. Taipei. The first two Quarterfinals have already been played with China overpowering USA 3-0 and Japan defeating Germany 3-1.
TeamUSA’s Women were seeded second in their Group and needed to hold their position to advance. They fell 0-3 to Japan (the tournament’s second seed) and then dominated Austria 3-0 to advance. TeamUSA’s group result was basically as expected – as were the other groups. The Top 8 seeds all advanced in the Women’s event. The only change was in order as Korea (second seed in their group) upset Hong Kong (first seed in their group).
Like the U.S. men, the TeamUSA draw leaves the team facing the top seeded Chinese in their Quarterfinal match. TeamUSA fell to China 3-o in their Quarterfinal match. For both the men and the women, TeamUSA upsets over China may be unrealistic in a team event at this point. However, the U.S. teams have taken a step forward this year in their performances in major events – and seeing both team advance through to the Quarterfinals is a good look for TeamUSA. With the top 8 teams in the world faced off in a format that mirrors the 2020 Olympic format, our U.S. teams were just one win away from playing for a medal. That’s right where we hope to find both teams in Tokyo in 2020.
On the final day, it was China over Korea 3-1. The Korean team was the only team to win a set (the opening Doubles match). The second seeded Japanese did not make the final, as the upset by Team England pushed them into a tougher position. Japan was forced to battle Germany and then China (losing to China 3-0 in the Semifinals), and that left an easier path for the third seeded Korean team to advance.
The Women’s Team event played out almost by seed. China advanced winning every match 3-0, and second seeded Japan easily advanced as well. China then won three straight over Japan, with the only tight match being the 3-2 win of Sun Yingsha over Mima Ito.
Two Golds for China, a Silver and Bronze for both Japan and Korea, two Silvers for Taipei, and steady improvement for TeamUSA.
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