The Table Tennis events have come to a close in Tokyo and TeamUSA has returned home. No medals this year, but that was not an unexpected result. The goal for our young American players was to continue to improve, and there were some promising highlights worth revisiting:
Liu Juan and Nikhil Kumar each made early waves in singles. In Men’s Singles, Nikhil defeated his Mongolian opponent in his opening match and then defeated Ecuador’s Alberto Mino in his second match. Mino has been ranked as high as 73 in the World. At such a young age, Nikhil’s fast improvement is a step forward for American Table Tennis.
Liu had a great run. Her win over Nigeria’s Oshonaike was expected but she followed that up by dominating Spain’s Galia Dvorak and did the same with a 4-0 win over Barbora Balazova. It was the fourth win, however, that really turned heads as Liu topped Bernadette Szocs 4-2. Szocs is World No. 27 – the third highest ranked female in Europe. Liu advanced all the way to the Round of 16 before falling to Yu Mengyu 4-2. Incidentally, Menyu went on to win her next match against Ishikawa before falling in the Semifinals to eventual champion Chen Meng. Liu’s win over Szocs is a step forward for USA Table Tennis.
Lily Zhang was 1-1 in singles, winning her opening match but falling to Taipei’s Chen Szu-Yu (Szu-Yu fell in the next round to Finalist Sun Yingsha). Lily did not get to play singles in the Women’s Teams event, as TeamUSA lost 3-0. She did play doubles (with Juan Liu) and fell in a tight 3-2 match against Taipei (losing to a Taipei team that includes the same Chen Szu-Yu and Mixed Doubles Bronze Medalist Cheng Hsien Tzu).
Jha was likely very disappointed after his opening match in Singles, a 4-2 loss to a Russian player who he had beaten previously. That said, Skachkov had played a tough match earlier in the day and perhaps was more acclimated to the playing environment – and the reward for moving on was an 0-4 loss to eventual Bronze Medalist Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Jha also lost to Kristian Karlsson in the Men’s Teams ensuring more losses than wins for America’s top ranked player. That said, despite the two losses suffered, Kanak’s one win was an important one – topping Sweden’s top ranked player (World No. 9 Mattias Falck). Kanak probably wishes he had of won all three of those matches – but from the perspective of an American fan, Kanak just proved that he can compete against the most elite in the world. In 2019 Falck advanced all the way to the Finals of the World table Tennis Championships, and he’s a perennial top 4 finisher at the European Championships and was the highest ranked European player for most of the last two years. This is a big win for Kanak Jha and a big step for American Table Tennis.
Huijing Wang and Zhou Xin were the third player for their respective teams. Neither had played in the singles competitions and both were thrust into the Teams event against a tough opponent (who had previously played in Singles). Both lost that one match – but each gained valuable experience that will serve them well in international competitions in the future.