(by Steve Hopkins)
When was the last time that Timo Boll, one of the world’s most popular players, faced a crowd dominated by cheers for his opponent. That was the case today in Houston as USA’s Kanak Jha. Boll, currently World No. 11, has consistently been one of the top players in the World, and he and USA’s Kanak Jha faced off today, it was Boll who was highly favored.
In two previous meetings this year, Boll has dominated Jha winning 4-0 and 3-0 in those meetings. Today was not a dominant win for Boll, but it was a win. Kanak Jha’s wonderful run ended in the Round of 16 at the hands of a former World Champion.
Jha began the World Championships as World No. 31. He entered Singles and Mixed Doubles. He had great success in both events. In Mixed Doubles, Jha paired with China’s Wang Manyu and they upset two teams before falling 3-2 to India’s Gnanasekaran and Batra in the Round of 16.
In Men’s Singles, Jha topped An Jaehyun of Korea (4-3) and Andrej Gacina of Croatia (4-0), and Martin Allegro of Belgium (4-2) and Ruwen Filus of Germany (4-1) on his epic run to the Quarterfinals. And in his match against Timo Boll in the Quarters, with a medal round awaiting the winner, Jha won the first and fifth games, and had a lead in the sixth game that could have evened the match. It was a solid performance overall – perhaps Jha’s best overall tournament performance of his career. America’s best continues to improve – that bodes will for Kanak Jha and also for TeamUSA.
Here is a play by play of the match with Timo Boll today:
Jha dominated the first game, winning going away 11-4. The script was flipped in the second game, with Boll up four points early – coasting to and 11-5 win. The third game includes some great exchanges early, but Boll’s consistency continued to put a lot of pressure on Jha. An early lead for Boll evaporated, but then a missed smash, a miss off the net, and a block that floated long left the score 7-3 for Boll. Jha fought back again – and at 7-5, “USA, USA” chants filled the arena. 7-6, then 7-7 and Kanak (and the crowd) erupted. The players traded points to get to 9-9, strong shots by Kanak on his wins, and careful control from Boll for his answers. A net/edge by Boll gives him a 10-9 lead. A Jha power forehand tied the score. And again, “USA, USA” chants. A long rally gives Boll the advantage, a missed block gives Boll the win. 2-1 Boll. In Game 4, Jha came out playing safer, and Boll became the aggressor very effectively, leading by 2 early, then by 3, and eventually extending his lead to 8-4. Three points later, Jha cuts the lead to 8-7 and Boll calls time out. Two quick points after the time out put Boll up 10-7 and then 11-7 after a Jha forehand goes long. Game 5 was all Kanak early – with Kanak winning 4 of the first 5 points. The two traded points, and Jha pulls ahead 5-2 as Boll comes up a little lame – limping and holding his side. Despite the physical woes, Boll wins three in a row to tie the score. Two brilliant, aggressive strikes for Jha gives him a 2 point lead. Jha hangs on for an 11-9 win. Now 3-2 with Boll ahead. Between games, Boll holds an ice pack on his left side while listening to his coach. Two quick service wins by Jha give him an early advantage in Game 6. The next point may be the best of the tournament – 12 shots with great play on both sides, but with Boll winning. The players traded points to 2-2, then 3-3, then 4-4, then 5-5, then 6-6. Mixed in are some tricky serves, and great rallies with hard flat balls on both sides. 7-7 – with Jha yelling “come on” to the crowd, and the crowd responding with cheers. Boll pulls out two wins in a row off of his serve to take the lead 9-7. And then 10-7 as Jha missed long. Boll closes out the match with a tricky side spin service return.
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