(by Steve Hopkins, photo USATT)
When the 2022 ITTF World Team Championships Finals began this week in Chengdu, many would have expected TeamUSA to have results below their seeding. The men were without Kanak Jha and Nikhil Kumar, and the women had Lily Zhang as their anchor, but the other names were new to this stage. For the men, they were seeded third in a very difficult group (China, Slovenia, USA, Puerto Rico, Thailand). They topped Thailand in their opening match, fell to China in their match yesterday, and today topped Puerto Rico. They will finish no worse than third – solid results for our TeamUSA underdogs. They now have one match remaining – and if they pull off the upset over Slovenia, they can finish second (and they have nothing to lose against a loaded Slovenian team featuring Darko Jorgic and Deni Kozul).
In the match against Puerto Rico today, Jishan Liang topped Brian Afanador 3-1. Mishel Levinski then followed up with a 3-0 win over Daniel Gonzales. Earl James Alto fell to Angel Naranjo 0-3, and Jishan closed out the match with a 3-0 win over Daniel. Both Puerto Rico and TeamUSA are coming off of loses to the Chinese Team (the tournaments top seed, and host team). For the USA in their loss, the high point was Mishel Levinstki’s first game win over Ma Long – an 11-7 victory that briefly put Mishel (and TeamUSA in the lead). However, Ma Long went on to dominate the remaining three games – and his teammates Liang Jingkun and Lin Gaoyuan each breezed to 3-0 wins (over Jishan and Earl, respectively). Thus far, Ma Long is 9-1 in games in the tournament (and Mishel scored that one early loss). Three of the five Chinese players have yet to lose a game – Fan Zhendong, Liang Jingkun, and Lin Gaoyuan are all undefeated thus far. Puerto Rico had a similar match score in their matchup with the Chinese team – Fan topped Brian Afanador 3-0, Ma Long topped Daniel Gonzales 3-0, but Angel Naranjo managed to pull out the third game against Wang Chuqin (a game that Wang Chuqin won 3-1). TeamUSA will face Slovenia tomorrow in their last match. Puerto Rico has already played their last match – and will finish fourth in the group (and China has finished and has taken first in the group, and Thailand will finish fifth – USA and Slovenia will play for positions 2/3).
TeamUSA’s Women started strong in their group with a win over Canada. However, an upset loss to Malaysia, and then a loss to the top seeded Chinese team has left them a 1-2 in the group. They will face Puerto Rico in their final match and will need a decisive win to force a three-way tie for second – perhaps reclaiming the second position where they were originally seeded.
Lots of action scheduled this week as we move into knockout rounds.
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