(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. As the Group Rounds have come to a close, neither USA team has made it to the Championship round.
For the men, they were seeded third in a very difficult group (China, Slovenia, USA, Puerto Rico, Thailand). They have finished third – exactly where they were supposed to finish, and perhaps one spot higher than many expected. They topped Thailand in their opening match, fell to China in their match yesterday, and today topped Puerto Rico. Today, they fell 0-3 to the second seeded Slovenian team. Darko Jorgic (World Top 10) topped Mishel Levinski 3-0, and then both Jishan Liang and Earl James Alto fell just short in long, 5-set matches. Jishan was up 2-0 before losing three in a row to Deni Kozul (falling 11-8 in the final game), and Earl fought back twice to event the match score before falling in his fifth game 11-8. Jishan finishes the tournament 4-2, a strong anchor for the Men’s Team.
The women will likely be disappointed in their result. They were seeded second, but have finished fourth. The anchor for the Women’s Team is clearly Lily Zhang. Lily finishes the event 5-1, and twice won two matches in a 2-3 loss. Today was one of those frustrating matches – though due to an earlier upset loss to Malaysia, TeamUSA needed to sweep the match today to move forward. They were facing a talented Puerto Rican team, and Lily started the match off well with a 3-0 win over Daniely Rios. Adriana Diaz and Melanie Diaz then each won 3-0 over their TeamUSA opponents (Sarah Jalli and Tiffany Ke). Lily then defeated Adriana Diaz 3-2, setting up a fifth and deciding match between Sarah Jalli and Daniely Rios. Rios won the first two games before Sarah fought back to tie the score – and in the final game it was 11-9 Rios (and 3-2 Puerto Rico). Puerto Rico advances, and TeamUSA drops to fourth (behind Malaysia).
Matches are still underway – but when today ends, the final 16 will be set. Lots of action scheduled this week as we move on to talking about the top seeds in the knockout rounds.
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