by Ian Marshall, Editor
Born in 2000; many will refer to the year in which the 18th birthday is celebrated as the last in the junior ranks; that is true but it is negative thinking. It is the year when you make a major step forward to become established in the senior ranks, in that year you need to be able to compete with seasoned players of pedigree. Success at junior level is welcome but should that not be considered more a bonus than a priority?
Astutely guided by Stefan Feth and Jörg Bitzegio, it was such a policy that Kanak Jha followed in 2018; he did not appear on the ITTF World Junior Circuit, only being present in junior events when the nation called. Notably, in February, he emerged successful at the 2017 ITTF World Junior Circuit Finals in Luxembourg, before in July in Santo Domingo. he won the Boys’ Singles title at the Pan American Junior Championships for the third consecutive year. In both he proved step ahead of the field.
However, the true mark of Kanak Jha’s quality was his response when pressure really mounted, when it was his one and only chance. Is there a contest of greater pressure that the bronze medal match? On the one hand you have to recover from the disappointment of a semi-final defeat; additionally, if you reach the final, you have the cushion of a silver medal, lose the third place contest and the cupboard is bare.
Twice in 2018, Kanak Jha faced that situation; furthermore, he faced left handers on both occasions, players who are known for their outstanding talent, their high level of skill. It is in those contests where you must be tougher than tough. On both occasions Kanak Jha, no lack of skill, displayed his mental strength. In the third place match in June at the Pan America Cup in Asuncion he beat the host nation’s Marcelo Aguirre to secure his place in the Liebherr Men’s World Cup. Later in the year in October, in the same contest, he overcame Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju to secure the bronze medal at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. The results marked his graduation.
They were stand out moments but there were two more performances that caught the eye. He won the Men’s Singles title at the United States National Championships for a third consecutive year, later in Santiago he succeeded at the Pan American Championships but it was in February and October when competing in two of the highest level events of the year, he delivered capital performances.
In London at the Team World Cup, in the group stage of proceedings when facing Hong Kong he beat Wong Chun Ting, at the time listed at no.7 on the Men’s Word Ranking; later in Paris at the Liebherr Men’s World Cup he accounted for Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna, listed at no.21 on the order of merit to reach the main draw. If his efforts in Asuncion and Buenos Aires were graduation dates, London and Paris was his coming of age.
During 2018, he proved himself the equal of any junior player, being listed no.1 on the Under Boys’ World Rankings from April to June and from August to December.
On the Men’s World Rankings he concluded the year in the no.51 spot, his career high; he started the year at no.90. Is similar progress possible in 2019? Quite possible, remember it was a last 16 finish at the Liebherr 2018 Men’s World Cup.