by Simon Daish
Lily Zhang, Wu Yue and Liu Juan were the trio entrusted with guiding the host nation in the women’s team draw with up-and-coming young star Amy Wang and coach Gao Jun taking their positions on the bench. As for Canada an unfortunate shoulder injury saw stalwart Mo Zhang withdraw from the match so it was up to Benita Zhou, Isabelle Xiong and Sophie Gauthier to carry the nation’s hopes in the final.
The hosts were irresistible from start to finish: Liu Juan and Wu Yue combined to perfection in the match opener, beating the pair of Sophie Gauthier and Isabelle Xiong by a convincing six-point margin in each of the three games (11-5, 11-5, 11-5).
Building upon a strong opening, Lily Zhang soon doubled Team USA’s advantage with a powerful display against Benita Zhou (11-2, 11-6, 11-2). Just one more win was required in the best of five format and it arrived courtesy of Wu Yue who, just like her teammate Lily Zhang before her, dropped a combined total of just 10 points to get the job done in her encounter Isabelle Xiong (11-1, 11-5, 11-4).
“We came in with a lot of confidence in our team and our preparations to bring our best to the table here in Rockford, and its been an honor for us to deliver this result in front of home supporters. I’m looking forward to working towards the next step now with this opportunity to compete in another Olympic Games.” Lily Zhang
Finishing at the top of the tree in Rockford, United States has claimed its ticket to compete in the women’s team event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and will also be awarded two positions in the women’s singles line-up in the Japanese capital. Falling short on this occasion but there are plenty of positives for this young Canadian team to take moving forwards – the remaining women’s singles spot at next year’s Olympic Games belongs to them.
One contest decided in Team USA’s favour and not long after there were further celebrations for the hosts in the men’s team competition.
Nikhil Kumar and Zhou Xin stepped up to the challenge in their doubles meeting with Eugene Wang and Hongtao Chen, posting a 3-1 win over the Canadians (11-7, 11-13, 11-8, 11-5). However, we nearly witnessed a mighty upset in the second fixture of the evening as Kanak Jha was forced to fight back from 1-2 down on his way to a tight 3-2 victory against a brave young player in Jeremy Hazin (11-5, 8-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-6).
With little margin for error Hongtao Chen gave it his all in a crucial battle with Zhou Xin, landing the opening game to give his team something to cling onto. But, spurred on by the home fans Zhou Xin raised his performance, winning the next three games on the bounce (9-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-4) to hand United States its second 3-0 success of the day.
“It was an exciting opportunity to compete in my first North American Olympic trial. I was happy to contribute to the team result with the opening doubles and help us book our spot for Tokyo 2020.” Nikhil Kumar
Qualification for the men’s team event at Tokyo 2020 is in the bag for United States while two places for the men’s singles event have also been secured. Just as in the women’s side of the competition, Canada takes home the other singles ticket on offer in Rockford.