by Ian Marshall, Editor
Kanak Jha and Nicholas Tio in the men’s team are both 19 years old, Nikhil Kumar celebrated his 17th birthday on Wednesday 1st January; the senior member is 22 years of age, Zhang Kai.
Meanwhile, for the women, Amy Wang and Crystal Wang are both 17 years old, Wu Yue is by some distance the guardian of the team, she is 30 years of age, Lily Zhang is 23 years old.
Comparatively young teams but they are not without experience; a fact confirmed by Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang, the pivotal players in the respective men’s and women’s team selections.
World Cup appearances
Amongst many other excursions, commencing in 2014, Kanak Jha has already competed in four Men’s World Cup tournaments; starting in 2016 it is three in number for Lily Zhang.
However, the crucial factor is that since the Liebherr 2018 World Championships in Halmstad when the men finished in overall 33rd place and the women in the no.13 spot, both have enjoyed major successes.
Most notably, Kanak Jha was a bronze medallist at the Buenos Aires 2018 Olympic Games, more recently Lily Zhang reached the semi-final stage at the Uncle Pop 2019 ITTF Women’s World Cup.
However, one player does not make a team; their colleagues are more than support acts and have proved themselves most competent on the international stage.
Last year on the 2019 ITTF World Junior Circuit, Nikhil Kumar was the junior boys’ singles runner up in France, a finish also enjoyed by Lily Zhang in the counterpart junior girls’ singles event. In a similar vein, Nicolas Tio was an under 21 men’s singles quarter-finalist at the ITTF Challenge Polish Open, Crystal Wang advanced to the same round in the girls’ singles at the World Junior Championships in Korat.
Not to be left out, Wu Yue, women’s singles winner at the 2015 Pan American Games, secured bronze at the Universal 2019 Pan American Cup in Puerto Rico but if there was one member of the group heading to Busan who hit the headlines, it was Zhang Kai. In September, in the men’s singles opening round at the ITTF Challenge Paraguay Open, he ousted the top seed, Japan’s Koki Niwa.
Success in Tokyo
Progress individually and together; at the Zen-Noh 2019 Team World Cup in Tokyo, both men and women progressed through the group stage to reach the quarter-final where they faced the toughest draw possible. China halted progress as they did when facing everyone else!
The last eight place for the trio of Wu Yue, Amy Wang and Lily Zhang was expected, they commenced play the no.7 seeds. Nevertheless, after experiencing a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the no.2 seeds, Japan’s Mima Ito, Miu Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa, the 3-1 success when facing the no.9 seeds, Austria’s Liu Jia, Karoline Mischek and Amelie Solja, was no mean performance.
A creditable outcome but the women were upstaged by the men. The no.11 seeds, the trio comprising Kanak Jha, Zhang Kai and Feng Yijun, after suffering a 3-0 defeat when opposing the no.4 seeds, Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu, Jeoung Youngsik and Jang Woojin, caused a major upset. They recorded a 3-2 win against the no.5 seeds, Sweden’s Anton Källberg, Kristian Karlsson and Elias Ranefur.
Accepted the system of play at the 2020 World Team Championships and the personnel will be different but the fact is clear the United States presents formidable opposition. Moreover, it may be the best is yet to come.