Lifted by the cheers of the local crowd filling the stands of the George R Brown Convention Center, Kanak Jha gave his best and made its way to the Round of 16 – the first time since 1983 that an American man reached this stage at a World Championships.
“It’s Thanksgiving; it’s a really special holiday,” said Kanak Jha after his match. “I’m really grateful all the time, but especially on this day, I am grateful to my family and my closest friends. My family has been with me since Day 1, my father was here today, it gave me a little extra motivation because he normally doesn’t see me play. Today he was here for the world championships, I was really proud to win in front of him and all my supporters here. I am so grateful to all of them. Sometimes in the match I don’t show to the crowd that I can feel their energy, but I do at every point and that kind has been the extra boost for me this tournament, getting the fans support. It’s really a special feeling, I’m just so humbled to be able to play at home.”
Fans, spectators and volunteers could feel a unique Thanksgiving atmosphere throughout the venue as the Harris County Houston Sports Authority celebrated families all day with activities for children such as face painting, balloon art, and of course, table tennis try-outs. The young fans received the visit of an unexpected opponent in the person of Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner.
“I haven’t played in a few years, but it comes back. It’s a very competitive sport. It takes some thinking, it takes some energy, and it takes a lot of skill. I’m just amazed,” he said.
Mayor Turner was very proud of the 236 volunteers and their invaluable contribution to the event, even on Thanksgiving Day.
“At all of our sporting events, Houstonians step up, they volunteer, you tell them what you need, and they show, and they graciously give of their time. This is a big holiday today, it’s Thanksgiving Day, but you still have volunteers that step away from their homes, their families to help out. You just couldn’t ask for better support from a city.”
Aged 6 to 70 and speaking a total of 10 different languages, more than 200 volunteers have been helping throughout the World Championships.
“On Thanksgiving Day, I would like to express my gratitude to Houston and its incredible team of volunteers. They are the unsung heroes of this event which wouldn’t be possible without their support, said Petra Sörling, ITTF President.
Tomorrow, Jha will face Germany’s Ruwen Filus in a sold-out venue entirely behind him. With several upsets and no more top-seeded players in the bottom half of the draw, Jha could progress even further in one of the most open World Championships in recent history. He is also playing mixed doubles with Wang Manyu, a historical China-USA pair on the year marking the 50th anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy.
There are 19 million recreational table tennis players in America. By hosting the first-ever World Championships in the Americas, the ITTF is looking forward to leaving a strong legacy and growing Table Tennis even further on this continent.