US Men's Team Campaign Ends in Rio with Swedish Victory
The make or break match for Team USA with the singles competition over and the Women's team eliminated by Germany earlier this afternoon it was on the shoulders of the Men's team to stay in the games. Facing Sweden with two singles players rated 27th and 32nd in the world it would be a difficult task.
First to step up to the plate was Yijun Feng, ranked 275 in the world to face Par Gerell ranked at number 32. In an interview with ITTF, world number 2 Fan Zhendong of China had stated Par Gerell as the best server in the world of table tennis. Before the tournament began a video surfaced of Chinese national team coach Liu Guoliang being unable to return his serves in the training hall.
For Yijun Feng the challenge was also evident, the Swedish player's service causing problems left and right. Combine that with his heavy topspin forehand loop and left handed angles and Feng was in for a ride. The match had some moments and some notable rallies but the Swedish player was dominant in games 1 and 2. In the third set Feng had his chance, trailing 5-6 he called a timeout and pushed onwards, the match tied up at 10-10. Next Sweden called a timeout, Could Yijun Feng pull through and take 2 decisive points? Alas it was not to be, the Swedish player ended with a well disguised heavy topspin hook serve, a signature move of sorts for Gerell. 3-0 the score and a first point for Sweden on the board.
In match two it was Kanak Jha, the youngest table tennis player in the history of the Olympic Games to take on World number 27 Kristian Karlsson. For Kanak it was familiar territory with all three of the players on the opposing team hailing from his training club of Halmstad in Sweden. The level of Karlsson was quickly realized as he took control of the match. His dominant offence often put Kanak on the back foot and try as he might the young American wasn't able to take control of the match. A great learning experience for Jha, many have said Rio is just the beginning for the young US star and we certainly hope he takes some positive learning experiences away from his first Olympic Games.
The doubles would see 2nd time Olympian Timothy Wang step out to the table for the first time, unfortunately for him his Rio experience was short lived. The combination of Par Gerell and Mattias Karlsson proving too strong for the American pairing. Again Gerell's serves were at work and the more offensive side showed confident set ups and scoring tactics early on. The left and right handed combination, a strong pairing in doubles. The Swedish pair took the match 3-0 and ended USA's hopes in Rio.
A proud effort by the men's team throughout the Rio Olympic Games and an experience we hope they have not only enjoyed but also learnt a lot from.