Nikhil Kumar (Far) takes on Liang Jishan in the Under 2700 Semifinals
He may not have gone all the way past the finish line but 13 year old Nikhil Kumar was by far the outstanding performer for the Day 2 session of the 2016 US Open in Las Vegas, Nevada. How do I know? Well because my day started with the biggest vested interested in how Nikhil Kumar would be playing. That's right, I met him at 9:45am in my men's singles group. After losing and being eliminated I shrugged it off and got back to work but I kept a keen eye on Nikhil throughout the day.
He advanced into the last 64 of the Men's Singles draw and found himself up against Paralympic Gold Medalist Tahl Leibovitz, not an easy player to meet early in the draw and he had shown his form already by beating Danny Seemiller comfortably in the group stages. It seemed Nikhil was in the right mindset and form for the match, he finds ways to use his left handed angles to his advantage and combined topspin and punching on the backhand to great effect. I also made note of his uncanny ability to dropshot the ball. In practice with him prior to his under 2700 match with Michael Tran he told me I could serve anything I wanted and he would be able to short push return it. I proceeded to throw out topspin kick serves, hook serves and long fast serves. Aside from a couple he managed to short push them all. This kid has talent and if you watch him play you will see it.
He will face off against his coach Tao Wenzhang (2014 US Open Champion) in the next round, it doesn't get much tougher. His performance in the under 2700 was particularly outstanding. He performed outstandingly to claim a win over Canada's Jeremy Hazin with a 3-1 margin, winning his three sets with relative comfort. He headed into the quarterfinals against Michael Tran who had advanced over AJ Carney the previous round. The match was close and back and forth with Nikhil Kumar holding a 2-1 lead before Tran fought back to win the 4th 11-4 and take the match to the 5th set. The young player from ICC held his nerve as the match headed to deuce in the 5th saving two crucial match points and taking a 12-10 victory to head into the semifinals.
This match was by far his best. Taking on Liang Jishan a top coach from Triangle and a multiple time winner of the prestigious Cary Cup. Rated 2667 and with a powerful forehand it would be a battle of left handers. The main mission for Kumar was to play tight and smart and try and search for Jishan's backhand and avoid the overwhelming power of his third ball forehand. To his credit, Nikhil took a 2-1 lead and heading into the 5th game he showed nerves of steel. Controlling the ball well and pushing Liang into the corner always working to find body or backhand. The 5th set was an amazing show of dominance from Nikhil Kumar and with an 11-2 win it sealed his spot in the under 2700 final event. He would meet Zhang Kai and unfortunately lose out 3-0 but without a doubt his performances of the day certainly made him the standout player. Congratulations Nikhil!