Kunal Chodri became the second player to upset the order as he claimed the second berth on the 2017 US National Men's Team at the National Team Trials today. As we saw on day 1 as Adar Alguetti hit top form and earned his place, it was Kunal who stepped it up on day 2.
Early on in the round of 16 he would account for Nathan Hsu in 5 games. In this early stage there was only one match which caused an interesting result and that was the 4-0 win of Victor Liu over 4th seed Nikhil Kumar. Liu reached the semifinal on Day 1 and looked to be in relatively good form again today. Sharon and Gal Alguetti would advance to the quarterfinals to remain in the draw along with Krish Avvari, Nicholas Tio, Shao Yu and Kanak Jha.
The quarterfinals would see the level of intensity step up and Kunal Chodri would continue to gain momentum as he overcame first day finalist Nicholas Tio in 5 games, Tio stealing away one game in deuce but otherwise smooth sailing for Chodri. There were tense moments in other matches as Gal Alguetti fought his way through a back and forth battle to take victory 12-10 in the 7th over Shao Yu, the 44 year old veteran proving himself a great contender so far in this competition among many younger opponents.
Sharon Alguetti would make his break for the semifinals after an explosive 4-1 win over Victor Liu. Sharon certainly doing his best to exert positive energy and lift his game. On Table 1 it would be a battle of the 1 and 3 seeds of day 1 as Kanak Jha and Krish Avvari faced off. Kanak started out strong with a 2-0 lead before Krish fought his way back in with a bit more aggression behind him. The games were close but Jha's tighter serve and receive as well as more efficient game plan helped him carry through to the end.
Moving into the semifinals Kanak Jha would exhibit some very tactful table tennis as he shut down Sharon Alguetti. While Alguetti came into the match with a lot of confidence and in good shape after his win over Liu in the quarters, it was Kanak who managed to keep Alguetti from playing to his strengths and narrowed his options in the match. It would end with a 4-0 win for Kanak Jha who took his place in the final.
Kunal Chodri suffered a much closer match-up with Gal Alguetti again showing some incredible form. Gal has been one of the standout players of the tournament with his early win over Krish Avvari on Day 1 and his clutch match against Shao Yu in the previous round. He looked to have Kunal under his thumb as he closed in on victory but Chodri had other ideas. With some match points and a 3-2 lead in his favor it was Gal who almost looked like he could take the win, but Kunal was able to execute some great shots and win game 6, 16-14. He would finish the match in the end stages of the 7th, 11-9 with somewhat of a lucky break on the net for the last point.
The final would see Kanak Jha face Kunal Chodri. The young 2016 Olympian Jha would struggle early on with Kunal's quick hand adjustments and powerful and explosive shots working well to counter Jha's more steady game. Facing a 2-0 deficit and his chances in the match getting away from him it was Kanak Jha who refocused and turned the game on its head. He would seal out game 3 after a calculated timeout before completing a three set run to hold a 3-2 lead. A big focus on body placement had helped his cause and weakened Chodri's attacking game.
Negativity creeped in for Chodri and you couldn't help but think back to his 2014 National Final match against Jimmy Butler as the pressure started to show cracks in his game. Kanak Jha saw the finish line but in an unbelievable turn of events it was Kunal Chodri who came out all guns blazing. In game 6 he couldn't seem to miss as he positioned himself well and covered the body ball better. His recognition and adaptation to Jha's tactics led him out to an impressive 11-3 win.
With Jha's momentum sharply halted it was Kunal Chodri who drilled the message home. He would win game 7 by an 11-8 margin. He could not contain his joy at the result and the usually less emotive Kunal Chodri was all smiles. For Kanak Jha it will be back to the drawing board on day 3 where he will be the top seed in the draw, for Kunal on the other hand it was a big breakthrough which we haven't seen from him in some time. A very pleasant surprise and an excellently played match on his part.
Video from the semifinal match between Kanak and Sharon and the Men's Final can be seen below along with the completed Men's Singles Draw from Day 2.
2017 US National Team Trials - Day 2 Semifinals and Finals Session
Day 2 Women's Singles Completed Draw