The US Junior Boys Table Tennis team have come within points of guaranteeing themselves a medal at the 2017 World Junior Table Tennis Championships in Riva Del Garda, Italy. After an amazing performance yesterday against Russia where Sharon Alguetti wrestled back from a 2-0 deficit to close out the deciding match, the team advanced to the Quarterfinals to play off against another team in hot form, Romania, who had stunned Sweden to progress to the last 8.
Sharon Alguetti would be the player to lead out for USA, starting out against Cristian Pletea - currently ranked 7 in the world for junior boys. The first two games were nailbiters, both going to deuce and with each player holding off the other to seal them. Alguetti was the player to push ahead and take a 2-1 lead before Pletea leveled again. It would go down to the wire and in the fifth game Alguetti would hold a match point against the higher ranked player from Romania, but Pletea dug deep under the pressure and brought home the first point for the Romanian side.
Kanak Jha continued his impressive run through the team events, extending his match record to 9:1 in the quarterfinal match. He brought USA back into the match with a 3-1 victory over Rares Sipos, dropping one game in deuce. With the match tied at 1-1 Adar Alguetti would face off with Dragos Oprea. Alguetti made good grounds in the first game to take the early lead, but Oprea fought his way back and drove home the next 3 games to give Romania a 2-1 lead.
Kanak Jha would be the player under the gun as team USA's hopes to stay in the match rest on his shoulders. Cristian Pletea, ranked a couple of places higher in the current world rankings, would be no easy target for Jha, despite his strong performance so far during the event. Pletea would hold a 2-1 lead in the match but the young American showed the fortitude which helped him become the youngest male Olympic table tennis player in history. In a display of control he took game four 11-5 and set up a 5th set face-off.
In the clutches of the 5th game it would be Kanak Jha who took the 2 point finish and setup a final showdown with the Romanians. Sharon Alguetti would be tested again as the final result lay in his hands.
An excellent match followed with Alguetti laying everything on the line for the team. Sipos was strong in game one and took it 11-3 but Alguetti fired back to win the second and third games, putting him in position to make a final run for the end line. As the match narrowed to a decisive moment it was Sharon Alguetti who held a match point. With USA's first chance at a boys team medal just a point away it was Sipos of Romania who swooped in and dashed USA's hopes by claiming game 4 12-10.
With the mentally crushing blow it was Sipos who gained confidence and powered home in the match to win 3-2. Romania would advance to the semifinals and be guaranteed a medal at the 2017 World Junior Championships.
Heading into the 5-8 playoff, USA was defeated 3-1 by Germany with Sharon Alguetti stepping up to take the first win and Nikhil Kumar playing in the third position match. The Germans proved too strong and USA will play for the 7/8 position against Chinese Taipei.
The girls weren't able to overcome the skill and experience of South Korea in their quarterfinal match, thought Rachel Sung had an outstanding start against her opponent in the third match - Yubin Shin. Sung raced off to a 2-0 start in the match as the USA faced a two match deficit in the best of five showdown. Her Korean opponent powered back into the match and was able to claim the next 3 games and win the match. It would be a clean 3-0 victory for Korea and USA would playoff for the 5-8 positions.
Amy Wang, Crystal Wang and Ishana Deb would compete in the first match against a formidable Chinese Taipei team. Crystal came close in her match against Pei-Ling Su, trailing by 2 games to 1 before she fought to seal the third game 14-12. Heading into the fifth the player from Chinese Taipei forced the point and closed out for the team. A 3-0 result for the opposition and USA will play against Germany for the 7/8 place.
"Big disappointment for sure and we probably lost the chance to win a medal today, but finally we won a lot and fought very hard. This team grew today and performed pretty good. I like to see that and they can be proud" - Joerg Bitzigeio, USATT High Performance Director.
A very proud effort indeed by both the Boys and Girls Teams, reaching the top 8 junior teams in the world and coming together as a strong fighting unit and a true team. A great job by coaches Joerg Bitzigeio and Gao Jun and congratulations to our players, we are proud of your continued team unity and fighting spirit, you have done USA proud. Good luck for the next team match and for the coming individual events!