USA Defy Order in WTTC Opener Against Spain

By Matt Hetherington | April 29, 2018, 1:10 p.m. (ET)

The US Men's team are off to a positive start in the second division at the 2018 Leibherr World Team Table Tennis Championships in Halmstad, Sweden. The four player side of Kanak Jha, Tom (Yijun) Feng, Nick Tio and Nikhil Kumar came up against group top seeds Spain in their first tie of the competition.

With the support of team coach Stefan Feth, the team prepared to face the challenge. With high hopes to attain a strong position in the group stages, a result against the 4th seeds in the division would be the ideal way to kick off the campaign.

Tom Feng would lead out for USA, coming up against Carlos Machado. The two players traded blows back and forth as each tried to give their team the early advantage. In the best of 5 team formats, every match is of crucial importance, both Feng and Machado knew this. Going into the fifth it would be the experience of the Spaniard which came through as he closed out the first point for Spain. 

Playing in the second position, Kanak Jha faced off against Alvaro Robles. Showing the vast improvements in his game from competing and training in Germany, it was Jha who sailed to a 3-0 victory to put USA on the board. 

In the third match Nikhil Kumar would go up against Jesus Cantero, one of the few short pips penhold players in the competition. Kumar showed great resolve as all games went close, but the young US gun dealt with the style match-up well and followed in the footsteps of Jha to also win 3-0. Hopes were high as the USA held a 2-1 lead, needing just one more point to claim a win.

The pressure was on and Spain's Alvaro Robles knew it. He came out fighting strong against USA's Feng and, in a series of very close games, managed to emerge on top - sending the team match to a tiebreaker. 

The fate of the match would rest in the hands of Kanak Jha, no stranger to pressure situations, but facing a determined Carlos Machado. Spain would want to get off to a good start to shut down the potential upset, but Kanak Jha had other ideas. He settled into the match and took the first 2 games both 11-8. Just one game away from an exceptional maiden outing for the USA in Sweden, the tides turned. 

Machado dug his heels in and made a bold statement, he won games 3 and 4 by 11-4 margins. It was a deadlock, 2-2 and 2-2. Those back home likely scrambled, hitting refresh at every opportunity to follow the live scoring as the all-important fifth game began. Jha would make an early break, leading as the players changed ends at 5. With the team behind him, Kanak Jha pushed forward and drove to the finish line. A 3-2 win over Carlos Machado and the USA had opened their WTTC campaign by upsetting Spain.

A brilliant effort by the team, well done! USA will face a number of tough oppositions in their group with Iran, Luxembourg, Puerto Rico and Kazakhstan remaining.

The women's team had a tough start in the Championship Division, taking on Austria. The top European side proved formidable in their 3-0 win over the USA. The team of Lily Zhang, Jennifer (Yue) Wu, Amy Wang and Taylor (Xinyue) Wang, along with coach Gao Jun, will regroup and push forward as they face many high level opponents in the group stage, led by Japan and also featuring Hungary, Ukraine and Egypt.

Best of luck to both our teams and coaches!

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