China may have swept all of the gold medals at the recent World Junior Table Tennis Championships in Bendigo, Australia, but it was the USA who made considerable progress across the events there.
Starting their campaign with both the Boys and Girls teams reaching the quarterfinal stages was a triumph in itself, one which set the stage for multiple strong performances throughout the competition. The Boys team finished in 6th place after losing out 3-2 to Romania in the 5th/6th playoff, while the Girls took 8th place.
Nick Tio scored some sensational wins to help the boys team on their way, including over eventual singles semifinalist Cristian Pletea, a huge victory. Rachel Sung and Crystal Wang were also instrumental parts of the girls team, with Sung's match against France proving to be a crucial point for the USA.
It's worth noting that in the quarterfinal matches, both Amy Wang and Kanak Jha succeeded in winning their matches against Chinese opposition, a very positive sign for the front runners of US youth table tennis. Most impressive was Kanak's win over Xu Haidong, the young Chinese players who, at the end of the day in Bendigo, was crowned World Junior Champion.
As with the team event it was China who stopped the USA in their tracks in the singles also. Both Kanak Jha, the reigning World Junior number 1, and Amy Wang, currently ranked 8th among the girls, ran into tough Chinese opponents.
Amy and Crystal Wang pushed their way through to the quarterfinal stage of the girls doubles, one of the highlight performances for the team, just falling shy of a medal in the event.
There were a multitude of round of 16 and round of 32 finishes in the singles - Sharon Alguetti had his finger on the pulse as he led 3-1 over Romania's Rares Sipos in the round of 32 singles. The feisty Romanian clung tight and managed to claim a win and move on, but a very impressive and gutsty effort from Alguetti.
Alguetti paired with Kanak to reach the round of 16 in the doubles, a strong performance from the reigning Pan American Junior Boys Doubles Champions.
Nikhil Kumar was also a triumph as he made headlines on ITTF.com, lifting his game to advance from the bottom seeding position in his group. He scored wins over Argentina's Martin Bentancor and Russia's Lev Katsman, along with Iran's Navid Shams, to clear his group.
Rachel Yang also defended her way to a round of 32 berth with a strong start in the group stages.
"Confirming again after 2017 the affiliation to the Top 8 junior teams in both gender is a great result for our TTTeam USA teams. We went to Australia with the goal to perform the best we can and we knew that it will be hard to match the result from last year, but at the same time our teams had confidence after winning the Pan Am Junior Championships 5 months ago. By finishing 6th with the boys, we improved compared to 2017 and also individual performances of the team members have been better this time because all of them are on a higher level in our days and finally we lost against the later World Champion China by taking one notable singles match in each of the two team matches, most impressive Kanak overcoming the eventual world junior champion in singles, Xu Haidong.
In the individual events our female double Amy and Crystal Wang made the quarterfinals, furthermore Amy Wang and Kanak Jha lost in round of 16, where they (unfortunately) met Chinese players again. Both were hoping for more, but they had to accept the Chinese power. The fact that 3 other TTTeam USA members won their groups in stage 1 and qualified for the round of 32 showed that our athletes made a huge step forward in 2018 and we can hope for more in future, provided our player will continue to train hard." - USATT High Performance Director, Joerg Bitzigeio.
Overall the USA advanced on their results from last year, showing their fighting spirit in the team events and featuring across all events with great performances. The tournament in Bendigo has only showed that the USA is becoming increasingly more formidable in the youth category and has a lot to come in the future. Kanak Jha and Nick Tio leave the junior age category at the end of 2019, but the rest of our young stars remain into next year and beyond. A big thank you to all the players for their hard work, and to coaches Joerg Bitzigeio and Gao Jun for their expert guidance throughout the event!