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Kanak Jha Lands the R3peat and the Hat Trick in Another Career Milestone

By Matt Hetherington | July 07, 2018, 2:29 p.m. (ET)

Kanak Jha has already accumulated many career milestones for a young man of his age - he's competed in the Olympics, qualified for this year's Youth Olympics and basically played in every competition the planet has to offer in the world of table tennis from the US Open to the World Cup. 

It was a big opportunity then, as the youngster took to the court last night, to create two new milestones to add to his collection.

If Jha were to be victorious, he would join Sean O'Neill as the only US males to have won 3 US National singles titles in a row. Aside from that, having won already the mixed and men's doubles events, he would claim the hat trick, also with the Junior Boy's title on the side.

He would face stiff competition, with 2016 US Olympian Tom (Yijun) Feng stepping up to avenge himself for their last national encounter. For in 2016 Feng had led 9-4 in the 7th and deciding game, just two points from winning back to back titles. Alas Jha was young and bold, fearlessly fighting his way back to his first ever victory in the event.

Last night the two faced off again, Kanak Jha had been a dominant force in the competition, but from the very beginning a Feng vs. Jha final had been tipped as a likely scenario. It was a clash of skills as Kanak's consistent and calculated close-table variations of attack and defense went up against the dangerous two-winged offense of Tom Feng.

In the early stages of the match it was Kanak who stayed in control and held the table, placing the ball well and playing with overwhelming pace. Feng had no time to get on the front foot and on many occasions ended up drifting away from the table and getting caught out by Jha's rapid direction changes. 

An intruiging interaction as the ball touched the net, the on-table camera, the net post and then the table caused a momentary pause for some quick thinking. Jha was in the driver seat, but things were about to take a turn as Feng surged back. After a timeout, called by Jha's coach Stefan Feth the two returned to the table - Jha hoping to seal a 3-0 lead.

It would not be the case, as the artillery doors opened and Feng unleashed a barrage of confident and powerful loops across the table from both wings. The sudden aggressive onslaught left Jha stunned as the game went to his Olympic teammate.

Feng came flying back and the match moved into a deadlock. Tom Feng was in the zone and as the match tied up at 2-2, it looked like it could be anyone's game. 

Points fell back and forth as both players pushed to lock in the all-important 5th game. As tension and nerves rose around the hall, Jha struck and sealed out the game. The 3-2 lead was vital and Jha knew that he needed to close out the match, a seventh game with Feng would be far too dangerous for the young American.

Deadly backhand flips throughout the game had served Jha well, he continued to push the initiative in the points and take the upper hand early in the exchanges. This, combined with his precise placement, was key in his victory.

An energetic crowd erupted as Kanak Jha won the deciding point, it was an emotional moment for both players. Tom Feng had put everything on the line to avenge his 2016 loss, but Kanak Jha proved yet again that he is the player leading the way for future generations of US players. Three singles titles in a row, a hat trick, and a job incredibly well done!