Kanak Jha Lights the Path for Future US Success

By Matt Hetherington | March 15, 2018, 12:13 p.m. (ET)

Kanak Jha is a headliner and in recent months has been a hot topic for many exciting results on the international stage, but there is much more to this young American hero than just great results. Now it's time to shine some light on a role model, a young athlete who is bearing the flag, shining the torch, leading the way. Kanak Jha is setting the bar and challenging others to sacrifice, to push their boundaries and to go one step further in order to be the best and to follow their passions. 

In the prime of his youth, away from home in a far off country, separated from the family which has been the foundation of his support and his biggest believer, Kanak Jha is laying it all on the line for table tennis. Based in Grenzau, a small town in Germany the US teen is immersed in his passion. Having already trained in Halmstad, Sweden, Kanak has his eyes set on a big future in table tennis and last year relocated to Germany to continue the development of his game. 

He trains 4-5 hours each day and does multiball sessions a few times each week, frequently competing in league matches on the weekend for his league club - TTC Ruhrstadt Herne. Jha currently plays in the third division of the German league and holds a 23:5 win record, but his eyes are firmly set on rising to the German Bundesliga (first division) one day.

Jha travels 2 hours by train to his club in Herne for home matches, while some away matches can be as far as 6 hours away in Berlin, the furthest match from his club for the season, one which is coming up this weekend. 

Jha says that the training group in Grenzau is well suited to his improvement as it is a small group of skilled players which allows for a more individualized program and more attention and help from coaches and training partners. Grenzau currently trains under the guidance of Head Coach Dirk Wagner, formerly the Head Coach at the Werner Schlager Academy and also for a handful of years the Team Coach of Germany's top league team Borussia Dusseldorf. 

So what is the value in leaving home in your teen years and heading to a foreign country to train, I asked Kanak how he felt about the differences in training and competition environment presently compared to his experiences in the USA:

"I think there is a significant difference between the training standards In Europe compared to USA. To be training in a very competitive environment with top professional players all wanting to improve makes the training sessions much more beneficial than it is many times in USA, where training tends to be more individual, and private training with a coach is more common. I also think the league system has really helped, getting to play many high-level intense matches constantly. I am getting many competitive matches nearly every weekend which is really beneficial to knowing what I need to improve in my game. I also think the atmosphere of training in a group is very good in that both players are pushing themselves to improve and you can learn a lot from the other players and how they see the game" - Kanak Jha.

Certainly his results on the international stage have begun to see some sharp improvements, the end of 2017 saw him qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, a once in a lifetime opportunity for young table tennis players. To kick off 2018 he was victorious at the ITTF World Junior Circuit Grand Finals, a momentous occasion which led to his rise to the World Number 1 Ranking for Junior Boys, and let's not forget his jaw-dropping 3-0 win over World Number 7 Wong Chun Ting at the recent World Team Cup. Kanak Jha is wearing the US flag on his sleeves and giving America a serious game face in the world of table tennis, for the first time in many, many years. 

"Of course I am happy with my recent results, however I think it is important to always be looking forward and to not ever get too satisfied or too negative. The results give me confidence going forward and I hope I can maintain the good form" Kanak Jha.

Indeed one thing that has echoed in recent times of Kanak Jha is the maturity developing in his game and the mental stability. His above quote is a perfect reflection of it and, as with so many interviews, he is quick to note that despite good performances or great results, the focus always remains forward. Kanak Jha's experiences overseas have allowed him to hone in on his goals and remain very calm and internally concentrated during competition, something which has aided him greatly.

His schedule is growing and being based in Europe puts him in the midst of some of the world's highest level competitions, some of which he will be participating in as he builds into the calendar year on the international stage. 

(Kanak Jha Wins the North American Youth Olympic Games Qualification 2017)

One of those big international events for 2018 is the Youth Olympic Games, an event no doubt the eyes of the US Table Tennis community will be on, in the hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of USA's Lily Zhang who won the USA's first Olympic medal by taking bronze at the 2014 Nanjing Games. 

"YOG is a very big event for me this year and I am really looking forward to playing it. Right now, I do not know what my preparation will be coming into the event because it is still a some months away; I will have to talk to my coaches about it. However, I do think I will have some special preparation before the event

Right now I have many tournaments coming up, so I'm just fully focused on them. German Open, Spanish Open, Croatia Open and WTTC in Halmstad" - Kanak Jha, 2018 Youth Olympian.

Certainly with all these positive results there can also come expectations, something I was very keen to ask the young Rio Olympian about. As always he tries not to let external factors influence him too much and focuses more on setting goals before events and trying to focus on those as much as possible. 

One such event where expectations may be high is the upcoming US National Championships in Las Vegas. Jha has won back to back national titles from 2016 and 2017 and will be looking to take his third in a row. Being based overseas and immersed in a higher level of competition there will most likely be those out there anticipating his victory. Jha is quick to note that the competition in the USA is still strong and there are players who have beaten him before, nobody is to be taken lightly. 

Jha also recognizes that there is plenty of potential for upsets in US events because of the familiarity of a large group of players who have competed with each other on so many occasions. No doubt he will be putting in the ground work to give himself the best chance for success.

It was a great pleasure to catch up with Kanak and be able to shine some more light on all his hard work and commitment to table tennis. Kanak Jha is an inspiration and is succeeding in so many ways for someone his age. We can only hope that those hoping to reach the top will fight to reach the standard which he has worked so hard to set, and we hope he continues to push that standard even higher to lead the way for his teammates and his competition here in the USA. Great job Kanak!