Kanak Jha the Backbone as USA Advance in Favorable Standing

By Matt Hetherington | May 02, 2018, 2:51 p.m. (ET)

Kanak Jha USA ITTF World Team

Kanak Jha has been a US success story during the 2018 Leibherr World Team Table Tennis Championships in Halmstad, Sweden, a story he continued writing today on the final day of group matches. It is clear that his time training and competing overseas have made a significant positive impact on his game.

The current World Junior number 1 has provided a strong foundation for the success of the US Men's team as they fought through the group stages in Division 2. It all kicked off with his clutch win in the final match against Spain, the top seeds in the group, on day one. Jha took 2 points for USA in the encounter and had strong support from Nikhil Kumar in the third spot, who has proved incredibly reliable throughout the tournament also.

Against Puerto Rico he scored 2 again, even in the team's loss against Iran there were bright moments with Jha avenging his Rio Olympic defeat by overcoming Nima Alamian. 

Today the US men's team landed two incredible victories. Tom (Yijun) Feng got a point on the board as the team beat Luxembourg 3-0 in the morning, Jha and Kumar both picked up another point each. It's worth noting that two years ago in Division 3 it was Luxembourg who dampened US spirits in their first match of the competition at the World Teams in Kuala Lumpur. 

The evening round arrived and the final group match against Kazakhstan. A challenge would present itself as Jha's club teammate and training partner Kirill Gerassimenko represented the opposition side. Gerassimenko currently sits 43rd in the world and has had a strong showing on the ITTF World Tour in the last 2 years, reaching the semifinal of last year's Polish Open and the round of 16 in last year's World Tour Grand Finals. 

First to take the table was Tom Feng, he would have a tough start against Gerassimenko. The international experience of the Kazakhstan player showed, but Feng put up a solid fight, winning game 2 and narrowly losing the third in deuce. Gerassimenko would mark the first point for Kazakhstan as the group 3rd seeds looked to assert their position over 4th seeds USA.

The next match would see Kanak Jha match up with Denis Zholudev. The 185 ranked player proved no match for Jha who has been playing some of his best table tennis to date in Halmstad. A 3-0 win and another point on the WTTC resumé of the young American. 

Nikhil Kumar continued his undefeated run so far in the competition by winning 3-1 against Timur Kelbuganov. After losing the first game, he got a strong control over the match and didn't look back. The USA took a 2-1 lead.

Kanak Jha was waiting in the wings as the opportunity rose for the US team to sink their opponents and take the 2nd position in the group. He would face a tough scenario, competing with a training partner and teammate, one with an impressive list of international performances in recent times. 

The match was certainly an exciting one, Jha has been so reliable against top level opposition that we all bunkered down to see whether he could pull off another sensational win. Under the pressure and against a quality opponent, Jha brought out his best. He quickly moved to establish a 2-0 foothold in the match and held Gerassimenko on the ropes as he moved within inches of victory. Kazakhstan's leading player showed his mettle, squeezing back the game and forcing Jha to make another run.

The fourth game began and the task was upon Jha to capitalize on his lead and prevent any chances of Gerassimenko coming back. He would do just that. 11-6 in the fourth game and Jha pulled off another astounding victory, not just on his own personal scorecard, but for the US team. 

"I'm very happy with my performance so far and hope we can keep it up in the main draw" - Kanak Jha, US Team. 

The team finishes second in the group, a favorable position going into the knockout rounds. They defeated Spain, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Puerto Rico, only losing out to Iran by a 3-2 margin (who finished first in the group). An excellent performance by the team, we hope their strong form continues and wish them the best of luck as they head into the playoff stages!

Find the results summary of all Men's Team USA matches HERE.