US Women Inspire as They Fight for Best Possible Outcome

By Matt Hetherington | May 04, 2018, 6:43 p.m. (ET)

Lily Zhang World Table Tennis Championships 2018 Sweden teamusa

The US Women's Table Tennis Team are still battling for placement as the 2018 Leibherr World Team Table Tennis Championships enters its 7th Day of action. The Women, currently ranked 23rd in the World on the ITTF Women's team rankings, faced tough competition in Sweden as they landed themselves in the Championship Division - a result of a quarterfinal appearance in London at this year's World Team Cup. 

Alas the team would not find the results necessary to advance into the top 12 teams, though they defeated Egypt and narrowly lost 3-2 to Hungary, both impressive performances. 

The American ladies side continued to build on their performances as they continued into the knockout stages. Initially they would begin in the 13-24 playoff round against the Czech Republic. Upon winning that match they advanced to the 13-20 round where they met Thailand, currently ranked 14th in the world. 

Jennifer (Yue) Wu started proceedings against Thailand's Orawan Paranang, ranked 185 in the world. Wu dominated the first game 11-2, giving no quarter to her Thai opponent as she consistently out-placed her opponent. Wu looked relaxed and confident but would be momentarily shaken as Paranang pushed a tie at 10-10 in the second game. Wu settled in and ensured success in the last 2 points to take a 2-0 lead. 

Thailand the favorites by ranking, Wu knew the importance of closing the first match for the USA and she did so, 11-7 in the third and a big confidence boost for the US team as they took the early advantage in the tie. 

A huge clash went down in the second match with Lily Zhang, London and Rio Olympian, taking on Suthasini Sawettabut. The Thai player currently sits at 55th on the ITTF World Rankings, having reached a peak of 48th. The 24 year old player blasted into the limelight after a surprising upset over Singapore's Feng Tianwei in the South East Asia Games in 2015. The two players were evenly matched, trading super rallies and some incredible exchanges. Zhang squeezed to a 2-1 lead after winning 2 close games and a back and forth power struggle began. 

As Zhang looked to end the encounter, Sawettabut clung to the match. 10-10 became a distant memory as the two players went back and forth like a metronome, points dropping alternately to each side. Zhang had match points but failed to convert and frustration showed as nerves ran high. At 18-18 it was the player from Thailand that made her move and clenched 3 points in a row to flip the scoreline from 17-18 down to a 20-18 win. The two players, both right on the fringe of the world's top 50 women, would have to endure one final game.

As a conclusion neared it would be Sawettabut who would take the upper hand, clambering her way to secure Thailand's first point in the match. 

Perhaps the most pivotal match of the tie was that of Taylor (Xinyue) Wang and Thailand's Nanthana Komwong. Wang had her work cut out for her against the top 100 ranked (98th) Komwong who had reached the last 64 in last year's World Individual Championships. Games would alternate as both players gave it everything, Komwong held the 2-1 lead but Wang fought back in and balanced the score.

A big moment came as Taylor Wang broke the cycle and gave everything at the final hurdle. She drew the fifth game to 10-10 and quickly broke the deadlock to win the first two points. The win was of the utmost importance for the team as they came within 1 point of a final result. 

Thailand's Sawettabut held her form under the mounting tension and showed great class to defeat Wu in the 4th match. Her two wins would form a platform upon which Thailand had one big chance to take the win - but could USA's Lily Zhang steal that opportunity in favor of her team? 

A 2-0 lead in the deciding match under Zhang's belt certainly took off some of the pressure, shoveling it instead upon her opposition. As Zhang closed to within one game of glory, Paranang struck back and won in deuce. Zhang however still had plenty of tricks up her sleeve and was able to move forward from the third game result and bring the team home. A 3-1 win over Paranang would give USA the 3-2 victory.

"Even though we're not in the main draw anymore (Top 12), I'm extremely proud of our team for continuing to give our all for every match, and now we fight for places 13-16. I feel like with each match we are getting better and better and I'm excited to see what we can do tomorrow.

Overall I'd say I'm pretty satisfied with my own performance so far as well. I definitely had some really close and heartbreaking losses, but I always look to learn from this experience and come back even stronger next time." - Lily Zhang, two-time US Olympian. 

You can see video of the matches below: 
- Wu Yue vs. Orawan Paranang
- Lily Zhang vs. Suthasini Sawettabut
- Wang Xinyue vs. Nanthana Komwong
- Wu Yue vs. Suthasini Sawettabut
- Lily Zhang vs. Orawan Paranang

So tomorrow in the 13-16 knockout round, the US Women's team will play Poland. Full credit goes to the girls, along with Coach Gao Jun, for continuing to fight for the absolute best result possible. An inspirational performance no doubt and we certainly hope they can keep going. Good luck for the match tomorrow!