Ending on a High, US Women Lock in Championship Division Placement for 2020

By Matt Hetherington | May 05, 2018, 11:19 a.m. (ET)

Wu Yue table tennis usa halmstad wttc 2018

The US Women's team have ended on a high note at the 2018 Leibherr World Team Table Tennis Championships and take away an honor shared by the gold medalists, China - they get to finish the tournament with a win. Indeed the team didn't have the best cards in their hand after facing tough opposition and not making the top 12, but they played those cards to perfection as they headed into the 13-24 position playoffs.

For the 23rd ranked team in the world, the results which followed would certainly exceed all expectations. 

The standout factor of the US women's performance in the tournament was certainly their commitment to the cause and perseverance as they tackled each knockout round one match at a time. As the match count mounted the team performance seemed to continue to build, oppositions got tougher, but the American ladies brought their A game to every encounter.

After two incredible 3-2 wins over the Czech Republic and Thailand, the team would face Poland in the 13-16 position playoff. The Polish side included 4-time Paralympic Champion Natalia Partyka and posed a testing obstacle for the US side, but they were ready to rise to the occasion against the 13th ranked team.

Jennifer (Yue) Wu proved to be the star of the show, she open proceedings with a 3-0 win over Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc, currently 73rd in the world. Wu had gradually grown more confident throughout the tournament, picking up a number of impressive wins, the Poland match was a fitting end to the tournament as she appeared well in control during the 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 win.

In the second match Poland would put forward their star player in Partyka who sits at 60th in the world. She has been a strong anchor in the Polish team, who have won two bronze and a silver team medal at the European Championships since 2009 while she has been on duty. She also registered some high level wins across 2017, including against China's Wu Yang, Korea's Yang Ha Eun and Zhou Yihan from Singapore. 

With a wealth of experience and high level wins behind her, Partyka would assert herself over Lily Zhang. The Polish player took game 1 comfortably and stole away the second 12-10. Zhang pressed on and remained focused, winning back the third, but Partyka was too formidable. 11-2 the 4th game and Partyka took the win. 

The third match had played an important role in the team victories against Czech Republic and Thailand, but Poland's Natalia Bajor won the match 3-0 over Taylor (Xinyue) Wang and gave Poland an unsettling advantage as Natalia Partyka stepped up in hopes of finishing the battle with a win over Jennifer Wu. 

Unfortunately for the Polish side, Wu was in good form and stepped up to produce a fantastic win over Partyka, avenging her Olympic teammate Lily Zhang in the process. The first three games were intense and all ended 11-9, but Wu held a 2-1 lead and stepped it up a notch in the 4th. Wu took the 4th 11-4 and gave the USA some relief in the match. Wu adds the Partyka and Grzybowska wins to a number of upset victories including Dina Meshref, Dana Cechova and Georgina Pota. 

"I think after the group stages I definitely played better, the first 2 days of the competition I struggled to find my feeling, but after that I managed to produce some results that I'm happy with. This is my first World Team Championships and it felt good to contribute towards the end result for the team. Of course I think even with these strong results I could perform better and I will be working hard for future events." - Jennifer (Yue) Wu, 2016 US Olympian.

So the responsibility of finishing strong fell once again upon the shoulders of Lily Zhang. In three closely contended games she imposed her will over Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc and, for the third time across the 13-24 playoff matches, USA would win 3-2. 

The result lands the USA, along with Netherlands, in 13th= position and guarantees their qualification into the Championship Division at the 2020 World Team Championships which will be hosted by Busan, Korea. The result is the third best in the last 61 years for the US Women at a World Team Championships, only preceded by 12th place finishes in both 1989 and more recently, 2008. 

"I think overall the team did pretty well, not only because of the result but more importantly the team spirit that was involved throughout this tournament. We achieved 13th position finally, but there is still room for better improvement and results. We will keep on trying and hopefully we can achieve even better results in the future." - US Women's Team Coach, Gao Jun.

You can see video of the matches below: 
- Wu Yue vs. Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc
- Lily Zhang vs. Natalia Partyka
- Wang Xinyue vs. Natalia Bajor
- Wu Yue vs. Natalia Partyka
- Lily Zhang vs. Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc

And so the World Team Championships is over for the USA, the Men finishing in 33rd, the Women in 13th=. A proud effort by both teams, who performed with merit and with real team spirit. Congratulations to all the players and thanks to coaches Stefan Feth and Gao Jun, along with High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio for the support and guidance throughout the event.