USA and Brazil Exchange Upsets in Pan Am Team Semifinals

By Matt Hetherington | Aug. 10, 2019, 4:46 p.m. (ET)


While it was a difficult loss for the US Women's Team, who were upset by Brazil in the semifinal stage of the Pan Am Games Table Tennis team event, they were avenged by their male counterparts. 

A close 5 matches decided the tie result between the trio of Lily Zhang, Wu Yue and Amy Wang and their opponents from Brazil. 

The winning doubles combination of Zhang and Wu continued to add to their reliable win record by sealing the opener against Caroline Kumahara and Jessica Yamada, it was Brazil's Bruna Takahashi who made moves for the South American side. 

Takahashi, who had defeated Lily Zhang narrowly in the Women's Singles event, clutched the first point with a singles win over Amy Wang. The result drew the tie at 1-1.

Wu Yue captured the lead for the USA again with a win over Kumahara, but Jessica Yamada snapped right back with her win over Amy Wang. 

The deciding match was between Takahashi and Lily Zhang again. On this occasion it was Takahashi who moved swiftly out of the starting blocks, seeming to have learned much from the pair's first encounter of the competition. She sealed the match 3-0 and handed Brazil the win. The defending champions USA eliminated, but still reaching the podium with a bronze medal. 

The upset of the Women's team set the stage for the Men to avenge them, taking on the higher seeded Brazilian Men's team.

It is worth noting that the USA are ranked considerably lower in World Ranking - Jha (33), Kumar (222) and Tio (218) vs. Calderano (6), Tsuboi (32), Jouti (64).

The opening duo of Nikhil Kumar and Nick Tio landed another great opening for the US team, continuing their unbeaten doubles run in the team event with an incredibly important 3-2 win over Eric Jouti and Gustavo Tsuboi. 

The win relieved some of the pressure on the time, though the highly world ranked Hugo Calderano was quick to shut down any hopes of a continued lead by defeating Kanak Jha in the second match. 

Now the pressure fell upon Nikhil Kumar, as he faced off with Gustavo Tsuboi. Tsuboi has won 4 Pan Am Games gold medals, and was a singles finalist four years ago. The opposition was tough, but Kumar showed why he has been an instrumental part of the team, by overcoming the Brazilian in 5 games. Add that to his wins over Mino and Afanador, and you have a serious contender for MVP. 

Now holding a 2-1 lead, there was a shimmering possibility on the horizon. First, Kanak Jha would have to surpass Eric Jouti. No easy task, especially with Jouti fighting for the survival of his team. 

Jouti was in fine form, often leaving Jha with no answers. The current world number 64 had delivered against Jha in last year's Pan Am Championship team event in 5 games, losing out to him by the same margin in the singles event. These two players were about to face that 5 game showdown yet again. 

Jouti saw a light at the end of the tunnel, as he changed ends with a 2-1 lead. Jha's body language was beginning to look deflated. 

Back to the bench and Coach Stefan Feth put him back on the right path, he came back to the table and turned up the heat. Vocal and confident now, Jha's every point victory was met by positive body language, and his connection with the team - turning to celebrate each step along the path along with his distant team on the sideline. 

Momentum was changing, and soon Jha had sent the match into the 5th. 

Jouti got back on track and swiped the first 3 points, but Stefan Feth was quick to halt him in his steps, calling a vital timeout. 

The stoppage allowed Jha to pull back to within a single point, trailing 5-4 before Brazil were forced to use their timeout. 

It was a pressure-filled and intense situation, both players knew what was on the line. If Jha were to lose then the pressure would fall to Nick Tio to take on an immensely difficult task in Hugo Calderano. 

Indeed it was Jha who trailed throughout the entire 5th game, and Jouti was left with 2 match points in his back pocket at 10-8. Nervous moments ensued as the team hopes dangled by a thread. 

The young Kanak Jha, with so many accolades to his career already, showed what he is made of when it counts the most. When the team needs a result, Kanak Jha delivers, no matter what the circumstances. And deliver he did. 

Facing those 2 match points, he held his nerve and showed no hesitation, unwavering and composed. 

Winning in deuce, he jumped into the air in delight, as the USA upset Brazil and moved into the Team Final.

They will face Argentina at 19:30 with the prestigious gold medal on the line! Best of luck to our Men's Team!