Kanak Jha, world ranked number 26, recovered from a 0-2 deficit against Egypt’s Omar Assar, to emerge victorious 4-2 and make it into the knockout stages of the Men’s World Cup in Chengdu, China. It marks the second year in a row for the US player to reach the main draw, and also on another note – all 3 US players; Jha, along with Lily Zhang and Wu Yue, reached the main draw at the Men's and Women's World Cup events respectively.
The first game of the match had several great points, with a few rallies exceeding as many as 15 shots. Assar used his tall 6’ 5” frame to fish for a few balls from way beyond the table, with Jha smartly moving him side to side. Ultimately this set went to Assar at a close 17-15. With the second set, Assar established an 8-4 lead at one point, with Jha battling his way back to a tie at 8-8. The next three points were taken by Assar, establishing a 2-0 lead against Jha.
Assar, a leading African continent and world player for many years in his career, also competes in the German Bundesliga for Borussia Dusseldorf. While 34th in the world, Assar has been ranked as high as 16th in the beginning of 2018.
A player for a good comeback under pressure, Kanak Jha bunkered down for the third as he trailed 2-0. He found himself initially down 0-3 in the game after a couple of net balls by Assar, but then he fought back to win the next four points and create a 4-3 lead. He appeared to have figured out a good strategy against Assar and was up 9-5 at one point, however Assar managed to close off the four-point deficit and the score was tied up at 9-9. Jha then produced, on service, an amazing third ball attack setup and secured the next two points in convincing fashion, he was on the board, it was 1-2.
In the fourth game, Jha again was down at the start, but fought his way back against Assar, creating some spectacular rallies. This game Jha managed to win with a four-point margin at 11-7, now tying up the match at 2-2.
In game five, even more amazing rallies transpired, and Jha was up with a higher margin of points at 7-2, 8-3, and 10-5. Still, Assar gave him quite a scare, closing the deficit to one point at 10-9, but Jha clung to his determination and grit and claimed the fifth game at 11-9.
Game six was the last one for Jha to seal the deal and claim victory over his opponent. The enthusiastic Chos were more vocal in this final set on Jha’s behalf for he knew his win was closer in sight. Jha was 9-5 up and then Assar rallied back to again tie the four-point deficit, but Assar could go no further than 9 points. Jha won the next two points decisively and pumped his fist in celebration of a hard-earned win.
The win over Assar sent him into the main draw where he would face Brazil's Hugo Calderano.
Calderano has become to fans and followers, Jha's Pan Am Rival, as the two frequently clash with each other in the later stages of the regional events. Calderano has been victorious on numerous occasions, despite Jha fronting some exceptional challenges.
This situation looked as though it could be the break Kanak Jha has been looking for. Playing decisively and with great tact, under the watchful eye of Marcus Sjolberg on the bench, Jha maneuvered himself into a favorable position.
On previous occasions, Calderano had found himself at a deficit but collected himself and powered back into the match, for Jha he had to create a big enough lead to get himself clear of that risk.
The young US player, with many accolades to his name, accelerated out to a phenomenal 3-1 lead, as his execution in the match reached a climax.
Opening up a lead in the 5th, the finish line called to him, but Calderano was about to make his intercept.
The Brazilian, well known for his high toss serve variations and powerful strokes off both wings, set his foundations and clawed back the 5th game. It was the start of a tidal wave of momentum from Calderano, something we had witnessed in his previous match with Jha on the World Tour.
The current World Number 6 showed his class as Jha struggled to stop his momentum.
Calderano would swing back through the 7th and claim the win, 4-3. A tough loss for Jha who would have reached the World Cup Quarterfinal for the first time with a successful result. Nevertheless another mark of progress against Calderano and hopefully many pieces of the puzzle stored for their next big encounter.
For Jha he would exit in the round of 16, another strong finish – coupled with an excellent group stage win, Jha is going from strength to strength, what could next year bring as Tokyo 2020 and beyond looms?