Kanak Jha has stepped where no US male table tennis player has ever been before, winning a record-breaking 4th US National Men's Singles title in succession.
The 19 year old player currently based in Grenzau, Germany, has so many success stories and new boundaries pushed - you could almost write a novel out of it. Jha has become the cinderella story of USA Table Tennis.
Jha first became US National Champion in 2016 after becoming a full-time player in Sweden. His trademark comebacks were on show as he fought back from 9-4 down in the 7th to take his first crown over defending champion Feng Yijun.
This year he faced off against Nikhil Kumar in the final, a rematch of the 2017 final where he won 4-0 to take his second crown.
Jha had executed immaculate table tennis in the early rounds, making short work of national junior champion Sharon Alguetti in the quarterfinal stage. He was then tried and tested by debutant Kai Zhang, who put up an excellent fight, but Jha again prevailed.
The final was a mirror of the women's final between Lily Zhang and Rachel Sung. Right hander vs. left hander, full-time professional and Olympian vs. rising youth star.
While Sung had taken center court at just 14 years of age, this was the second appearance for Nikhil Kumar. The last occasion he had faced Jha he was 14, now two years on at 16 years of age he was back for another go - with a wealth of experience at his disposal.
Jha started with his usual composed style, top notch execution and clean technique. Kumar found difficulty in controlling the ball. Jha looked steady and in his element.
Sending inside out forehands wide to the forehand of Kumar, Jha was class. He locked in the first game 11-3, with Kumar starting slow.
The big challenge was the style matchup, with both players usually being highly consistent with superb placement. Jha certainly had the upper hand and it was showing early on. He forced many errors from Kumar, who also made his fair share of unforced errors as well.
Jha led 3-0 and was just one game away. The Nikhil Kumar that had handily defeated Liang Jishan in the semifinals was about the show up.
Finally beginning to find some rhythm, Kumar got to work as he honed his focus.
Backhand control was back in the zone and the rallies extended as Kumar moved Jha around the table, also combining quick forehand counters and producing some fine angles.
Kumar, much like Rachel Sung in her women's final, was taking the fight to his opponent - the urgency of a 3-0 deficit driving him to get in the zone.
The young left hander swiped the 4th game, denying Jha his title and pushing him to work harder. The result gave Kanak Jha the scope he needed.
Realizing that the dynamic of the match was changing, Kanak Jha pushed himself even further. He became more assertive, blasting some inspiring forehands across the table. Kumar was finding answers, but not fast or often enough.
Kanak Jha was on top of the game and drilled it home. a 4-1 victory and a US National Championships record fallen.
Having been tied with 3 consecutive titles with 2-time US Olympian Sean O'Neill, Kanak Jha broke through, taking his 4th in a row.
Congratulations to Kanak on setting the bar higher even further for his peers, on another excellent US Nationals and of course to Nikhil Kumar on reaching his second final at just 16 years of age.