A new season is set to begin after the summer across Europe, home to many of the world's strongest table tennis league competitions.
Last season, the USA had 4 full-time players signed - Kanak Jha, Nick Tio and Lily Zhang in Germany and Wu Yue in Austria - signed with the help and guidance of USATT High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio. Alongside those 4, 7 other players had contracts negotiated for them to compete in clubs in Germany on a visiting basis in order to gather some valuable experience whilst travelling to other international events or training camps.
One of those players was 2017 US National Finalist Nikhil Kumar, who played one team match during his time in Germany.
"Last season opened a great new opportunity and, although I was only able to play one league match for the club last season, I'm glad to have this opportunity continuing to next season and to have more chances to play higher level table tennis, with different opponents, in different environments. This experience will surely help me progress with my goals in the sport." - Nikhil Kumar, 2017 US National Men's Singles Finalist.
There were positive results and a good impression left by the players there last season and USATT High Performance has worked to expand the number of opportunities even more. In August of 2019 the season will begin and across it an incredible 23 players will take to the tables. Six players will be full-time, with Kai Zhang and Michael Tran joining Nick Tio and Kanak Jha to train in Grenzau, while Lily Zhang and Wu Yue continue their full-time schedules in pursuit of 2020 Tokyo qualification also.
As the program expands, particularly for the full time players, this opens up new chances to compete in a much more active table tennis region in international competitions, where they can work towards higher world rankings and gain exposure to tougher opposition. One such player singing the praises of the geographical advantage is Wu Yue.
Wu has been much more active in international competition and as such has climbed into the top 40 ranked women in the world.
"I feel like for the last year I have really lived like a professional player, the training has been great and the tournaments. I really need to play a lot of competition and gain greater experience. From competing in those world tours I have learned a lot from other good players. I hope with my new team next season I can also grow a lot from my experienced teammates - and maybe have a chance to win Champions League again." - Wu Yue, 2016 US Olympian.
Highlights include Kanak Jha moving up to division 1 where he will represent TTC Zugbrucke Grenzau, Lily Zhang moving to SV DJK Kolbermoor - current German Cup champions, and Wu Yue changing leagues from Austria to Poland where she will fight for KTS Tarnobrzeg, the current European Champions League champs, while she will live and practice in Hungary at their National Team Training Center.
Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang will both compete in the first division of the German League this coming season.
Lily Zhang will no doubt be looking forward to settling in at the German National Team Training Center in Dusseldorf and basing herself for practice and matches, after travelling a lot around Europe towards the end of last season.
"Graduating from Berkeley, moving to Europe, and becoming a full-time Pro has been a huge transition for me - I’d argue the biggest change of my life so far. I think that the overall lifestyle and cultural change has definitely taken some time to get used to. It was especially difficult being so far away from home, away from my closest family and friends, and pretty much just living out of a suitcase for the past 6 months. There’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout, but overall, the learning experience has been truly invaluable and eye-opening.
I got the opportunity to play in the 1st division of the German Bundesliga, met and reconnected with some of the coolest teammates and people, and got to travel all over the world. At the end of the day, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to turn this passion of mine into a job. Even when times get tough, I try to remind myself why I chose this path in the first place and just feel gratitude for the position that I’m in." - Lily Zhang, 2-time US Olympian.
We are looking forward to seeing our players in action, here is a full list and the clubs they will represent:
- Wu Yue KTS Tarnobrzeg (POL) (1st Division + European Champions League)
- Lily Zhang SV DJK Kolbermoor (1st Division)
- Amy Wang TTG Bingen/Münster-Sarms. (1st Division)
- Rachel Sung TTC 1945 Weinheim (2nd Division)
- Joanna Sung TTC 1946 Weinheim (4th Division)
- Crystal Wang TSV Schwabhausen (1st Division)
- Swathi Giri SV DJK Kolbermoor (3rd Division)
- Angie Tan TSG Kaiserslautern (4th Division)
- Emily Tan TSG Kaiserslautern (4th Division)
- Kanak Jha TTC Zugbrücke Grenzau (1st Division)
- Kai Zhang TTC GW Bad Hamm (2nd Division)
- Nicholas Tio TTC Ruhrstadt Herne (3rd Division)
- Michael Tran SV Union Velbert (3rd Division)
- Nikhil Kumar 1. FSV Mainz 05 (2nd Division)
- Sharon Alguetti TSG Kaiserslautern (3rd Division)
- Adar Alguetti TTC Ruhrstadt Herne (3rd Division)
- Gal Alguetti TTC Ruhrstadt Herne (3rd Division)
- Ted Li SV Union Velbert (4th Division)
- Kai Zarehbin Spvgg.06/95 Duisburg-Meiderich (6th Division)
- Aziz Zarehbin Spvgg.06/95 Duisburg-Meiderich(6th Division)
- Alex Wu 1. FSV Mainz 05 (4th Division)
- Daniel Tran SV Union Velbert (6th Division)