Silver for Kanak Jha in Croatia Under 21

By Matt Hetherington | May 16, 2019, 2:20 p.m. (ET)

Croatia holds a special place for Kanak Jha, it was there in 2017 that he won the Junior Boy's singles at the 2017 Croatia Cadet and Junior Open. Today he made his name known again ,by reaching the final of the Under 21 Men's Singles event.

Starting out in the round of 64, he quickly disposed of Chilean opponent Matias Alvarado in straight games. Moving on to the round of 32 it was a 3-1 margin for Jha over Peter Hribar of Slovenia.

Jha showed no signs of halting as he surpassed his Iranian opposition in the round of 16, again in 3 straight games. 

As fatigue began to set in, he faced a greater challenge from Poland's Maciej Kubik, an unsuspecting opponent ranked only 500 in the world for men's, but with an impressive list of victories across the European Youth player. Kubik in the past 2 years had landed wins over Sgouropoulos, Sidorenko and Soderlund, making him a tough prospect. 

Indeed the match would go to the 5th game, Jha holding the 2-1 lead, but unable to get the job done in the 4th game, Kubik winning 12-10 and forcing a decider. The Youth Olympic Bronze medalist from the USA dug deep in the fifth and got himself over the line - moving on to the semifinals and guaranteeing himself a medal in the event.

Jha's next match would take all of his stamina, as he was forced to fight back from a 2-1 deficit. Greece's Ioannis Sgouropoulos was the hurdle to get by, and not an easy one. This year he was crowned European Champion in the Under 21 Men's Singles, he was also European Youth Champion back to back in 2017 and 2018.

The Greek's attacking prowess and power were on full display in the first game as Jha struggled to shut down the offense of Sgouropoulos. In the 2nd game he found some control, but game 3 followed the pattern of game 1. Sgouropoulos held the lead.

The beginning of the 4th game was crucial, and the Greek took the first 4 points. Jha battled back to win the next 4, forcing a timeout, and layering on the pressure. Jha went on the offensive. Quick hands handed him the lead 10-9 and he took the game away with a well placed backhand flick. 

The mental toll on the European was clear, as his confidence dwindled. The scales had tipped, and Kanak Jha soared to a massive 9-1 lead in the deciding game. 11-3 and it was all over. Kanak Jha advanced to the final. 

You can watch that match on-demand on ITTV here.

In the final he would take on a familiar foe, one who had defeated him at the 2018 Hong Kong Open, Japan's Uda Yukiya, currently ranked 75 in the world. 

Jha would take the first game, but from there the Japanese player took control in the match. His speed and excellent serve receive were major strengths as he took on Jha in the rallies, both the left handed Uda and USA's Jha producing some exceptional points. 

Jha held an important opportunity with a 9-8 lead at 1-1, but the tenacious Uda slotted a well placed forehand out of the body, down the line, leveling at 9-9. After a quick towel break, Jha opted for a timeout.

Uda held the serve and capitalized with a quick serve and attack to set up game point. Jha pressed for draw things up, but Uda kept the ball placement down the backhand line and left Jha out of time. 

The advantage left Uda in a good position and he brought home the match, a 3-1 win, much like Hong Kong. 

Gold for Uda, but a well earned silver medal for Kanak Jha. 

You can watch the final on ITTV here.