USA Upset Sweden to Advance at 2019 World Team Cup

By Matt Hetherington | Nov. 06, 2019, 10:50 p.m. (ET)

It was a day of pressure for the US Men's team as they stepped up to the table to defend their place in the 2019 ZEN-NOH ITTF World Team Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Only a victory against Sweden would allow them to pass into the quarterfinal stages of the competition, after both teams had suffered losses to top group seed South Korea. 

The setting of Tokyo, as an Olympic Test Event, set the bar even higher. Flashbacks of the US Men facing Sweden in the first round of the team event at the 2016 Rio Olympics set the scene for what would be a fairytale reversal. 

In Rio the Swedish team had convincingly won 3-0, but this match 3 years on showed the growth of the US team, and its leading player - Kanak Jha.

While the Swede's got off to a strong start, Ranefur and Kallberg teaming up to win 3-0 over USA's Feng and Zhang, it was the singles matches which proved the pivot point for the Americans. 

Kanak Jha led a big win over world number 25, Kristian Karlsson. Karlsson, a bronze medalist at last year's European Championships and with career wins over the likes of Boll, Ovtcharov, Miztuani, Samsonov and more top players, was a big scalp for Jha. The four-time US National Champion took the match in the fourth game, having scraped the third 12-10 over the left handed Swede to take the advantage in the match.

The win drew up the team match at 1-1, with Kai Zhang up next. 

Zhang faced Elias Ranefur, currently ranked 163 in the world. With the stakes high it was anyone's match. 

Zhang lifted his game and left no prisoners on the table as he soared through the first two games in style. Things were looking hopeful for the USA as Zhang drew just one game away from victory. 

Ranefur summoned his best and fought back to win the third, keeping Sweden in the game. Still with a one game lead in hand, Zhang pressed onwards. The fourth game went down to the wire but Zhang held his nerve and exhibited great mental game to close out the crucial points. 

The USA were leading 2-1.

Karlsson stepped back up to the plate to face off against USA's Tom Feng. The Swede raised his game to ensure Sweden's hopes of advancing stayed alive. For the penhold former US National Champion, the challenge proved too great, as Karlsson imposed himself in the match and held his team up to equalize the score at 2-2.

The final match to decide who would advance would be between Kanak Jha and Anton Kallberg. 

Jha had faced the current WR 70, Kallberg, in the bundesliga in Germany, having won out narrowly in the fifth game. This match would prove no different. 

As has been commonplace for the young American, Jha handled the pressure of delivering the result for the US team. In the face of pressure he relied on his stable and consistent game, tactful placement and composure to carry him through the match. 

An opportunity presented itself as Jha led 2-1 and pushed to try and close out the match in the fourth. Kallberg repelled Jha's attempt and forced a decider.

For spectators this was all they could hope for, a team tie as close as it gets, with the underdogs the USA potentially on the brink of an upset against Sweden. 

Following in footsteps of England, who just a day earlier had upset the home team, Japan, the USA delivered.

Reversing the result of the 2016 Rio Games three years ago, the USA defeated Sweden in the deciding match and will advance to the quarterfinal of the World Team Cup!

Congratulations to Kanak Jha, Kai Zhang, Tom Feng and Coach Gao Jun!