US Men Overcome Canadian Challenge to Sweep North American Olympic Qualification

By Matt Hetherington | Oct. 05, 2019, 11:30 p.m. (ET)


With the US Women's team having claimed their victory over Canada, the time now came for their male counterparts to take on the challenge. As the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Illinois steadily filled with spectators to support the home team, the two sides entered the playing court. 

The US had been labelled the favorites, even by their Canadian opposition, but the team from across the border had a plan in mind and were committed to giving it their best shot. 

Coming out of the gates fast it was the Canadian duo of Eugene Wang and Hongtao Chen who opened the first doubles match by stealing away the first game in style. Pushing the offensive against USA's Zhou Xin and Nikhil Kumar paid off for the Canadians. The second game was an even playing field with both teams scoring back and forth and holding even. In the end a well called timeout helped get the USA over the line and tie things up at 1-1.

As Nikhil Kumar held the table more and Zhou Xin capitalized, the Canadians were starting to get pushed off balance and be moved wider by the US pair. Their control over the table slowly began to dissolve as Kumar and Zhou gained momentum. The two US players communicated well and slowly took the upper hand in the match, sealing the victory and unsettling the plan of the Canadians, who appeared to rely heavily on a strong start.

Next up came the intense performance of Jeremy Hazin, who took on Kanak Jha. The steady US National Champion wasted no time in taking the first game, but Hazin adjusted quickly and lifted the bar as he surged back to win the next two games.

With more unforced errors creeping in for Jha, and with a 2-1 deficit staring him in the face, he did what he does best and knuckled down. It was a case of better late than never as he recovered himself and cut down on the errors, neutralizing the quick counters of Hazin with consistently well-placed shots. 

Games 4 and 5 had the local crowd on the edge of their seats, delighting them when Jha pulled off the comeback and gave USA a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 team format. 

With the opportunity to convert the win, Zhou Xin took to the table against Hongtao Chen. It was a great start for Chen who was aggressive and accurate in the opening game, but the balance of control soon began to shift. 

As Zhou moved from late reactions and passive play and tightened his game, he bought himself more time to unleash incredible topspin combinations. His over the table backhand was quick and powerful, while his fluid forehand strokes compounded off each other, leaving Chen on the back foot in rallies. 

Chen held his own with some powerful counters, but Zhou Xin was not slowing down. His execution only continued to improve as he left his opponent further and further behind. An enthusiastic team were on their feet for every point won, and the crowd's chants of USA! rang out in the venue.

A strong performance from Zhou Xin and he pushed USA over the line. 

Repeating their qualifications from 4 years ago, where the US Men and Women qualified as a team together for the first time for the Rio Games, now USA would again represent in Tokyo 2020.

Congratulations to both US teams, and to the Canadians for putting it all on the table out there. 

We wish to thank the City of Rockford and the BMO Harris Bank Center for hosting this incredible event, along with JOOLA the official equipment supplier for the event. 

We also extend our gratitude to the umpires from Canada and the USA who attended and officiated this event, and of course the organizers from ITTF North America and David Del Vecchio and his exceptional media and livestreaming crew.