The 2020 Universal ITTF Pan American Cup concluded yesterday evening in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and three of our four US players featured on the medal podiums.
Kanak Jha bore the responsibility of bearing the US flag in the Men's Singles event, after Nikhil Kumar fell in the round of 16 to Argentina's Horacio Cifuentes. Jha was quick to dispose of Puerto Rico's own Hector Berrios in the opening round in straight games. He navigated through his quarterfinal with Mexico's Marcos Madrid to win 4-2 and book a place in the semifinal.
Up against Gustavo Tsuboi, Jha had his work cut out for him. The two had traded results back and forth on previous occasions at Pan Am events, today would ultimately be Tsuboi's day. The left hander from Brazil got off to a strong start, taking the first two games, before Jha was able to just close out the third and halt the assault.
The next three games all presented scores of 4 or less, with Jha winning both the 4th and 6th games and Tsuboi taking the 5th.
The 7th game was intense, with a pass into the final on the line. Tsuboi held his nerve to pick up the half long ball with quality, also playing strong on third ball attack. Jha focused on placement and fast direction changes to pressure his opponent.
A pivotal moment came at 9-8 in the 7th, Tsuboi led and delicately picked up a half long serve which just grazed the top edge of the table. That lucky break opened up 2 match points for the Brazilian. Jha claimed back one against the serve, but a quick forehand counter from the middle at his second match point handed Tsuboi the win.
Jha would be left to fight for bronze, which he did in convincing style. Paraguay's Marcelo Aguirre proved no match for Jha as he tore through the match and onto the podium.
Wu Yue also took home a bronze, delivering an outstanding match for the medal against Canada's Mo Zhang. The two engaged in a tooth and nail back and forth match, with the third game of the match falling 23-21 to Wu.
Wu was rapid with her early counters and consistent throughout.
At key moments of the match it was Canada's Zhang who faltered under the pressure. She missed a serve in the close third game, and also in the 6th to lose the game. Wu trailed 2-3 but had a 12-11 lead when the Canadian's serve clipped the top of the net and sailed long. This sent Wu into a 7th game.
You could see the difficulty in letting go of that moment for Zhang, as Wu held her determination and moved forward, but the Canadian seemed to fade as each point fell against her.
Wu Yue succeeded with ease in the 7th game and landed a position on the podium with a bronze medal.
With two bronzes locked down for the US contingent, Lily Zhang would contest the final match of the tournament.
She had dazzled with a 4-0 semifinal win over Mo Zhang, but now had to face Puerto Rico's own Adriana Diaz. In a full stadium, the atmosphere was electric, but very much in favor of their home favorite, proving a challenge for USA's Zhang.
The first two games fell quickly in favor of Diaz, who was looking to double down on her title win in the same venue from 2019.
Zhang battled back in the third to try and stop the momentum, but Diaz was able to hold and win 12-10, giving her a 3-0 lead in the match.
Gold loomed on the horizon for Diaz, but Zhang struck back and won both the next two games, digging deep for some strength.
In the 6th Diaz came back strong and was able to close out 4-2.
USA finished the event with Bronze for Wu and Jha and a Silver for Zhang.
A big thank you to Coach Gao Jun for guiding our players on the bench and Nikhil Kumar for supporting his teammates.