Kanak Jha again showed why he has advanced to become one of the top ranked players in the world by reaching the last 32 of the 2020 ITTF Platinum World Tour German Open. Jha made it through the tough preliminary rounds, beating some of the star players of Asia on his way.
After a first round bye he moved quickly to take out Austria's Maciej Kolodziejczyk, dropping the first game but putting on a convincing display to set up an appearance in the next round.
There he would face China's Zhou Qihao, who had recently defeat reigning World and Olympic Champion Ma Long at the Marvelous 12 trial event. Zhou, ranked as high as 37th in the world in the 2019 November World Rankings, was not to be taken lightly.
Jha got off to an incredible start, giving Zhou no room for comfort as he took down the first three games in style. His short game was a key factor in controlling the first phases of the points, pairing with explosive forehand loops and giving up no ground on his backhand side where he was consistent and effective right up at the table.
Zhou loosened up and played with power from mid distance and far back, as he began to fight back into the match. He baited Jha's opening with long pushes before countering and taking control. Zhou's backhand game was efficient and precise as he stared down the 3-0 deficit.
Before long it was 3-3 and the pressure was on, but USA's Kanak Jha had saved his best until last. Jha fought hard in the 7th to produce some outstanding displays, keeping his composure even in the longest of counterloop rallies. 11-3 the final game score and Jha would move on to his next opponent.
Following the trend it would be another 7-game showdown with recent winner of the Japanese National Championships, Uda Yukiya, Jha was mentally ready for the challenge as a place in the main draw beckoned.
Uda, currently ranked 54th in the world, and having defeated Tomokazu Harimoto to win his title in recent weeks, had overcome Germany's Dennis Klein and Hong Kong's Lam Siu Hang to meet Jha.
Last May it was Uda who had prevailed over Jha in the final of the Under 21 Men's Singles at the ITTF Challenge Croatia Open, but Jha was looking to reverse the result.
The left handed Uda led with a strong service game, but Jha held his own on this occasion. The games were as tight as anything, Uda struck first 14-12, but Jha held his nerve to clutch the next two games both 11-9.
Uda wasted no time in hitting back and it became a true back and forth affair. While Jha held the 3-2 lead, Uda quickly broke even to make it 3-3, winning game 6 by the narrowest of margins, 13-11. The players were locked in a battle of pure tenacity and determination, as the penultimate game closed in.
With all the pressure in the world on his shoulders, the opportunity to compete in the main draw as one of the last 32 players was a strong incentive for Jha, who grasped the opportunity without question by a mere 2 points.
The wins over Zhou and Uda were exceptional, drawing praise from fans and onlookers alike.
Jha would put up a strong fight in the main draw against Japan's Koki Niwa, winning the first in a great opening display, but the renowned left handed touch player from Japan brought his best to the table, taking three games in a row before Jha was able to secure another.
Trailing 3-2, there was still hope for Jha, but Koki proved too good on the day.
Overall a great performance for Jha, highlighting a superb showing by the US contingent which included Amy Wang's outstanding win over last year's European Games Champion Fu Yu and Kai Zhang's victory over Thiago Monteiro of Brazil.
See highlights of Kanak's Round of 32 match below: