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The 2019 ITTF ZEN-NOH Team World Cup; Prelude to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

On the November 6-10, 2019 six members of the USA Table Tennis Team, four from the New York Metro region, gathered in Tokyo, Japan for the International Table Tennis Federation’s (ITTF) Zen-Noh 2019 Team World Cup. Kai Zhang, from Pleasantville, NY, Yijun (Tom) Feng who plays for the N.Y.U. team and Kanak Jha from California represented the USA on the men’s side. Yue “Jennifer” Wu, a New Jersey resident who trains in NY City, seventeen year old Amy Wang from New Jersey, and Lily Zhang from California represented the USA on the Women’s Team. Yijun Feng, Kanak Jha, Yue Wu, and Lily Zhang were all members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Super typhoon Hagibis which devastated parts of the city could not keep these champions from competing.

On hand to cover the event for MetroSports Magazine was correspondent Leon Libin.

Above: Yue Wu in action at the ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF World Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Photo Credit - Leon Libin

The ITTF Team World Cup is one of the world’s highly prestigious table tennis competitions and take place once every two years at different locations around the world. This year it took place in Tokyo, the capital city of Japan. To qualify for this competition, national table tennis teams needed to progress through continental/regional championships taking place in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceana, and the American continents, the Pan American Championship. Qualifying through these preliminary events were twelve women’s teams representing Austria, Brazil, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea, Romania, Chinese Taipei, Ukraine, United States, and Vanuatu, and twelve men’s teams representing Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, England, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Sweden, Chinese Taipei and the U.S.A.

Above: Team USA coach, Jun Gao, with Yijun Feng and Kanak Jha (left) and Yue Wu (right). Photo Credit - Leon Libin

The U.S.A. teams’ performance was very successful with both advancing to their respective Quarter-Final rounds. The U.S.A. women’s team rivals were Japan and Austria while the men’s team faced Japan and Sweden. While both teams lost their opening matches, the women to Korea and the men to host Japan, they both won decisive matches advancing them compete in the stage of eight; the women defeating Austria 3:1 and the men defeating Sweden 3:2.

The women’s doubles team of Lily Zhang and Yue Wu defeated Amelie Solja and Karoline Mischek 3:0; Yue Wu overpowered Amelie Solja 3:0; Amy Wang lost one match to Jia Liu 2:3 and won the second from Karoline Mischek 3:1. As the result of the two group matches women’s Team USA advanced to Quarter-Finals, The U.S. men’ they met the powerful Team China, which won the match 3:0. The U.S. men’s doubles team of Yijun Feng and Zhang Kai, in their second group match encountered Anton Kallberg and Eilas Ranefur to whom they lost 0:3. Then Kanak Jha overcame Kristian Karlsson 3:1, Kai Zhang won against Elias Ranfur 3:1, Yijun Feng lost to Kristian Karlsson 0:3 and finally, Kanak Jha tipped the scale to the USA side by winning his match versus Anton Kallberg 3:2. The next opponent was Team China in the quarterfinal round with the talented U.S. players fell to the speed and precision of the Chinese team.

It was a notable achievement for both the U.S.A. men’s and women’s teams to reach the Quarter-Final stage of the ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF Team World Cup in Tokyo, in the venue where table tennis Olympic Championships will be hosted in 2020.

Above: Men's Doubles partners, Kai Zhang (left) and Yijun Feng (right). Photo Credit - Leon Libin

In an after-match interview with US Women’s and Men’s teams players and coach they shared with me and our MetroSports Magazine readership their thoughts about the competitions. Team U.S.A. coach, Jun Gao, said that she was “happy for the result we have achieved so far. It was basically a 50/50 probability for us to win the decisive match against Austria. We knew that it is not easy, but our players were great and that’s why we won”. Amy Wang added that, “ I think this is a very good experience. During my match with Austria I was not nervous and did not have much pressure, because I knew I could always rely on my teammates.” Lily Zhang added that, “as a team, we all performed really very well to support one another during tough moments. I think, as a team, we worked very well and I am very happy.” And Yue Wu noted that, “today, I played against Amelia Solja - I played with her a few times before and knew her style. That’s why I won. I am happy with the result and with the teamwork today.” Yijun Feng told our onsite reporter that “I’ve participated in Team World Cup before. This year, the best moment and the best match we have is when we made to Quarter-Finals.“ Teammate Kai Zhang added, “it is my pleasure to be and play here and I am really happy that I won one point for the team today in the match against Sweden.” Kanak Jha noted, “I think as the team we played amazingly well. I think, that when Kai won the third match he gave us a lot of confidence because I knew I was going into the fifth match me and Tom had played before, so I knew there was a chance and luckily managed to win again.”

Above: Women's Doubles partners Amy Wang (front) and Lily Zhang (behind). Photo Credit - Leon Libin

This World Cup was unique and special, also, in that it was a test event for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This aspect was acknowledged by several players participating in the World Cup such as Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Liu Shiwen, Mima Ito, and Tomokazu Harimoto during press conferences at the event. They considered it as an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the venue. For the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee, this was a test event for managing the competition, lighting, venue logistics, equipment, technology, administrative training, and the time-keeping system.

The ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF TEAM WORLD CUP concluded with Gold Medals and Trophies in Men’s and Women’s Championships for China, Silver Medals for the Japanese women and Korean men, and Bronze medals for the Korean and Chinese Taipei women and the Japanese and Chinese Taipei men.

Above: Kai Zhang (red) and below, Lily Zhang in their respective singles matches. Photo Credit - Leon Libin

Congratulations to all US table tennis athletes and the teams’ coach on the World Cup, Jun Gao! Success and good luck them for coming competitions and, of course, for Olympics 2020 in Tokyo!

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