Indian American Nikhil Kumar’s Table Tennis Bid in Olympics Men’s Singles Ends, Compatriot Kanak Jha Remains in Contention
- The 18-year-old Californian will get another shot to play when the U.S. takes on Sweden in the Round of Sixteen for the team event.
California teen Nikhil Kumar’s bid in men’s singles table tennis has ended. Kumar, 18, was defeated on July 25 by Anton Kallberg of Sweden at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, according to a press release by USA Table Tennis. “Kumar did not have an answer for the up-and-coming twenty-three-year-old Swedish pro, Kaellberg, who won the Second Round best-of-seven match in four straight games (11-7, 11-5, 11-6, 11-5),” added the press release.
This was Kumar’s maiden Olympics performance. Earlier, Kumar won two rounds to advance to the final 48 in the men’s singles table tennis event, the press release said. Kumar is the second youngest table tennis paddler from the U.S. to qualify for an Olympics, followed by compatriot 21-year-od Kanak Jha. Kumar and Jha are part of a team of six elite players — Lily Zhang, Juan Liu, Huijing Wang, and Xin Zhou.
All hopes are now pinned on Jha, the top TT player in the U.S. Despite his loss in his first game, Jha is very much in the competition and is expected to shine. On July 26, a day after Kumar’s loss, Jha lost to Kirill Skachkov of Russia, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9, 0-11, 11-7, 11-4 in Round 2 of men’s singles, The Associated Press reported. This was Jha’s first match. Jha, currently ranked number 30 in the world, the highest rank in the United States, was the flag-bearer of the Olympic team.
In a tweet, USA Table Tennis said: “Nikhil Kumar’s first Olympic journey in Men’s Singles ends in 4-0 loss to Sweden’s Anton Kallberg. Nonetheless, he won two rounds in the Olympics and reached the group of 48 in Men’s Singles with the best in the world in #Tokyo2020. We are proud of you.”
Although Kumar is now eliminated from the men’s singles competition, he will get another shot to play in the prestigious event. Kumar will once again face Kaellberg and his Swedish teammates on Aug. 1, when the U.S. takes on Sweden in the Round of Sixteen for the Team Event in table tennis.
Kumar, a San Jose, California resident and a left-hand attacking player, has been shining on the table tennis courts since he was 10. The paddler, who will soon be pursuing Computer Science at the University of California in Berkeley, qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games at a March 1 competition, earning first place in the trials. He also won gold at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games and secured Men’s U-21 bronze at the 2020 ITTF Portugal Open.
Jha, 21, on the other hand, was the youngest American athlete to participate in the 2016 Olympics, and the first American born in the 2000s to qualify for the Olympics. Last year, the right-hand attacking player became the first male player to win a four-peat, as he won the first game of his men’s singles final against Kumar, 11-3. He then went on to defeat Kumar in five games in the U.S. National Table Tennis Championships.
The Milpitas, California-based Jha, who trains in Germany where table tennis infrastructure is considered top-notch, also won the doubles, making it the first time he won both the singles and doubles titles. He made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, competing in both singles and doubles. He competed at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and earned a bronze medal, the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic table tennis medal for the U.S.