US OPEN: Match of the night, Wang makes it three

Johnathan Humbles / Table Tennis Canada

The match lived up to the hype. It was the match of the night, if not the match of the tournament. Canada’s own Wang Zhen (Eugene), the number 3 seed was set to face Ryohei Kanoya, an unranked player from Japan in the finals of the Men’s Singles at the 2018 US Open, in Orlando FL.

Ryan Willard, emcee for the event did his job superbly. He got the crowd energized and had the rowdy Canadian fans and Japanese fans on their feet yelling.

The atmosphere was electric as the two finalists stepped into the court. Their playing styles so different: Wang plays with power and precise placement, while Kanoya has an uptempo, off the bounce style of play.

Leading up to this finals match, Kanoya had to go through the number 1 seed in the USA’s Kanak Jha in the eighths (-7, 7, 8, 9, 4), and Jinbao Ma (1, -9, -8, 9, 5, 10) in the quarter-finals. For the semi-finals he faced fellow Japanese player, Takeshi Atsuya. This match went to the sixth before Kanoya finally secured his trip to the finals (-15, 8, 6, -8, 9, 7).

On the opposite side of the bracket, Wang had to square off against Jian Li (5, 1, 13, 5) in the eighths, and then a second Japanese player, Yuki Shimoyama (3, 3, 3, 6) in the quarter finals. Waiting for Wang in Semi-finals number 2 was the 6th seed Tobias Hippler from Germany.

In a hard-fought battle Wang won the first sets 9, 6. Then dropped the next three sets to the scores of -10, -4, -9. After the fifth set, Wang took his 3-2 deficit in the sixth and pulled out victory: 11-7. Continuing his streak, Wang crushed Hippler in the 7th and final set 11-3, marching on to the finals.

The contenders entered the arena and began their two-minute warm-up. Winning the traditional coin toss, Wang starts things off with a sweeping mid-distance, left to right curving serve. Kanoya pushes the serve back. But to a devastating backhand loop from Wang. The power in the loop is too much for Kanoya, and he cannot handle the backhand and sends the ball wide to the inside off the table. Wang jumped out to 5-1 lead. But the game was not over, Kanoya would bounce back, and showed great guts, but still dropped the first set 11-9.

Two out of the next three sets would go to deuce. But for Wang, they would bounce the other way. Kanoya would win these three games -12, -11, -9.

Ryohei Kanoya, Japan

It looked like Kanoya was running away with this best of 7 match as he grabbed a 3-1 lead in game 5. But the inner beast in Wang was awoken. He showed his world class level of play and grabbed game number 5 (11-7).

Wang showed how he had reached a number 55 world ranking in game 6. He absolutely crushed Kanoya 11-1.

Now tied at three games apiece, Wang emerges from his corner first ready to play as the crowd roared with excitement. Wang, feeding off the fact that he had been down 3 games to 1, jumped out to a crushing 8-3 lead in the seventh and final set. A comeback victory was within his grasp.

But Kanoya has had enough. He rallies off four straight points to elevate the score to 8-7. But on the next point trying to even the sore, Kanoya floats the point long and Wang takes a 9-7 lead. On the next backhand to backhand exchange, Wang clips the net and sends the ball wide. Score is now 9-8. 

Kanoya would even the score at 9 with a forehand smash that Wang was unable to handle. He would celebrate with a fist pump after that. 

With both players showing no fear and going all in, the game goes to deuce in the seventh set. This is what world-class table tennis all about. Two players leaving it all on the line.

Wang Zhen (Eugene), Canada

A well-placed backhand block from Wang causes Kanoya to overpower his block and sail the ball wide off the side of table. Wang now stand at match point 11-10.

Kanoya serves and Wang pushes back. That push leads to a series of fast and furious backhand exchanges. Kanoya would misread the spin on the final backhand from Wang and send the ball right back into the net. Match point Wang – 12-10.

With three fingers held up, Wang showed what he had just done. He had just won his first US Open since 2013. But more importantly, it was a symbol of how many times he had now won the US Open. A total of three. 2012, 2013 and now 2018. Three was oh so sweet.