Zhang, who made her first national team at 12, debuted at the 2012 London Games at age 16, dropping her opening match.
She improved in Rio, winning twice to mark the best U.S. singles finish at those Games. The U.S. has zero Olympic table tennis medals, though Zhang and Jha earned Youth Olympic bronze medals
Four years ago, Jha was the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team and the first American born in the 2000s to qualify for an Olympics. He lost opening matches in singles and team events in Rio.
The U.S. Olympic table tennis team will eventually include three men and three women.
Kanak Jha won both of his matches, prevailing in a five-game thriller to seal the U.S. men’s 3-2 win over Sweden to advance to the Team World Cup quarterfinals Thursday in Tokyo. Zhang Kai won one of his singles matches to provide the other point.
The men’s run ended later in the day with a 3-0 defeat to China.
The U.S. women also advanced to a quarterfinal matchup with China by beating Austria 3-1, clinching the match without even putting star LilyZhang, who reached the individual World Cup semifinals last month, to the floor for what would’ve been the decisive singles showdown. Zhang and Yue Wu won their doubles match, and Wu and Amy Wang each won a single match to seal the victory.
The tables upon which Olympic athletes will serve and slam in 2020 are not your basement ping-pong tables.
Japanese company San-Ei designed and built the tables for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the manufacturers are building a new style for the 2020 Games in their home country.
The most distinctive part of the table is the undercarriage, which has graceful curves spelling out the letter T — “T” for Tokyo and “T” for table tennis.
San-Ei is using monarch birch wood from the Tohoku region in Japan, which the company says is part of an effort to help the tsunami-stricken region rebound.
A promotional video for the new table shows machinery rolling the birch logs and cutting them into sheets that workers assemble into a surface that is painted before it is subjected to tests to make sure the bounce and friction meets precise specifications.
The tables are not in use this week at the ITTF Team World Cup this week in Tokyo, which is being live-streamed on the ITTF site.
In the first day of group play, South Korea swept the U.S. men, setting up a must-win for the U.S. against Sweden. The U.S. features 19-year-old Kanak Jha, once the top-ranked under-18 player in the world and now ranked 26th at the senior level. Jha was the youngest U.S. athlete at the 2016 Olympics.
The U.S. women are in the same situation, needing a win against Austria after a 3-0 loss to Japan. Two-time Olympian Lily Zhang, who last month became the first U.S. player to reach a semifinal in the World Cup, is currently ranked 33rd.