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U.S. table tennis teams advance to World Cup quarterfinals; men lose to China

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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 Lily Zhang, 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.

Only four countries reached the quarterfinals in both the men’s and women’s competition — the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea.

A live stream is available on the ITTF site.

MORE: Olympic tables suit Tokyo to a T

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Olympic table tennis tables suit Tokyo to a T

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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.

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A 1983 world champion will become the oldest Olympic table tennis player ever

Ni Xia Lian
European Table Tennis Union
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Ni Xia Lian, a 55-year-old, Chinese-born table tennis player for Luxembourg, is set to become the oldest Olympian ever in her sport.

Ni earned Luxembourg a quota spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games by bagging bronze at the European Championships on Wednesday. Ni will fill that spot and compete at her fifth Games next summer, according to Luxembourg’s table tennis federation.

Ni’s first senior medal at a global competition came with China at the world team championships in 1983.

Ni moved to Luxembourg in the 1990s, running a hotel with her husband. She kept competing, with a five-year break between 2002 and 2007, and set a record in 2017 for the longest table-tennis match at 1 hour 33 minutes.

She would already be the oldest Olympic table tennis player if not for He Zhiwen, who was born in China and competed for Spain with the nickname Juanito at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He retired after Rio at age 54, according to the International Table Tennis Federation.

Ni will be 57 next summer, older than any previous female Olympians outside of archery, equestrian, shooting and art competitions, according to the OlyMADMen. Her best Olympic finish was ninth in Sydney in 2000.

Chinese-born players represent many countries in table tennis, including European Games gold and silver medalists, Fu Yu of Portugal and Han Ying of Germany.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Most experienced Olympian in history retires at age 72

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