For Kanak Jha, playing with one of the best table tennis players in the world was a memorable experience.
Jha, America’s top male player, said his recent mixed doubles duet with China’s Wang Manyu – the women’s singles world champion – is something he won’t forget.
“It’s really exciting to play with the Chinese national team, which is the best in the world,” Jha said in an exclusive interview with China Daily. “I really wanted to be like a sponge, absorbing as much knowledge and information as they have. And that’s definitely something I’ll remember in my career.”
At the end of November, the finals of the table tennis world championships took place in Houston, for the first time on American soil. But its pairing with Team China made it even more memorable.
Just two days before the start of the championships, the table tennis associations of China and the United States announced that the two mixed doubles pairs would face off to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.
“For me, it was a huge honor to be a teammate with Wang Manyu and also to be part of this historic 50th anniversary of ping pong diplomacy, something very important for the history of our two countries,” said the 21-year-old. old, adding that he learned of the event and how it helped ease tensions between the two countries during a time of uncertainty.
The reciprocal international visits of American and Chinese teams in 1971 were credited with being a stepping stone to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China a year later.
However, some critics said that after the twinnings were announced, the cooperation would not have the same impact as 50 years ago, due to the current geopolitical and economic tensions between the two great powers.
Still, Jha stressed the importance of sports as a positive influence.
“A big part of what sport means for my entire career and for a lot of people is bringing people together,” he said. “Maybe we don’t speak the same language, we don’t have the same culture, but we all speak the language of table tennis. It’s something really important in the sport and what it does. for Humanity.”
Wang Manyu illustrated the strength of this bond when asked if there were language barriers between them.
“In fact, table tennis itself is a common language and a means of communication for us,” she said. “I’m very lucky and thrilled to have the opportunity to team up with the American player and hope that here in Houston we can make our history part of history through our efforts.”
Although the pair failed to reach the last eight after losing to an Indian team, Jha said they had “pretty good together overall, especially for our first time”.
“Manyu was able to guide me quite well with her experience and knowledge,” said Jha, noting that she was a former world doubles champion in 2019. “So she has a lot of knowledge and experience on the tactics of the double and how to move. , and the means of earning a point.”
Jha also revealed some heartwarming moments behind their jumpsuit. “When the pairing was announced with Wang Manyu, I received many messages, even on my Instagram, from many Chinese fans or Wang Manyu fans,” he said. “And they wanted to support our combination, hoping we’ll do well together.”
Jha said he was grateful to everyone who supported and followed him. “[That’s] something that really gives me a lot of energy to know that there are people behind me. Very grateful,” he said.