by Wade Townsend
Never tell me the odds
London 2012 bronze medallist Feng Tianwei will be facing off against Ai Fukuhara today. Whoever wins will be favourite to finish with at least a bronze medal here in Rio. Both women are the biggest threats to China left in the draw and are capable of claiming gold on a good day. Fukuhara is in fine form and is yet to drop a game in the Riocentro pavilion. It’s a good statistic, but she won’t want to look too closely at the numbers — Feng leads their head to head 14-3, with Fukuhara losing the last five encounters. Feng is going to be aggressive and look to control the table and Fukuhara is going to have to absorb a lot of attacks directed towards her backhand side. If the Japanese star’s defences are strong, Feng may be in trouble.
Yu Mengyu and Kim Song I have both outperformed their seedings. DPR Korea’s Kim has played more matches than any women left in the draw, but her legs don’t look like giving out anytime soon. She caused the first big upset in Rio by beating number four seed Ishikawa and is now on the verge of a place in the semi-finals. Only Singapore’s Yu Mengyu stands in her way. Yu has the consistency to beat defenders, but will also need to find the right balls to put away. Shot selection will be key for both players in this match. Watch to find out who will be the surprise semi-finalist in Rio.
Vladi v Dima : Batman v Superman
The greatest threats to China finishing with gold and silver in the men’s singles will be clashing on day four. To Europe it is a case of Batman v Superman — two heroes battling, either win a victory, either loss a defeat. Samsonov leads their head to head 6-4, but Ovtcharov has won the last two encounters. They also play for the same club team, so saying they know each other’s games may be an understatement. When it comes to style this is a matchup of yin and yang. The aggressive power of Dima off both wings versus the silky smooth counter play from Vladi. The Belorussian always seems two steps ahead of his opponent and the German plays balls at Mach 2 as the other side of the court struggles to break the sound barrier. It’s going to be huge.
Jun Mizutani up against Marcos Frietas could bring the best rallies of day four. The two left-handers will spend a lot of time back from the table, providing plenty of loop to loop rallies — the highlight reel of this match may well just be the whole game. The Rio crowd has been going nuts this week and this matchup is going to send them in to frenzy. The Japanese number one has never lost to Frietas in their six encounters. That is a serious hurdle for anyone to overcome, but what a time it would be to get that first win.
Rewrite the history books
Quadri Aruna is the first African to make it to the quarterfinals in table tennis at an Olympic Games. But he isn’t going to rest on his laurels, not when it’s the biggest stage against the number one player in the world. Ma Long looked shaky in his fourth round match against Sik. Will the nerves now be out of the way? He will try use this match to get some confidence back, but it’s not going to be easy. Aruna will make him work for every point. The Nigerian can put balls back on the table that would be out of reach for mere mortals. It is going to be an interesting match for the spectators — the super orthodox clinical precision of Ma versus the unorthodox shotmaking brilliance of Aruna. Ma Long is favourite, but so far underdogs have done well in Rio.
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