by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Japan’s Ai Fukuhara, the no.6 seed, overcame Feng Tianwei (14-12, 11-8, 11-7, 11-3) to end Singaporean dream of a bronze medal as in London.
Safe and Secure
There is no question that Cheng I-Ching has improved but Li Xiaoxia was taking no chances; coach Kong Linghui even called “Time Out” in the fourth game when his charge was ahead by three games to nil and 10-6 to the good!
Safe from the backhand, able to absorb the top spin attacking play of Cheng I-Ching, Li Xiaoxia was in control of the contest from the very start.
Competing against Li Xiaoxia is for any adversary the same problems as was faced by those who challenged Zhang Yining in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing four years later.
Li Xiaoxia is so secure in her play, it pressurises the opponent into taking risks; in the early stages of the second game Cheng I-Ching did make an impact but as the game and the match progressed, the defending champion had the answers.
She accelerated, it was job done and in a most efficient manner, ruthless manner, there was no hint of charity.
“We crossed paths before at the World Championships, so I knew what to expect mentally; also, I was well prepared for the match, I studied video footage till almost 1.00 am last night with my coaches”, said Li Xiaoxia. “I didn’t expect to win so easily against her; in her match yesterday, she was leading three-nil, and won four-three, so I think she’s in good form in Rio, I was ready to play full 7 games against her.”
Success for Li Xiaoxia and success as past results predicted; they had met on five previous occasions on the international scene, the most recent earlier this year at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships, Li Xiaoxia had won all four and as in Rio de Janeiro all in straight games.
Likewise in the ensuing duel history heavily favoured Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, the no.2 seed, she had won 14 of the 17 contests enacted in World ranking events; notably earlier this year she had won when the two met at the semi-final stage on the ITTF World Tour in Slovenia.
However, if there is one competition on planet earth where past results count for nought, it is the Olympic Games.
Comprehensive wins over Romania’s Daniela Monteiro Dodean and DPR Korea’s Kim Song I, not a single game surrendered Ai Fukuhara started in a confident manner, she won the first two games, then established a 6-4 lead in the third.
Crisis loomed, Singaporean coach, Chen Zhibin, called “Time Out”.
It was to no avail, Ai Fukuhara was gaining in self-belief by the fast backhand; victory was secured in an emphatic manner.
“I was fully prepared for the match, but more importantly I was focused on playing my game and not think about anything else”, said Ai Fukuhara. “I still feel like I’m in a dream.”
It was no dream; the performance of Ai Fukuhara approached perfection.
“It’s the Olympic Games, upsets are normal. Feng Tianwei is much stronger than me in terms of skills, I would be happy to win five in ten encounters”, added Ai Fukuhara. “The Olympic Games is such a big event for me, I had to go all out to play her; that is the only thought I had in the match.”
Motivated by playing in the biggest event of all; there was another source of motivation.
“Kasumi Ishikawa’s loss definitely gave me more motivation and pressure to do better”, stressed Ai Fukuhara.
Li Xiaoxia and Ai Fukuhara meet in the semi-finals; the match followed by the final and bronze medal contest will be played on Wednesday 10th August.