by Wade Townsend
First up on day five we have defending Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia up against Ai Fukuhara. Neither player is yet to drop a game here in Rio. Most impressive was Fukuhara’s 4-0 dismantling of Feng Tianwei in the quarterfinal, a player she had lost to the previous five occasions. Li Xiaoxia has had an easier run and we are yet to see her truly tested.
Head to head Li is well in front 9-1. It’s a strong lead, but it’s been three years since the two last met on the court. Fukuhara seems to have toughened up recently, both on and off the table — reports are she has taken on the role of plumber and fixed the leaking pipes in her Rio accommodation. Meanwhile, Li has been dealing with some injuries in the lead up to Rio and these may cause her some problems in a high pressure match.
Li’s biggest advantage will be her ability to hold the table, having a massive 7.5 inches in height over Fukuhara — watch as she uses her wingspan to leave the Japanese star racing for the ball. Fukuhara is going to have to stay close to the table and not let her opponent dictate the play. If her backhand timing is off this could be a quick match, but if it’s on song it’s going to be a great battle.
The wildcard and the queen without a crown
Next up on day five is the number one seed Ding Ning facing off against the surprise semi-finalist Kim Song I. Kim has continued her fine Rio run after taking down number four seed Kasumi Ishikawa in the third round. DPR Korea took a silver medal in the women’s singles in Athens 2004, when Kim Hyang-Mi surprised the world and reached the final, so a possible final place is not unprecedented.
Ding is yet to drop a game and took care of a defender in textbook style in her quarterfinal match. However, after the game she did suggest that her arm was sore, so perhaps if Kim can keep the rallies long she may just wear down her opponent. Ding is going to be hungry for gold after losing out in London and it’s going to take a lot to stop her making it to the final. Her persona on the court will also win the crowd over, robbing Kim of a weapon she could have used in her arsenal.
Ding Ning’s clean sheet in Rio may come to an end in this match, but the chances of Kim stopping the number one seed’s progression to the final is slim. Watch for spectacular retrievals from Kim and wizardly serves from Ding Ning.
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