by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
However facing DPR Korea’s Kim Song I, the no.27 seed, she endured testing times; eventually she succeeded in five games (11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-9), the eventual score-line not reflecting the level of focus and downright hard work needed to secure the win.
The no.27 seed, DPR Korea’s Kim Song I has been a revelation in Rioentro Pavilion 3; her stylish technically correct backspin play underlining the fact that even in the modern era, when the top spin attacking art predominates, the defensive player can compete at the highest level.
However, playing Ding Ning is competing against the very best in the world; left handed the natural forehand top spin stroke arrowed across the diagonal is directed towards the backhand of Kim Song I.
Throughout the tournament, from that side of the racket, Kim Song I has proved safe and secure but against Ding Ning, Kim Song I was facing a player who was just as safe and sure.
Some seven and eight years ago Ding Ning encountered problems against Korea Republic’s Kim Kyungah, experiencing four consecutive defeats on the international scene.
Since then, although some hard fought contests, notably against Li Jie of the Netherlands at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships earlier this year in Kuala Lumpur, for Ding Ning, the defender has held relatively minimal travails.
In Riocentro Pavilion 3, Ding Ning made the better start, she won the first game with a degree of comfort as Kim Song I relied on backspin play; in the second game, more prepared to top spin from the forehand and causing Ding Ning problems with the return of service, Kim Song I levelled matters.
Focused, prepared to play for long points, no hint of panic, gradually Ding Ning seized control. Trailing by three games to one and down 1-3 in the fifth, Kim Song I elected for “Time Out”; it was not to change the eventual flow of proceedings.
Exhausting Long Rallies
Kim Song I captured the next two points and gained parity at 5-all; long exhausting points, especially for Ding Ning who had not only to fight against her opponent but had to fight against herself to overcome tiredness.
Ding Ning established a 9-6 lead, Kim Song I reduced the arrears to 9-8; Kong Linghui, the Chinese National Coach, called “Time Out”. Ding Ning won the next point, one match point was saved but with the cruellest of edges the next point went in favour of China.
Emphatically Ding Ning pointed to the edge of the table; Kim Song I accepted the decision. A place in the final was reserved; Ding Ning and China breathed a sigh of relief.
She was really hard to play against, continually getting all the balls back on the table. During the timeout, my coach Kong Linghui, told me to stay calm and not panic, to be clear of the situation before making any attacks. My body was stressed and my arms were sore. I couldn’t hit any powerful shots to end the points quickly. One of her main characteristics is her ability to make sudden attacks when she’s defending. We anticipated that, so on one hand I had to control her attacks, on the other, to be bold and not let her attacks affect my rhythm. Ding Ning
One Again China
Success for Ding Ning means that in 14 of a possible 16 Olympic Games Women’s Singles semi-finals, a player representing China has proved successful.
The only exceptions are in Atlanta in 1996 when Chen Jing, representing Chinese Taipei but in 1988 had won gold when on duty for China beat Qiao Hong, also from China and in 2004 in Athens when Singapore’s Li Jiawei was beaten by DPR Korea’s Kim Hyang Mi.
At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Kim Song I proved a most worthy semi-finalist; alas for her country she was not able compatriot Kim Hyang Mi. Ding Ning proved a step too far.