London 2012 saw Li and Ding go head-to-head in the final for the Women’s Singles title. Li won that match in dramatic fashion (4-1).
Li reflected with great joy on the 2012 final after her fine performance resulted in the gold medal: “I’m very excited,” said Li. “This has been my dream since being a little girl. I dreamed of being an Olympic champion… We are the same level but today I performed better than I expected.”
Ding was distraught following the 2012 defeat, having beaten Li in all five matches played prior to the Games; she let her emotions be well known, “I was affected by the judge. After the first one (point penalty), I tried to keep cool but could not hold it after the second.” Ding suffered three violations and received yellow and red cards:“The judge was too strict.” Ding added, “I always serve the ball like this. I have done that for the last two years and, even from the first game of the Olympics, I have served like this.”
Now, four years later, they are set to do battle again.
Four Years in the Making
After the London 2012 fever had died down, the attentions of Li Xiaoxia and Ding Ning turned elsewhere. Ding won the next two encounters between the players at the 2013 Austrian and Qatar Opens, but Li returned to form for the 2013 World Championships, proving stronger than Ding in the last four before going on to win the tournament.
The 2014 Asian Cup saw another close match up between Li and Ding, but this time it was the latter player who prevailed in six games. Ding backed up her Asian Cup title with the 2014 Women’s World Cup trophy, this time beating Li with a 4-0 whitewash,
However, in the three meetings since then Ding has only won once (2015 Polish Open), while Li was victorious in the other two (2015 and 2016 Kuwait Opens).
Ding Ning became world champion in 2015, two years after Li had achieved the same feat.
Li and Ding may have been rivals on the singles circuit for a while now, but they have also teamed up to great success in the doubles events, winning Women’s Doubles golds at the 2015 World Championships (Suzhou) and the 2016 Japan Open.
2016 So Far
Leading up to the Olympic Games, both players have featured on the 2016 ITTF World Tour. Li picked up the Women’s Singles crown at the Kuwait Open as mentioned above, but exited at the quarter-finals stage of the Japan Open to fellow compatriot Zhu Yuling.
Ding came to within touching distance of winning the Kuwait, Qatar and Japan Opens but ended up losing all of the finals. She did however win the 2016 Korea Open, beating world number one Liu Shiwen.
Both Ding and Li also played crucial parts at the 2016 World Team Championships (Malaysia) as China won the Women’s Team gold.
Path to Rio 2016 Final
Seeded 1st and 3rd respectively, Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia entered the Women’s Singles tournament in round three.
Ding started her Rio 2016 journey with a 4-0 win against Elizabeta Samara (Romania), before adding 4-0 victories over Doo Hoi Kem (Hong Kong) and Han Ying (Germany). DPR Korea’s Kim Song I is the only competitor to have taken an end off Ding so far when they met in the semi-finals, but again Ding performed well to overcome Kim 4-1 sealing her place in the final.
Li has managed to reach tonight’s final without dropping a single game across her four matches at Rio 2016. Having been drawn in the bottom half of the draw, Li has ended the Olympic singles dreams of Li Fen (Sweden), Lee Ho Ching (Hong Kong), Cheng I-Ching (Chinese Taipei) and Japan’s Ai Fukuhara (Japan), with 4-0 demolitions of her opponents.
Following their semi-finals’ successes, Ding and Li spoke briefly about the upcoming Women’s Singles finale: “For me, my task to defend my half of the draw is completed now. I hope to make my trip to Rio worthwhile, and look forward to playing my game tonight,” said Ding.
“I will do my best to enjoy the competition, and finally maybe I can win the gold medal.” – Li Xiaoxia.
Watch the Women’s Singles final between Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia live at 21:30 (GMT-3) HERE.