by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Prior to the duel in Rio de Janeiro, there had been one success for Ai Fukuhara against Li Xiaoxia on the international scene.
She emerged successful at the Volkswagen 2009 Women’s World Cup but that was the only success, the other nine had all gone the way of Li Xiaoxia, the most recent being at the Times Property 2013 World Team Classic in Guangzhou.
Unforced Errors, Forced Errors
At the quarter-final stage, Ai Fukuhara had made few unforced errors when playing Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, having nullified her powerful forehand with quick attacking strokes.
Against Li Xiaoxia, the unforced errors were comparatively few, the problem was that she was forced into making errors by the immaculate top spin play of the London gold medallist.
Nowhere to Hide
There was nowhere to hide, from the backhand as from the forehand the tirade of top spins was equally powerful; above all else Ai Fukuhara needed a good start to unsettle Li Xiaoxia and impart pressure.
It did not happen, single minded, totally focused, from the very first cry of “love-all” from the umpire. Li Xiaoxia asserted her authority and assumed command.
Ai Fukuhara was given no time to breathe; conversely members of the Chinese delegation in the tiered seating gasped in incredulity as their charge gave an imperious display.
She was so strong; I couldn’t get anything past her. There will be a bronze medal competition later this evening, so I want to switch my mind towards that. It’s basically the difference in level. She was better than me. I have to accept this and look forward to the next match. Ai Fukuhara
Trailing 1-4 in the third game, having lost the first two, Ai Fukuhara called “Time Out”; it was to no avail. Li Xiaoxia did not surrender another point!
Confident, in control, alas for Ai Fukuhara it was a question of waiting for the inevitable. The fourth game was secured with just the loss of one point; as in London a place in the final was booked.
“I didn’t expect to finish the match so easily; Fukuhara has won her previous matches four-nil, so I was prepared to play seven games, or that I could even lose. I was mentally strong in the match.” Li Xiaoxia.
Simply awesome, just nine points surrendered; the most convincing semi-final success ever in the history of table tennis events at an Olympic Games.