by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
In a hard fought contest that thrilled the near to capacity crowd, Jun Mizutani won in five games (11-4, 11-9, 6-11, 14-12, 11-8).
The result was as not only status suggested but as results in recent times indicated.
Jun Mizutani had won four of their five previous meetings in international competition but it had been some time since they had met; the most recent engagement was at the Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships in the German city of Dortmund, on that occasion Jun Mizutani won in four games.
A key factor in previous successes for Jun Mizutani had been his speed; from the very start of the contest in Rio de Janeiro, he was in the fast lane, not only was he fleet of foot, he quick to make the first attack.
Notably he stayed close to the table, rarely forced back; one of the reasons being that his first attacking stroke was regularly directed to the forehand of Vladimir Samsonov, not the backhand where an angle wide to the Mizutani forehand could be executed.
On the occasions when Jun Mizutani directed the first attack towards the backhand of Vladimir Samsonov it was then when the rallies emanated with Jun Mizutani playing some distance back from the table.
Vladimir Samsonov, renowned from his outstanding control over the table tennis ball, needed that skill to the full to make an impact; after losing the first two games that skill was very much in evidence in the third game as he reduced the arrears.
The loss of the third game ignited Jun Mizutani, he increased the tempo of his play, he established a 9-5 lead, Vladimir Samsonov reduced the arrears to 9-8, Jun Mizutani elected for “Time Out”.
Remaining calm, Vladimir Samsonov levelled, at 10-9 he held game point, he then held two more before the cruellest of edges secured success for Jun Mizutani.
I feel very happy! This is the best feeling ever! Samsonov was not an easy opponent to play as we know each other very well. Although he came back and won a game and was close to winning the fourth, I fought to end. Jun Mizutani
Now the momentum was with Jun Mizutani, trailing 2-3 in the fifth game Vladimir Samsonov elected for “Time Out”; alas for Belarus the break worked in favour of Japan.
Jun Mizutani increased the lead, the fourth game had proved crucial, at 10-7 Jun Mizutani held match point; Vladimir Samsonov saved the first, not the second, the bronze medal was in the hands of Japan.
“It is definitely not a very good feeling to lose the bronze medal match; this is probably my last chance to win an Olympic medal, as I don’t know if I will be at Tokyo. After my match with Ovtcharov I was injured and probably did not really get into this match. I also didn’t want to push my injury too hard. Although I missed the chance to win the fourth game, the adrenaline made me just move on and forget. Vladimir Samsonov
Defeat for Vladimir Samsonov, fourth place, it was his best ever finish in an Olympic Games; his previous most successful conclusion being a quarter-final place in 1996 in Atlanta and four years later in Sydney.
Alas it was little solace, the precious medal remained elusive.