by Simon Daish
Another Women’s Team Gold for China
China put in another golden performance to win their third successive Women’s Team Olympic title. Germany attempted to dampen the Chinese camp’s spirits in the final, but China outperformed the Europeans.
The crowd support inside the Riocentro – Pavilion 3 was colossal, and as on previous occasions at the Rio 2016 Table Tennis matches the Chinese fans were in good voice.
— ITTF World (@ittfworld) August 17, 2016
Li Xiaoxia got the evening underway with a fantastic showing against Germany’s Han Ying. The backspin rallies proved difficult to get a hold of for Li at the start of the match, as Han began the better player. However, when Li’s touch game improved, she looked unstoppable and the former world champion gave China the opening match (11-9, 11-3, 11-7). Was this Li Xiaoxia’s final appearance at an Olympic Games? From what she had said prior to the final, sadly the answer suggests yes, “The Women’s Team final might be the last time I’m representing my country to compete.”
Liu Shiwen was then drawn into action and having missed out on the Women’s Singles tournament, the world number one was determined to leave Rio with a gold medal. Petrissa Solja had never taken on Liu before, and the German will wish she still hadn’t, after Liu stormed to a 3-0 whitewash victory. The pace being generated from Liu’s attacking play was lightning quick and Solja couldn’t cope with Liu’s width of play, resulting in China taking a 2-0 lead.
Dejected from her singles defeat, Petrissa Solja was required for Germany’s doubles lineup where she joined Shan Xiaona. Liu Shiwen also returned to the table, combining with Ding Ning as China looked to try and win the tie there and then, and they were the dominant duo from the outset stealing games one and two comfortably (11-6, 11-5). The third end saw Germany stop the rot with a more positive approach, and a win for them (9-11) left a wry smile on the faces of Solja and Shan.
Suddenly the competition came to life, China moved 5-2 up in the fourth end before German coach Jie Schöpp called a time out, which worked with tremendous effect as the European side managed to close the gap to just a single point at 7-6. Then it was Kong Linghui’s turn to call for a break – was the momentum starting to shift in Germany’s direction? Sensing danger for their team, the Chinese fans began to raise the atmosphere to new heights and Liu Shiwen’s edge shot following the time out appeared to kill off any belief that Solja and Shan had of going to another end. China’s Liu and Ding took game four (11-7) to seal the gold.
Following the conclusion of the match, the Chinese squad shared some words with the world, “We are so excited” said Li Xiaoxia, “We appreciate our coach, our partners and everyone who helped us. This is a dream for us.” Ding Ning spoke about the tactical changes seen towards the latter stages of the doubles match, “After losing the fourth game, coach Kong Linghui told us to be more firm, and that we are stronger.” Ding added “We also encouraged each other during the match.” The third member of the lineup Liu Shiwen, took a moment to express her thanks to everyone involved in China’s Rio 2016 team,
“I never thought that the team would pick me to play in the singles match. Thanks to our team. Thanks to Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia, they always encourage me! I also want to thank the other members of our team who have been training hard with us to prepare for Rio. It’s a dream for everyone to win an Olympic medal, so this is perfect.” – Liu Shiwen (China).
Despite ultimately missing out on the top spot of the winners podium, Germany’s silver medal represents a great achievement and is the first Olympic medal of any colour for a European country across all women’s Table Tennis events since 1988.
Petrissa Solja was delighted with her country’s silver, “Unbelievable feeling in my first Olympics, it’s impossible to describe” while her teammate Shan Xiaona believed that the better team won in the end, “It was a bit challenge to play the Chinese. The goal was to play the best table tennis in the final. China deserves to win gold and we deserved to win silver.”
Podium Finish Again for Japan
The Japanese Women’s Team have won the Olympic bronze medal, after a 3-1 victory against Singapore.
Both countries had met at the semi-finals stage of London 2012 where the Japanese won 3-0, and it was again Japan who prevailed four years later in Rio 2016 despite a strong showing from their opponents.
First up in the bronze medal match for Japan was Ai Fukuhara, who took on Yu Mengyu. Fukuhara is ranked 8th in the world and made the better start of the two players taking the opening game (11-4), but Yu (13th) responded to the challenge winning two consecutive ends (5-11, 3-11) to move 1-2 ahead. Game four saw Fukuhara really start to dig in (11-4), however, she wasn’t able to complete the fightback as Yu earned Singapore a 0-1 lead in the tie.
Next up, a mouth-watering fixture between the world’s number four and number six female players as Feng Tianwei (Singapore) faced Kasumi Ishikawa, but as seen in the previous match, it was the lower ranked competitor who won. Feng had beaten Ishikawa in their most recent encounter in 2014, and the Singaporean actually performed well in game one, only to lose out in deuce (12-10). Then it all went downhill for Feng as her opponent from Japan claimed the following two ends (11-6, 11-7) to level the tie at one match apiece.
The doubles contest provided some expert teamwork skills displayed by both the pairings of Ai Fukuhara and Mima Ito (Japan) and Singapore’s Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan. Singapore grabbed up a close first game (9-11), but Japan came back to take three games in a row (11-9, 11-1, 14-12).
Suddenly the pressure began to mount for Singapore, who knew that one more loss would result in missing out on third spot. Not to worry though, as Feng Tianwei would go head-to-head with 15-year-old Japanese player Mima Ito in a match that would surely go the Singaporean’s way. Well think again, because exactly the opposite scenario unfolded.
Ito may still be at an early stage in her Table Tennis career, but the teenager has already set the records table alight on many occasions in her relatively short time in the sport and never looked troubled by Feng. The Japanese star won in straight games (11-9, 11-4, 11-6) to guarantee the bronze medal finish at Rio 2016. With the match brought to an end, Mima Ito had set yet another record by becoming the youngest ever Table Tennis player to win an Olympic medal,
“I am just happy to win the medal. Before I played Fukuhara and Ishikawa played well. It was because all of us that we got this medal, not just my performance. I am looking forward to getting home and showing my medal to my family and supporters.” – Mima Ito (Japan).