by Ian Marshall
After recording a semi-final win against Singapore’s Yu Mengyu, the no.26 seed, (11-6, 11-8, 11-7, 11-6), Chen Meng, justified her top seeded position; she accounted for colleague Sun Yingsha, the no.2 seed (9-11, 11-6, 11-6, 5-11, 11-4, 11-9) to claim gold.
Success for Chen Meng, followed success for Japan’s Mima Ito; beaten by Sun Yingsha in the penultimate round (11-3, 11-9, 11-6, 11-4), she accounted for Yu Mengyu (6-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-7, 11-6) to reserve the third step of the podium.
Bronze for Mima Ito but more significantly, a first ever Olympic Games women’s singles medal for Japan in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games.
Once again, as has always been the situation, the title finished in Chinese hands. Chen Meng follows in the footsteps of Chen Jing (1988), Deng Yaping (1992, 1996), Wang Nan (2000), Zhang Yining (2004, 2008), Li Xiaoxia (2012) and Ding Ning (2016).
Notably, it was the sixth time when the women’s singles final had been an all-Chinese affair; there are only two exceptions. In Atlanta (1996) Deng Yaping beat Chen Jing who had changed her allegiance to Chinese Taipei; later in Athens (2004), Zhang Yining overcame DPR Korea’s Kim Hyang Mi to seal gold.
Defeat for Sun Yingsha but a landmark; she becomes the first female player to win a medal at the Youth Olympic Games and at the Olympic Games. At the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, she won women’s singles and mixed team gold partnering Wang Chuqin.
An exhilarating final but nothing matched the contests of earlier in the day when China’s Fan Zhendong and Ma Long, the respective top two seeds, prevailed but were stretched to the very limit of endurance.
Fan Zhendong beat Lin Yun-Ju, the no.5 seed (6-11, 11-9, 14-12, 13-15, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8), Ma Long, no.2 seed, eventually overcame Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, no.7 seed (13-11, 11-8, 9-11, 9-11, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9).
Once again, when facing Lin Yun-Ju, the verdict went in favour of Fan Zhendong. On the international scene, Fan Zhendong has now won six of their seven meetings; Ma Long has won all 19 confrontations in opposition to Dimitrij Ovtcharov but this was the closest of all.
Only on one previous meeting has Ma Long been extended the full distance by Dimitrij Ovtcharov; that was their very first engagement in the men’s singles final at the 2009 ITTF World Tour Danish Open in Frederikshavn (13-15, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8, 10-12, 11-5).
It is the first time when both men’s singles semi-finals have been decided in full distance matches.
In fact, there has only ever been one previous men’s singles Olympic Games semi-final that went the full distance; that was in 1992 in Barcelona when Jean-Philippe Gatien beat China’s Ma Wenge, in those days best of five games, each games to 21 points (20–22, 22–20, 21–16, 12–21, 21–13).
The men’s singles bronze medal match is scheduled for 8.00 pm (local time) on Friday 30th July, the gold medal contest one hour later.