Rio de Janeiro, Aug 16 (IANS) Table tennis powerhouses China have been ready to repeat the gold medal sweeping in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, just as they did in Beijing and London, after both men’s and women’s teams reached the finals.
With Grand Slam winners Zhang Jike and Ma Long playing the opening two singles, the Chinese men’s team beat last edition’s silver medalists South Korea in three straight games on Monday, reports Xinhua.
They will mark the final step of defending the team title on Wednesday against Japan, who outclassed the former world and Olympic team’s runners-up Germany 3-1 in the other semifinal on Monday.
China have won both team golds of the Olympics since the event’s introduction to Beijing 2008, while Japan just made history by reaching the first final of men’s play in an Olympic table tennis tourney.
Zhang Jike made his first singles play of the team event in Monday evening’s semifinal against South Korea’s top-ranked Jeoung Youngish, who forced a 13-13 tie in the first set and won it 15-13 before Zhang pulled one set back 13-11 through hard work.
Overcoming a sudden injury mid-way into the third set which he lost 11-9, Zhang, who was declined a medical timeout by Lebanon umpire Imad Merheb, launched a late comeback with his trademark backhand play and fewer errors to win the last two 11-8, 11-4.
The following games went smoothly with Ma Long breezing past 36-year-old Korean chopper Joo Saehyuk 11-1, 11-4, 11-4 and Zhang Jike pairing up with penholder Xu Xin to defeat Jeoung and Lee Sangsu 11-8, 12-10, 11-6.
“South Korea are strong opponents and they were in better mental positions against us with nothing to lose,” said Zhang after the match.
“My game against Jeoung was so tough. Even tougher than the semifinal of the London Games when I lost one set,” he added. “It’s intensive since the very beginning as Jeoung was very good at defense.”
China coach Liu Guoliang echoed with Zhang, saying that Jeoung’s a strong enough paddler to make troubles for world leading players like Zhang and Ma.
“Jike was once in a passive situation against Jeoung but he made an all-out effort and won the game through experience and stern mind,” he said.
The 28-year-old was a bit worried though about his injury suffered when trying to receive at the end of the third set, but he’s also very determined of going all out for Wednesday’s final.
“It felt like hitting badly against a wall, and I can feel the pain till now,” said Zhang, the 2012 Olympic and 2011 and 2013 world champion.
“I’ll ask our medical staff to do some massage for my waist and fingers crossed for the best result. There’s nothing, however, would prevent me from playing the final,” he added.
In the other men’s team semifinal played Monday afternoon, Jorg Rosskopf’s German team lost 3-1 to Japan to again miss the final following London’s disappointment.
Leading one set up after Dimitrij Ovtcharov easing past Maharu Yoshimura 3-0, Germany sent on 35-year-old Timo Boll to face off with Japan’s top male paddler, world No. 6 Jun Mizutani, who wasted no chance to beat the former No. 1 Boll 11-9, 11-5, 12-10.
The following doubles game almost set the tune for the match as Boll teamed up with Bastian Steger and lost 3-1 to Yoshimura and Koki NIwa, before Steger came up in the fourth game and surrendered easily to Mizutani 11-5, 11-4, 11-4.
On women’s part, the Chinese women’s team claimed another 3-0 victory earlier Monday morning over former runners-up Singapore to set up a clash on Tuesday with Germany, the debutants to an Olympic table tennis final.
Singles silver medalist Li Xiaoxia opened the match for China, beating Singapore’s No. 1 and her club teammate in China’s Super League Feng Tianwei 12-10, 11-8, 11-9.
Newly crowned singles champion Ding Ning then came out the sole Chinese surrendering a game in her team event play, overcoming Zhou Yihan 11-7, 9-11, 11-6, 11-2, before Ding and her pairing partner Liu Shiwen made short work of Zhou and Yu Mengyu 11-4, 11-1, 11-9.