A clean sweep for Chinese pair
It was gold all the way for Chinese table tennis duo Fan Zhendong and Liu Gaoyang at Nanjing 2014. Victorious in their respective singles competitions, they then joined forces to win the mixed team event.
Double gold for China
China’s legions of table tennis fans had plenty to cheer about in the men’s and women’s singles competitions at the Wutaishan Sports Centre, with their players striking gold in both.
Home favourite Fan Zhendong took the men’s title after withstanding a determined fight-back by Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu in the final, while Liu Gaoyang overpowered the top-seeded Doo Hoi Kem (HKG) in the deciding match in the women’s competition. The bronze medals went to Hugo Calderano (BRA) and Lily Zhang (USA) respectively.
Urged on by a vociferous crowd, junior world number one Fan took the first game against Muramatsu, only for the Japanese to hit back in a classic attack-versus-defence encounter and win the next two games.
“It was very intense and difficult but what I’m satisfied with was how I reacted when the going got tough,” said Fan after his hard-fought 4-2 (11-8, 9-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-4) victory. The turning point came in the fourth game when China called a timeout in a bid to halt Muramatsu’s momentum.
Holding back the tears, the Japanese player said: “I reached my potential but I got nervous in the fourth game which caused the loss. It was my own mistake.”
Fan’s march to gold included a taxing quarter-final against Hong Kong, China’s Hung Ka Tak, which went the distance. “These two days I’ve had problems but I went all out,” said the champion, relieved after his exertions.
Liu had no such problems in winning her gold, brushing aside Doo 4-1 (11-6, 11-5, 6-11, 11-1, 11-3) in the final and conceding only five games in her seven matches.
“I played well today, because I figured out all the difficulties,” she said. “Conversely, she was a little conservative.”
A dismayed Doo, who owed her higher ranking to having played more tournaments recently, accepted that she had been second-best: “I feel like I didn’t play well. It’s a pity. She didn’t do anything different. Whatever strategy I prepared, as the match unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t as tough as her.”
Earlier in the day, Zhang and Calderano respectively won USA and Brazil’s first ever Olympic table tennis medals.
The only player at Nanjing 2014 with Olympic Games experience, Zhang produced a gritty defensive display to upset the fifth seed Miyu Kato (JPN) 4-2 (10-12, 11-9, 12-10, 9-11, 11-9, 11-8).
“I think I did really well because I was able to just calm down when I was losing a few points in a row,” said the American. “I just kept telling myself zero-zero, and not think about the points, whether I’m up or down.
“I didn’t want to play safe. I’m pretty sure, if you watched the game, you could see me mouthing ‘zero-zero, zero-zero’.”
For his part, Calderano held off a fightback by Yang Heng-Wei (TPE) to win the men’s bronze-medal match 4-2 (11-9, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 9-11, 12-10).
“I feel very good coming from a country where table tennis is not popular,” he said. “It was hard playing against him. Even the first three games were not easy. I won by the narrowest of margins.”
Calderano’s objective now is to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in his home city, Rio de Janeiro.
Fan and Liu strike again
China completed a sweep of the table tennis gold medals by beating Japan 2-0 in the final of the mixed international team event.
Women’s singles champion Liu Gaoyang eased to a 3-0 (11-3, 11-9, 11-9) victory over Miyu Kato before men’s singles winner Fan Zhendong recovered from an early hiccup to beat Yuto Muramatsu, sealing the title for China with a game to spare.
“I’m not feeling well so I didn’t perform well in my singles match and lost it,” Kato said. “And [Liu’s] power, speed and reach gave her an advantage. We were putting our hope in the mixed doubles and hoping our teamwork could help.”
Her team-mate Muramatsu pushed Fan hard in their match, a repeat of the men’s singles final. The Japanese player took the first game and led 8-5 in the second, prompting the Chinese to call a timeout, after which Fan took control.
“Today the points lost were of my own doing,” said Fan following his 3-1 (10-12, 14-12, 11-5, 11-5) win. “I was relaxed at the start and everything went according to plan. But losing the first game put me in a spot.”
Reflecting on the timeout, he said: “We didn’t change much because the experience of the singles final had already taught us what game plan to use. Maybe what it did more was calm me down and ready myself for a tiring match.”
In the bronze medal match, Hong Kong, China overcame surprise packages Thailand 2-0, with junior world number one Doo Hoi Kem easing past Tamolwan Khetkhuan 3-0 (11-4, 11-9, 11-5) and Hung Ka Tak beating Padasak Tanviriyavechakul 3-1 (8-11, 11-9, 11-9, 12-10).
“[This team medal] is more meaningful because we practised for a long time in Hong Kong,” said Doo after collecting her second medal of Nanjing 2014.
“The team event means more because there are two people and it also wasn’t easy for him [Hung]. He was under a lot of pressure. He played really well today. For him to survive the last game wasn’t easy,” he added.