China complete table tennis sweep with Japan on the rise
Ma Long helped China overcome a tougher than expected challenge from Japan to win the gold medal match 3-1 in the men's table tennis team event.
The men’s singles gold medallist in Rio, Ma Long, breezed through the opening match 3-0 against Koki Niwa. But Japan’s Jun Mizutani surprised Xu Xin in the second singles match. Mizutani took the first two games before the Chinese penholder went on a strong run to win two games and have three match points at 10-7 in the fifth and deciding game. But Mizutani rallied to win five points in a row to secure a 3-2 victory and equalise the match.
Japan's momentum continued into the doubles contest where Maharu Yoshimura and Niwa won the first game 11-4 and threatened a shock result. In the end, Zhang Jike and Xu refocused to secure China’s 3-1 win. Ma then took centre stage again, blowing away Japan's last hope Yoshimura with a brilliant 11-1, 11-4, 11-4 performance to seal China's fourth table tennis gold medal at Rio.
“I feel very happy because the process didn't go so smoothly tonight. This team gold medal feels a lot heavier than the singles gold medal I won. The scariest moment was the doubles, because Xu Xin had just lost a big second match, so there was only five minutes for him to rest and think about strategy. He did very well to win it,” Ma Long praised his team-mates.
Xu Xin was impressed with the fight that Japan put up: “They are really strong, and they are becoming even stronger. Aside from their top player Jun Mizutani, the other two players are still very young and so in four years at the Tokyo Olympics they will be even more dangerous to us.”
Mizutani, who won the second match, looks to mount a serious challenge to China in Tokyo: “By competing in the finals during the Olympic Games at this stage and the way we lost to China may be even more valuable to us than the medal. This gave us a great deal of self-confidence by playing the Chinese team, and I look forward to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the notion that we can beat the Chinese team there.”
China can now claim 28 of the 32 gold medals awarded at Olympic Games since table tennis was introduced in 1988, having completed a clean sweep of the four titles at Rio 2016 with victories in the men's and women's team events and in the men's and women's singles, won by Ma Long and Ding Ning respectively.
Things are promising for Japan with 27-year-old Jun Mizutani and 23-years-olds Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura all set to be in their prime during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Backed by a home crowd they can push to improve on the men's team silver and Mizutani's singles bronze won in Rio.
Germany triumphed in the bronze medal match over Republic of Korea 3-1, with a neck injury not stopping Timo Boll from winning the doubles match with partner Bastian Steger and then winning his singles encounter 3-0 against Joo Saehyuk.