LONDON – World champion Ding Ning ended the hopes of one of table tennis’s brightest stars to reach the semi-finals of the Olympics at her first attempt on Tuesday.
The left-handed loop-attacker won 15-13, 11-6, 11-6, 11-4 against Japanese fifth seed Ai Fukuhara, a former child prodigy who is known for her appearances in table tennis video games.
“I have prepared enough,” said Ding. “I am quite satisfied with what I have done and I feel confident.”
China won every individual table tennis medal at Beijing 2008, a dominance which was called “devastating” by the sport’s top administrator and prompted a rule-change limiting each country to two men’s and women’s singles players.
Other nations have been sensing a renewed opportunity at these Games, and Fukuhara might have capitalised better upon that had she converted one of her six game points in the first game.
Four of those came in a sequence from 10-6, and the fourth came after a crafty tactical time out taken by the Japanese at 10-9. But the pause brought no halt to the recovery of Ding, who remained unmoved.
She was also flexible in her tactics, once retreating to send up seven consecutive monster lobs and winning the rally, and she deftly adapted her left-handed rhythms to draw the over-aggressive Fukuhara into mistakes.
Even some of the Chinese may have been sad to see the end of this special Japanese woman, though. Fukuhara speaks fluent Mandarin and once played table tennis with President Hu Jintao in aid of Chinese-Japanese relations.
“I had a chance in the first game and missed it,” she said. “But I will alter my focus and take my energy forward to the team event, and we’ll go forward together.”
Meanwhile China’s Li Xiaoxia, the world-runner-up, also reached the semi-finals 11-5, 11-9, 11-9, 11-7 against the Qingdao-born Dutch player Li Jiao.
The Chinese player was behind 8-9 in the second game, 7-8 in the third, and 4-7 in the fourth, but each time she tightened up the quality of her attacks, finishing the match with a series of unstoppable loop-drives.
“I don’t mind losing some points if I’m trying to do the right thing,” she said. Did she mind having to play twice in a day, she was asked. “That’s why I have to go now,” she replied, departing with humour.
Li Xiaoxia was due to play her semi-final against Kasumi Ishikawa, the Japanese fourth seed, while Ding’s last-four opponent was Singapore’s Feng Tianwei.
Channel News Asia