Suthasini Sawettabut might feel that she could have saved herself some time and energy Saturday afternoon. The table tennis star from Thailand won the first game of her round one match against Han Xing of Congo and had a commanding lead in game 2. And game 3. And also game 4. Yet she found herself losing the contest 3 games to 1 after throwing away late leads in each game.
Sawettabut dug deep and won games 5 and 6 to force a decisive seventh game, where she yet again took a lead late. And yet again, she threatened to give it away: after being up 7-4, Han fought back to 10-9. But Han missed long after a tepid serve, and Sawettabut lived to fight another day.
Sawettabut’s compatriot was also victorious Saturday afternoon. Nanthana Komwong won four straight games to defeat Dina Meshref of Egypt 4-1 and advance to the second round.
Thailand wasn’t the only country to score a pair of wins Saturday afternoon, as Aleksandra Privalova and Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus both won their matches.
Crowd-favorite Caroline Kumahara of Brazil faltered in front of her home crowd. Up 3 games to 1, she let Luxembourg’s 53-year-old Ni Xialian force a game 7 with a series of unforced errors. Then, up 9-7 in the final game, she missed long twice to tie the game at 9. Kumahara would save three match points before succumbing to Ni on the fourth with a wild return that sailed long.
Hungarian Petra Lovas needed less than thirty minutes to dispatch with Egyptian Nadeen El-Dawlatly, and Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova didn’t need much long to take care of Mexico’s Yadira Silva. And after falling behind 2 games to 1, Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz stormed back to defeat Nigeria’s Olufunke Oshonaike 4-2.
Both American women advanced Saturday morning to complete the morning session of table tennis in Rio. Lily Zhang swept aside Gremlis Arvelo in four games, and compatriot Jennifer Wu needed only five to get past Eva Odorova of Slovakia.
Zhang was cool and in control throughout; only the decisive fourth game of the match was close at 11-7. Her Team USA partner Wu was just as impressive. After dropping the first game of her match, Wu won the next eight points to secure game 2, and the momentum from that win carried her all the way through the fifth game of the match. There, she used a 5-0 run to seal the deal.
The pair will have to wait until later today to find out whether they’ll play this evening or early tomorrow morning.
The rest of the matches stretched to the extremes of Olympic table tennis: two sweeps from Iveta Vacenovska (CZE) and Daniela Dodean (ROU) bookended four marathon matches.
A pair of contests went the distance. Canadian Zhang Mo knocked off the Czech Republic’s Hana Matelova in the most tightly contested match of the day, while Jian Fang Lay of Australia was able to escape after surrendering a 2-0 lead to Russia’s Maria Dolgikh.
Another two matches took six games apiece. Poland’s Katarzyna Grzybowska was able to squeak past India’s Manika Batra, with three of the games needing extra table tennis to decide a winner. And in a back-and-forth affair, Lin Gui of Brazil was able to defeat Spain’s Galia Dvorak, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Both men’s and women’s table tennis continue this afternoon, with matches starting at 1:30 streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
To borrow a quote from 1994’s D2: The Mighty Ducks: “They’re bigger, stronger. They have more facial hair.”
American Kanak Jha must have had a similar train of thought as he fell to Iranian Nima Alamian 4 games to 1 in the final preliminary match at the Riocentro in men’s table tennis.
Jha, the youngest athlete competing at these Olympics, fought valiantly against Alamian, who is seven years Jha’s senior and sports infinitely more facial hair. After losing the first game 11-3, Jha rallied back to win game 2 11-7. After Alamian edged games 3 and 4, Jha had a chance to take game 5. Up 9-8, Jha faltered twice and eventually lost the game 12-10.
Jha will have another chance to compete in these Olympics with the men’s table tennis team. Team USA faces Sweden on Friday, August 12.
It was an enthralling morning of table tennis throughout. The most exciting match of the morning was the seven-game marathon between Puerto Rico’s Brian Afanador and Congo’s Suraju Saka. After falling behind 3 games to 2, Afanador fought his way back in the sixth game to force a game 7. When Saka smashed long at 10-7, Afanador’s comeback was complete, and he unleashed a victory scream that was equal parts enthusiasm and relief.
Saka’s Team Congo compatriot Wang Kianan needed seven games to get past Egypt’s Khalid Assar in the only upset of the round.
Elsewhere on the men’s side, Marcelo Aguirre of Paraguay won his match against David Powell and won over the crowd with his emphatic fist pumps. Aguirre received a standing ovation after the match and was seen by the camera sobbing into his coach’s arms.
Mexico’s Marcos Madrid won his match against Vanuatu’s Yoshua Shing in a shutout, and Serbia’s Aleksandar Karakasevic held off Chris Yan of Australia to win 4-2.
In the women’s bracket, the preliminary round had a pair of entertaining matches. Olufunke Oshonaike (NGR) went the distance to beat Mariana Sahakian (LIB) 4-3, and Brazil’s Caroline Kumahara staved off Australia’s Melissa Tapper 4 games to 2.
In other women’s matches from the early morning, Yadira Silva (MEX), Offiong Edem (NGR), and Dina Meshref (EGY) all won their matches easily, while Han Xing (CGO) beat Ian Lariba (PHI) in a match that was far closer than its 4-0 score line would indicate.
Play continues all day from the Riocentro with the first round of both singles tournaments. You can stream all the table tennis action live on NBCOlympics.com.