If you had polled a dozen table tennis experts before the Rio Olympics, most would have told you China’s Ma Long was the prohibitive favorite to take home gold. Few would have expected him to even break a sweat before the medal rounds.
But Ma spent the first two games of his match against South Korea’s Jung Young-Sik smacking balls into the net and staring in bewilderment at his coach. Ma was down 2-0 early.
But then he proved why he’s the world number-one, winning two quick games at 5 and 1 to tie the match. Then he dug deep to win games 5 and 6 at 13-11, surviving a wild match.
Ma’s victory capped off an absurdly entertaining afternoon of table tennis in the men’s fourth round.
Hugo Calderano had ridden raucous home support to a surprise berth in the fourth round, but found himself down 2-0 to Japan’s Mizutani Jun. Like Ma, he battled back to even the match, winning games 3 and 4.
After dropping game 5, the Brazilian had three game points to force a decisive seventh. Instead, he conspired to drop five points in a row, losing the game and the match. A deject Calderano received a standing ovation from the Rio crowd; as he waved his thanks, he buried his face in his shirt to hide tears.
In what turned out to be the lone upset of the afternoon, Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri knocked off tenth-seeded Timo Boll of Germany. Quadri jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, taking advantage of Boll making some uncharacteristic mistakes.
Boll, though, refused to go quietly into the night. He won games 4 and 5 with few problems, and jumped out to an early lead in the sixth. But as he had earlier in the match, Quadri found a way to win the tight points, taking game 6 11-9 and scoring a famous victory.
Quadri, who entered Rio as the #27 seed, will now face Ma in the quarterfinals. In doing so, he becomes the first African to ever make the round of eight.
Marcos Freitas (POR) swept Kou Lei (UKR) in the lone blowout of the session.
Round four continues this evening, with all matches streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
Medal favorite Ding Ning took care of business in 21 minutes as the fourth round of the women’s single tournament got under way at the Riocentro Monday afternoon. Ding, who took home the silver medal in London, shutout Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong to book her spot in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Kim Song-I (PRK) was a 4-2 winner over Chen Szu-Yu (TPE) in the most fiercely contested match of the day. Kim is now the first North Korean woman to advance to the quarterfinals since 2004, when Kim Hyang-Mi won the silver medal in Athens.
Elsewhere it was smooth sailing for Yu Mengyu of Singapore, as she swept aside Jeon Ji-Hee of South Korea in five games. Han Ying of Germany was also a winner in five, despite taking 53-minutes to get past France’s Li Xue.
The men are up next this afternoon, with all fourth round action streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
Most top-seeded players in table tennis face one of two fates in their first Olympics matches: either they dominate an unfortunate lesser challenger, or they’re knocked out by a hungrier opponent.
German Dimitrij Ovtcharov was the rare player to find a third option.
The three-seed in the men’s singles tournament needed 52 minutes and seven games to escape past Qatar’s Li Ping in the third round. It was a back-and-forth match throughout, but Ovtcharov seemed to have things in control up 3 games to 2 and 6-2 in game 6. But Li roared back to win the game 11-9 and force a game 7.
There, the two traded body blows in a fiercely tight contest until, at 10-9, Li ripped a forehand into the net, sending Ovtcharov into elation.
The top German now advances to the fourth round, where he’ll face Bojan Tokic of Slovenia, who beat Tiago Apolonia in five games in the late game of the session.
That match wasn’t even the longest match of the day. Adrian Crisan (ROU) was down 3-1 before stealing three straight from Lee Sangsu (KOR) in a match that took 53 minutes.
In other action from the session, Belarus’s Vladimir Samsonov came from 2-1 down to win 4-2, while Team GB’s Paul Drinkhall won by the same score.
There were some blowouts scattered throughout the round. Defending gold medalist Zhang Jike of China won his match in straight games, as did Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting. Koki Niwa (JPN) beat Stefan Fegerl (AUT) in five games.
Table tennis continues from the Riocentro this afternoon as the men’s and women’s fourth round begins starting at 3:00 PM ET. You can stream every match live on NBCOlympics.com.
American Lily Zhang’s Olympic run ended Monday morning as she fell in five games to Seo Hyo-Won of South Korea as the women’s third round finished at the Riocentro.
After dropping the first two games of the match, Zhang rallied back in game 3. Down 5-3, she won the next six points to eventually take the game 11-7. But despite her best efforts, Zhang would be eliminated shortly thereafter, as Seo found her form to take the match 4 games to 1.
Despite the loss, Zhang can look back on her singles tournament in Rio fondly. After being bounced in the first round of the London Games, Zhang won her first two matches in Rio without dropping a game.
She’ll be back in action with Team USA starting Friday when team play begins.
Just one day after her compatriot Kim Song-I knocked off Kasumi Ishikawa, North Korea’s Ri Myong-Sun also advanced to the fourth round, defeating Germany’s Patrissa Solja in straight-sets. Two players in the round of sixteen marks the first time that any North Korean has advanced that far since 2004, when Kim Hyang-Mi won the silver medal.
Cheng I-Ching of Chinese Taipei won in seven games in the longest match of the morning. After dropping game 1, Cheng won the next three games handily, and looked set to make quick work of Belarus’s Viktoria Pavlovich. But Pavlovich battled back, winning games 5 and 6 in close ones to force a decisive seventh game. But Cheng wouldn’t be denied, winning the first 8 points and closing out the match.
Elsewhere, Austria’s Liu Jia won in five games over Holland's Li Jiao in five games, and Singapore’s Feng Tianwei beat Luxembourg’s Ni Xialian in six. Ni, the oldest player in the women’s bracket, was up 2-0 early, but lacked the stamina to compete with her opponent 24 years her junior. Feng stormed back to win the next four games and take the match.
The early action of the day also featured a trio of walkovers, as seeded players Li Xiaoxia (CHN), Ai Fukuhara (JPN), and Lee Ho Ching (HKG) all won their opening matches of the tournament in blowouts.
The men are also in action as they finish up round three this morning, with all matches streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.