Japan’s Koki Niwa jumped out to an early lead and never looked back to defeat reigning champion Zhang Jike in game 1 of their men’s singles quarterfinal Tuesday afternoon.
Unfortunately for Niwa, play continued.
Zhang, who won both individual and team gold in London, would sweep the next four games of the match at a canter as normal service resumed inside of the Riocentro.
Having suffered through an up-and-down four years following his triumphant London Olympics, one might have wondered which Zhang had shown up after game 1, when Niwa jumped all over his Chinese counterpart.
But Zhang righted the ship, winning the second game easily at 11-4. Games 2 and 3 were routine victories at 11-7, and he poured on the style in game 5 to the tune of an 11-4 win.
Zhang will be heavily favored in his semifinal against Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus Thursday morning.
The other two men’s quarterfinals are set to begin at 7:30 PM ET, streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
Athletes who have won on the biggest stage while hobbled form their own special club. Kirk Gibson, Byron Leftwich, and Kerri Strug all memorably performed at the highest level on one leg.
Now those hallowed halls can welcome in a new member.
Belarus’s Vladimir Samsonov overcame a lower-leg injury to stave off Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov in six games, advancing to the Olympic semifinals for the first time in his career.
Samsonov, who wears kinesiotape up and down his left leg, fell to his knee early in the second game of his match, and twice had to go to the locker room for medical treatment.
After winning game 1 in a close contest, Samsonov was blown out of the water in game 2 as Ovtcharov, who won bronze in London, took advantage of his hampered opponent. The German played intelligently, driving balls to all corners of the court, daring Samsonov to move around.
Game 3 was a dogfight. Ovtcharov, who had already played a 28-minute game Monday night, threw away two match points at 10-8 and couldn’t put Samsonov away as the pair traded body blows all the way to 17-all. There, Samsonov won back-to-back marathon points to take a 2-1 lead, and immediately headed back into the locker room.
The middle games of the contest were characterized by their brevity: Ovtcharov won game 4 11-4, and Samsonov won game 5 at 11-2.
But game 6 was another heavyweight bout. Ovtcharov looked set to force a winner-take-all game 7 up 8-4, but Samsonov rallied to take five straight points and set up another overtime game. At 12-all, Ovtcharov’s forehand struck the net, and one point later he was unable to return Samsonov’s quick return. Against all odds, the Belarusian had won.
Samsonov will play the winner of tonight’s Zhang Jike-Koki Niwa quarterfinal.
Table tennis action continues from the Riocentro with the men’s quarterfinals streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
The quarterfinal matchup between China’s Ding Ning and Germany’s Han Ying was highly anticipated. Both players came into Rio with expectations of medaling, and their tie promised to be the most tightly contested of the round.
Unfortunately, the world’s best player isn’t interested in quality television.
Ding took care of business by sweeping Han in four games in a match she controlled from the get-go. It was the third shutout of a day that looked far more competitive on paper.
A pair of late-game explosions staked London’s silver medalist to a 2-0 lead she would not relinquish. Ding then won the first eight points of game three en route to an 11-3 thrashing, and used another burst deep into game 4 to seal the deal.
Ding will now face North Korea’s Kim Song-I in her semifinal Wednesday.
Quarterfinal action begins anew this afternoon with the men’s bracket starting at 3:00 PM ET, with all matches streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
North Korea’s Kim Song-I scored her second upset of the Olympics as she knocked off Singapore’s Yu Mengyu in six games Tuesday morning.
Kim, who won a seven-game thriller against fourth-seeded Kasumi Ishikawa in the third round, relied on her slice backhand and Yu’s impatience to outlast the tournament’s nine seed. In a match where long rallies were the norm, Kim outlasted Yu by playing a defensive game and waiting on her opponent to make an unforced error.
The duo traded points in the opening game, which was tied at every juncture up to 8-all. There, Kim won three straight to take an early lead.
Yu fought back in game 2 to even the match with an emphatic 11-6 victory. But Kim answered right back with an 11-5 win of her own.
After an 11-6 win in game 4, it looked like Kim had the match sown up in the fifth at 9-6. But Yu rallied to win five straight points at force a sixth game.
There, Kim went on a 7-0 run to take a commanding 7-2 lead. At 10-6, she had four chances to finish Yu off.
Match point was the contest in a microcosm: Kim ten feet behind the table offering lobs, Yu smashing returns ad nauseum until one clipped the top of the net and flew wide.
Kim now becomes the first woman from North Korea to make an Olympic table tennis semifinal since Kim Hyang-Mi in 2004.
The quarterfinals continue streaming on NBCOlympics.com all day long.
Sixth-seeded Ai Fukuhara of Japan summarily dismissed Singapore’s Feng Tianwei for the day’s first upset in the quarterfinals of the women’s singles tournament.
Fukuhara, who entered the day with a losing record against Feng, leaned on her powerful forehand to deliver winner after winner and take the contest in straight sets.
Game 1 certainly didn’t offer any indication that a clean sweep was to come. The game was tied on eight different occasions before Fukuhara ripped two forehands to take the game 14-12.
Game 2 was just as tightly contested. Even for the sixth time of the game, the table tennis prodigy from Miyagi, Japan, won three straight points at 8-8 to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Fukuhara started to distance herself in game 3, keeping Feng at arm’s length to win 11-7, before pouring on the style in a blowout game 4.
Fukuhara will now compete for the medals starting with a semifinal against London gold medalist Li Xiaoxia of China on Wednesday.
More quarterfinals are still to come Tuesday morning, with all matches streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.
Reigning Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia (CHN) hadn’t dropped a game during her march to the quarterfinals. So why start now?
Li defeated Cheng I-Ching of Chinese Taipei in four games Tuesday morning in the opening match of the round of eight at the Riocentro.
Li opened with a signal of intent, taking the first five points of the match en route to an 11-5 win in the first game. She would win the second by the same score, going on a 6-0 run to break a 5-5 tie.
She would continue that run to take a 3-0 lead in the third game before trading the next twelve points with Cheng. But at 9-6, Li would take the next two to take a commanding three games to none lead.
Li hardly slowed down in game 4, winning 11-6 to advance to the semifinals Wednesday. There, she’ll face the winner of the 10:00 AM ET quarterfinal between Japan’s Ai Fukuhara and Singapore’s Feng Tianwei.
All the quarterfinal action streams live today on NBCOlympics.com.