Ma Long was excluded from the Chinese table tennis contingent in Beijing, despite having beaten two members of the delegation in the build up to those Games. He was kept out of London again as teammate Zhang Jike got the nod instead.
Now at his first Olympics in Rio, Ma is not throwing away his shot.
The world No. 1 looked for all the world to already have one hand on the gold medal though three games, but had to withstand a ferocious comeback from Japan’s Jun Mizutani to eventually take the contest in six sets Thursday morning in the first men’s table tennis semifinal.
Ma, who won his first World Championship in 2015, now has the chance to claim Olympic gold this evening. He’ll face the winner of the morning’s other semifinal between his countryman Zhang Jike and Belarus’s Vladimir Samsonov.
The top seed took each of the first three games of the match at 11-5, using a commanding late run in every set to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Mizutani would get on the board in game 4, winning five of the first six points to keep Ma at arm’s length. The man from Japan then came back from four points down in a thrilling game five to put all the pressure back on Ma.
But it was Ma who would have the last laugh, leaning on his powerful forehand to take the match with an 11-5 win to book his place in the semifinals.
The action continues this morning from the Riocentro with the second men’s singles semifinal streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.