Prior to the London Olympics, Japan had never won a medal of any color in table tennis. The women’s team silver in the 2012 Games broke down that barrier.
Good things must come in pairs.
Japan overcame an early singles loss to take the bronze medal over Singapore 3-1. With the Japanese men in the team final against China Wednesday evening, both the men’s and women’s teams will medal in Brazil.
But Japan dug themselves a hole early. Ai Fukuhara was tasked with facing Yu Mengyu in the opening singles line. After taking the opening game easily at 11-4, Fukuhara faltered, letting Yu win the second and third games without putting up much resistance. Fukuhara battled back to win the fourth 11-4, forcing a decisive fifth game in the opener.
It was Yu who would take the plaudits, opening with three straight points and never looking back, winning the fifth set 11-5 to take the first line.
Next up was Kasumi Ishikawa, the top ranked Japanese player, who lived up to her reputation by dismissing Feng Tianwei in three closely contested sets. Ishikawa had to save three game points in the first set, and then kept on going to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 12-10 win. In the second game, Ishikawa used a late surge to take a tight one 11-6, and then repeated the trick in the third set to win 11-7 and even the match at a point apiece.
With the contest delicately poised, the doubles point took on even greater importance. Fukuhara teamed with Mima Ito to oppose Yu and Zhou Yihan. After splitting the opening two sets in tight contests, the Japanese duo flipped a switch, taking the third game in a rout at 11-1. Then, after throwing away two match points in the fourth, they saved a game point from Singapore and kept on going, taking the next two points to win the game and the match.
Ito stayed on for the fourth singles line and picked up where she left off in the doubles, taking the game to Feng Tianwei. Ito won the first set 11-9, then won nine points out of eleven in the second to turn a tight game into a romp. Up two games to love, Ito coasted to a commanding lead in the third set. When Feng pushed her forehand long at 10-6, Ito had clinched the bronze medal for Japan.
Women’s table tennis concludes in Rio with the gold medal match this evening between China and Germany getting underway at 6:30 PM ET. You can stream it live on NBCOlympics.com