BEIJING — Popular teenager Ai Fukuhara’s Beijing Olympic campaign ended Thursday when she went down to world No. 1 Zhang Yining in the fourth round of the women’s table tennis singles tournament.
Fukuhara, arguably the most well-known Japanese athlete in China, barely avoided a straight-games loss as top-seeded Zhang cruised into the quarterfinals with an 11-5, 11-2, 11-5, 9-11, 11-8 victory at Peking University Gymnasium.
Zhang, gold medalist at the Athens Games four years ago, was the one to last longer in most of their quick-fire exchanges, with Fukuhara giving in to her perfection.
“I lost the match, but I’m satisfied with the way I played against the defending champion at the Olympics — my dream stage,” said Fukuhara, who has gone back and forth between Japan and China since her childhood to improve her game.
The 19-year-old even played in the world famous Chinese Super League for two years from 2005.
“I enjoyed the match because of some long rallies. I believe I’ve become a better player after this match,” Fukuhara, ranked No. 12, said.
Zhang said, “I wanted to hurry up and win so I could go back and get some rest.”
Wang Chen of the United States defeated Kim Kyung Ah of South Korea to become the first American in Olympic table tennis history to reach the quarterfinals.
After her 4-3 win over Kim, the world’s top defensive player, Wang collapsed to her knees next to the table and cried into her towel.
“I thought it was possible to beat her as long as I was full of confidence, because she’s a defensive player,” Wang said. She won 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 10-12, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5.
Wang, who’s ranked No. 23 in the world and runs a popular pingpong club in New York City, will go on to face sixth-ranked Li Jia Wei of Singapore on Thursday night.
The other American playing in the round of 16, Gao Jun, lost to Wu Xue of the Dominican Republic 12-10, 11-8, 6-11, 11-3, 8-11, 12-14, 11-9 in an hourlong match.
“I was just trying to fight. I was very tired, it was just such a long match,” said Gao, who won a silver medal for China at the 1992 Barcelona Games before emigrating to the U.S. “I just couldn’t move anymore. I missed so many points.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese players were also victorious in their round of 16 matches, although fatigue was setting in on the ninth day of the Olympic competition.
“Physically (playing singles) is not as easy as (playing teams), where it’s just one match a day. But you don’t have a choice. You just have to adjust fast,” said China’s Wang Nan, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.
She won 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 11-6, 11-13, 11-5 over South Korea’s Park Mi Young.