• Kyodo

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Japan’s top two male players, Koki Niwa, and Jun Mizutani, won through to the quarterfinals of the men’s table tennis World Cup in Halmstad, Sweden, on Saturday.

The world No 14 Niwa swapped games early with his lower-ranked Austrian opponent, Robert Gardos, giving up the second (11-7) and fourth (11-8) before closing out the match 4-2 by winning the final two games 11-4 and 11-5.

Gardos booked his place in the knockout round by having two easy wins in the preliminary stage, over Swedish wild card Anton Kallberg and India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta.

Niwa will now face off against Germany’s reigning European champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the quarterfinal after he beat Singapore’s Gao Ning 4-0 in his match on Saturday.

Japan’s top paddler, Mizutani, was matched up with Kallberg in his first action of the tournament after the Swede advanced past Achanta in the group stage.

Mizutani got off to a slow start, dropping behind early in the first game and eventually losing it 11-6. But he got back on track in the second and third games, pulling ahead in the match by winning them both.

Driven on by his home crowd, Kallberg went all-attack in the fourth game, and despite building an early lead, he could not foil Mizutani’s counter-attacking style, as the Japanese player took the game 11-7 before closing out the match to claim a 4-1 win.

Earlier on Saturday reigning world champion Ma Long dropped one game on the way to beating Egypt’s African champion Omar Assar in a surprisingly tight match. If the Chinese star can progress to the semifinal, he will meet either Niwa or Ovtcharov for a spot in the final.

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