RIO DE JANEIRO 20160810 – Japan got its Rio Games back on track in the table tennis competition on Monday, with three of the country’s medal hopes progressing — a welcome change after Kasumi Ishikawa’s shock loss a day earlier.
Koki Niwa had the banner performance of the day, beating top-10 player Wong Chun Ting from Hong Kong in a marathon seven-game match.
The fourth-round win was particularly impressive because the diminutive Niwa dragged himself from a 3-1 hole by ripping off three straight games (12-10, 11-4, 11-8) to close the match.
“It’s been a while since I beat a world-class player. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it,” said Niwa.
“Half of me was feeling hopeless, but my desperation must have pushed me on.”
Niwa beat Austria’s Stefan Fegerl with little trouble in his first match of the day (4-1), his compact style allowing him work his much taller and less mobile opponent around the table.
Ai Fukuhara was the first to the tables, getting her fourth Olympic Games campaign off to a winning start by taking down Daniela Monteiro Dodean in straight games.
The 27-year-old from Sendai has all the pressure of Japan on her shoulders after Ishikawa’s failure, and she responded by cruising through to the fourth round with a dominant victory over her Romanian opponent, winning 11-5, 11-6, 11-4, 11-1.
“I was pretty nervous,” she said. “Although I’ve already been in the Olympics, before this first game my heart was really beating, really pumping.”
After her win, Fukuhara could not help but think of her teammate Ishikawa watching from the sidelines.
“After her loss, I didn’t know what to say to her or how to cheer her up. I know that she’s been working so hard for this Olympics.
“I wanted to keep winning for myself, but for Kasumi as well.”
Fukuhara then backed up with her second win of the day, and again she did it in style, ending North Korea’s Ri Myong Sun’s Rio Games, 4-0.
“I was prepared for a tough match so I am surprised that I won 4-0,” she said. “I feel like I am putting out there everything I have been working on in practice.”
Japan’s top hope, and world No. 6, Jun Mizutani got off to a fast start in his match up with Brazilian No. 1 Hugo Calderano, taking the first two games 11-5, 11-6.
The local boy, who came through qualifying and then had one of the upsets of the tournament so far when he beat Hong Kong’s Tang Peng in the third round, did not lay down easily, fighting back to even the match at two games apiece.
But Mizutani was determined to not become another victim, toughing out the last two games to move on.
Tuesday sees all three back at the table in quarterfinal action.