RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan took one more major step toward a Rio 2016 women’s team table tennis medal with a 3-0 quarterfinal win over Austria on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, the Japan men’s team struggled and required all five matches, but got through Poland thanks to Jun Mizutani and booked a quarterfinal of their own.
With the trio of Kasumi Ishikawa, Ai Fukuhara and Mima Ito not yet dropping a match in two rounds, things are looking very positive for their march to a likely meeting with China in the gold-medal match, a repeat of the 2012 London Games.
The tie against Austria began with Fukuhara again looking confident in her 3-0 beatdown of Sofia Polcanova (11-5, 11-9, 11-8). Fukuhara, with her legs adorned with a patchwork of bright pink strapping tape, was never troubled.
Next up Ishikawa faced a whirlwind first game from Liu Jia, which the Austrian won 11-5, but the Japan national singles champion got on track in the second, and then closed out the final three games (11-4, 11-7, 11-7) and the match, 3-1.
“I got off to a tough start, but shifted gears and was able to play my game, so that was good,” the 23-year-old Ishikawa said. “My opponent was their top player and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy match so I prepared well.
“Even after losing a game, I told myself that everything will be OK if I stayed calm and stuck to the game plan. I had disappointing results in the singles, but I put that behind me and am playing very well.”
The pairing of Fukuhara and Ito stepped up next, looking to continue what has been a seamless partnership so far. They got through a tight match in four (11-5, 10-12, 11-7, 12-10).
“It was important to set the pace early,” Fukuhara said. “We did win but it was a close match. We can’t let our guard down until the final point.”
The Japanese trio will face Germany in the semifinal, with China likely to have little trouble in beating Singapore in the other match of the final four, setting up what Japan hopes will be a shot at the champs.
In a worrying sign for Japan’s chance at a men’s team medal, singles bronze medalist Jun Mizutani was forced to pull out a fifth-match victory to get his team over the line against Poland.
All was looking positive after Maharu Yoshimura and Mizutani put Japan up 2-0 by winning the first two matches of the tie 3-1, but things began to go in the opposite direction when Koki Niwa and Yoshimura lost a tight doubles match 3-2 and then Niwa dropped his singles fixture 3-1, leaving it in the hands of Mizutani.
Mizutani was then able to pull out a 3-1 win over Daniel Gorak to allow his team to play another day.
“We came in with a strong desire to win, and I’m glad the result proved that,” Mizutani said.