RIO DE JANEIRO – The Japanese women’s table tennis team missed out on a second successive trip to the Olympic final after being outlasted 3-2 by Germany at the Rio Games on Sunday.
Four of the five matches went to five games and while the Japanese team received a valiant effort from Kasumi Ishikawa, who won twice, it lost the first and last match as well as the doubles.
Japan, which won silver medal at London 2012, will now play for bronze on Tuesday against China or Singapore.
Head coach Yasukazu Murakami said 15-year-old Mima Ito’s defeat to Petrissa Solja in the first match was the turning point.
“I said yesterday that every match would be close and of the five, the first was crucial,” Murakami said. “Mima Ito was up 9-3, and once they came from behind to win that match, they had the momentum. Ishikawa managed to win the second one back for us, but the first match was the difference.”
The men’s team, after beating Hong Kong 3-1, will try to issue the Germans payback on Monday, when it faces a team featuring world No. 5 Dimitrij Ovtcharov, and the veteran king of German table tennis, Timo Boll.
Germany booked its place in the semifinals with a 3-1 win over Austria.
In the women’s semi, Ito led the charge for Japan, splitting the first four games with Solja. In the fifth, Ito was up by six at one point, but Solja won seven straight points to win 12-10, handing Germany the one-match advantage.
Ito, who was clearly sunk after losing to Solja, echoed Murakami’s sentiments.
“I was up first and I was ahead. The first match sets the tone for the whole team and it was important. I think it was a huge reason for the loss today,” she said.
Second up for Japan was Ishikawa, who quickly fell behind 2-0 to Han Ying.
The prospect of her team falling into a two-match ditch fired up Ishikawa, and the pride of Yamaguchi Prefecture roared back to sweep the next two games without allowing Han to enjoy a single lead.
Han clawed her way back in the final game, keeping it close, but Ishikawa pounced on the first match point to cap the fight-back.
Ito partnered with Ai Fukuhara for the doubles against Solja and Shan Xiaona. Japan had a 2-1 lead, only for the German pair to capture the final two games to go up two matches to one.
Ishikawa stepped up, again sweeping Shan to bring about a fifth match, in which Fukuhara and Han went the distance. In the last game with the score tied 9-9, Fukuhara smashed long to provide Germany match point.
Han’s return on the following point caught the edge of the table, denying Japan a likely shot at China in the gold-medal match. Fukuhara beat herself up over the loss.
“I lost both the doubles and the fifth game. I’m the reason we lost today,” she said. “I’ll let out all my frustrations in the next match.”
It was a struggle again, but the Japanese men managed to reach the semifinal round at the expense of Hong Kong.
Koki Niwa was first man up, and despite a solid start, the diminutive youngster again looked lost on the big stage, dropping his second singles match of the event, leaving him at 0-2.
He was up two games to love (11-8, 12-10) against Tang Peng but after dropping the third 11-9 the Hong Kong player ran away with it 11-7, 11-8 to put Japan in a one-match hole.
Jun Mizutani, the singles bronze medalist in Rio stepped to the table next and it looked like the script would be repeated with Mizutani taking the first two games before his opponent Wong Chun Ting evened things up at 2-2.
But Mizutani responded in a way Niwa could not, however, winning the final game 11-8 and squaring the tie.
Maharu Yoshimura and Niwa joined forces for the doubles, which they won 3-1 before Yoshimura returned to close out the tie with another 3-1 win against Wong.
“I’m disappointed about the way I lost the first game, but I was able to regroup and turn it around in the doubles. I was determined to get one win at the very least. I hope to contribute in the semifinals with an even better performance,” said Niwa.
“I was hell bent on winning and I’m happy that we were able to get revenge over Hong Kong after losing to them at the London Games. I feel a tremendous sense of achievement. This is the Olympics and I don’t want to be left with any regrets,” said Mizutani.