Thursday, August 21, 2008

women's quarterfinals & men's round of 16

Tonight I saw the women's quarterfinals and the men's round of 16. My parents, my aunt, and I went into the stadium with our US flag to cheer on Wang Chen, who played against Singapore's Li Jiawei. Alas, Wang lost to Li Jiawei 4-1. Anyway, the match between Zhang Yining (CHN) and Feng Tianwei (SIN) was by far the best match of the night; Feng played an amazing game, really making Zhang work for every point and stepping up her game to a level beyond her normal, but Zhang was just too much.

The day began with the women's round of 16, with both US women still in. Wang Chen beat Kim Kyung Ah in seven (9, 9, 8, -10, -6, 9, 5). Gao Jun, unfortunately, lost to the Dominican Republic's Wu Xue in 7 this morning in the round of 16 (10, 8, -6, 3, -8, -12, 9), otherwise we would have gone US-crazy in the stands cheering for two players. Wang Chen advanced to play Li Jiawei (SIN) in the quarters, and Wu Xue moved on to play Guo Yue (CHN). The situation really could not have been better for Wang; of the players left, the one she would have the least trouble with is Li Jiawei, because of playing styles- Li plays a fast, rallying game, at just the rhythm and tempo Wang is comfortable with. Wang's rallying skills are comparable, if not better, than Li's, so this was a huge opportunity to get into the top 4 to try for a medal. However, it was not to be...

Women's QF (for results from this round and the previous rounds, click here)
Zhang Yining (CHN) vs Feng Tianwei (SIN): 4-1 (11, -12, 12, 10, 11)
This was THE most incredible match I've ever seen in person. Period. I've seen Zhang Yining play on TV and, as I mentioned in a previous post, I think she's amazing; she rarely ever makes unforced errors, and her game is basically this: here, you can go ahead and attack if you want, and we'll see if you can out-rally me. But, seeing her in person is a whole other story. She appears to be something unhuman on the court, particularly so tonight, out-battling Feng in a nail-biter. As the score makes clear, it was a CLOSE match that really could have gone either way (see the videos for typical points, as in almost every one) in which both players put on a tremendous performance. Actually, Zhang wasn't even using her normal racket... apparently, she had to go with her back-up racket because her normal one didn't pass the umpires' inspection. The fact that she can use her back-up and still play like this is a testament to her abilities. There really isn't a single woman on this planet who can match her skills, and I say this in all seriousness with no gushing-obsessiveness whatsoever. It was a heart-breaker for Feng, but on the other hand, she has every reason to be very, very proud of herself; she outdid herself and played probably the best match of her life, really giving everybody something to talk about.

Wang Chen (USA) vs Li Jiawei (SIN): 1-4 (13 ,6, 10, -13, 4)
This was an exciting match for me and other Americans to watch, because Wang Chen represented our last hope for a medal in table tennis. Even though she lost, top 8 ain't bad, and we're real proud of her =] What cost Wang the match was not winning the first and third games, and her passiveness. Wang not taking the first game sort of set the tone for the rest of the match; had she won, she would have established a presence and put some pressure on Li and let her know that she's a force to be reckoned with. Instead, Wang allowed Li to find a groove and establish her game. Granted, the game was very close and could have gone either way, but I imagine it was a bit of a confidence killer for Wang. In the third game, Wang was up 9-5 and 10-6, but couldn't hold the lead. This was definitely a confidence and rhythm killer for Wang, as she found herself down 9-3 in the fourth. However, Li had a bit of a mental lapse of her own, losing at least six straight points, giving Wang Chen an extra life. Wang Chen's biggest problem, however, was that she didn't go for her shots. There were plenty of rallies in which she just didn't have enough on her shots, allowing Li to either punch or rip a backhand past her. A good, strong, solid punch from Wang's backhand is critical to her game, because she doesn't step around anymore, and because she has no backhand topspin (she has pips on her backhand). She let Li get away with okay or weak backhands too many times, and Li managed to steady herself in long backhand rallies, and basically did anything she wanted with the ball because Wang was just blocking shots back. In any case, CONGRATS to Wang Chen for making it this far, and to Li Jiawei for being the only player not representing China to make it to the final 4!

Wang Nan (CHN) vs Tie Yana (HKG): 4-1 (5, 4, -11, 2, 4)
This match, to be honest, was really ugly... Wang Nan and Tie Yana have played before, and this wasn't the first time Tie Yana was disposed of in this fashion. Rallies were very short, lasting four exchanges, tops, with basically all of them going to Wang Nan. Tie Yana seemed very much off her game, making many more unforced errors than usual, and never really giving herself a chance to put up a fight. And anyway, she kept playing to Wang Nan's backhand, the strongest part of her game, and never challenged Wang Nan's forehand (which should have been easy for Tie, because her best shot is her backhand, and her backhand would go cross-court to lefty Wang Nan's forehand).

Wu Xue (DOM) vs Guo Yue (CHN): 0-4 (5, 14, 11 ,5)
This match was sort of predictable, with Guo as the clear favorite. Wu went down swinging, though. On any given day, Wu at her best couldn't beat Guo, but Wu put up a fight. In many points, Wu made some great shots, giving Guo some extremely uncomfortable angles wide and down the line with her backhand (Wu is a lefty penhold player with inverted rubber). However, she and Guo really are on totally different levels, and Wu just flat-out is no match for Guo.
After the women came the men's round of 16. Of the eight matches played, only two were worth watching. For the most part, the men's matches were pretty boring because one player was clearly no match for the other: the three Chinese men, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Wang Liqin all had and easy time; the two Germans, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Timo Boll, didn't play well. The two good matches were Zoran Primorac (HRV) vs Yang Zi (SIN), and Jorgen Persson (SWE) vs Vladimir Samsonov (BLR). It made me really happy that there were many Europeans still in, and even happier that two advanced, but it worried me a bit that they aren't new or young faces; most of them have been around so long that they're legends, and almost all of them have had blades named after them for some time now. Anyway...

Men's round of 16 (for scores and results of this round and previous rounds, click here)
Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) vs Ko Lai Chak (HKG): 1-4 (4, 7 ,4, -1, 1)
This really just wasn't much of a match. Plenty of kudos and credit to Ovtcharov, though, for being the youngest person left standing, and for accomplishing so much at such a young age. However, he has issues against lefties, and it showed in this match. Also, the differences between the European style of play and the Asian style of play became apparent: Ovtcharov kept trying to get into counter-looping rallies far away from the table, but kept getting ahead of himself and missing on his own.

Wang Hao (CHN) vs Yo Kan (JPN): 4-1 (6, -9, 8, 5, 4)
In the beginning of the match, it seemed as if Yo may have had a shot, but as the match progressed, it just became clear that the two of them are on two completely different levels, and that Yo is no match for Wang. Yo, like Wang, is a righty penhold player with inverted rubber, but Wang Hao has a backhand that is virtually unique and was just too much for Yo to handle. Counter-looping rallies went 80-20 ish for Wang Hao, who had basically the whole stadium on his side. In all seriousness, though, nobody is looking better than Wang Hao now, including the other two Chinese men. In all likelihood, Wang is going to be able to redeem himself after his 2004 silver medal and take the 2008 gold medal. And btw... his hair really does make him look like a rooster...

Jorgen Persson (SWE) vs Vladimir Samsonov (BLR): 4-3 (-7, -8, 9, -11, 7, 10, 9)
The match seemed to be completely going to Samsonov, who won clutch points, and who just looked sharper overall. However, Samsonov seemed to lose a bit of focus in the fifth game, allowing Persson to get himself back in the match. In the sixth game, it was neck-and-neck until 8-9. Persson looked just about defeated, always on the defensive in rallies. Samsonov stepped around and ripped a forehand off the edge...side? After a long dispute over whether the shot hit the edge or the side, the officials decided to replay the point. This was no small issue; if they ruled the shot as an edge, Samsonov would have had match point at 8-10, and if they ruled the shot as being outside, it would have been 9-9 and anyone's game. Samsonov was very noticably annoyed at the decision, and started to unravel mentally. After losing the sixth game, the seventh was neck-and-neck again, but it was apparent that Samsonov just wasn't all there, that he was thinking that the match should have been over. When all was said and done, Persson, now 42 years old, made one heck of a comeback and advanced to the men's quarterfinals, where he will meet the only non-Asian player left (that's kind of lame... but whatever, no one asked me to do the draws), Zoran Primorac.

Yang Zi (SIN) vs Zoran Primorac (HRV): 4-2 (7, 7, -4, -8, 7, 6)
This match was exciting from the beginning because Primorac was pumped; you could tell when he was leading or winning because he would shout and fist-pump. Yang gave him a bit of a scare by taking two games to tie the score at 2-2, but the veteran Primorac managed to tough it out. However, watching him (and Persson and Samsonov) made it clear that they wouldn't be able to keep up with the Chinese players; the Europeans' shots are noticably slower, and have considerably less quality. Persson and Samsonov had several long, lob-and-smash points, that, if played out with the Chinese players, would have lasted about three exchanges, if not three shots.

Kalinikos Kreanga (GRE) vs Ma Lin (CHN): 0-4 (5, 5, 3, 7)
This is just not a fair fight. Kreanga has virtually nothing he could use to even challenge Ma Lin, let alone beat him. Kreanga's game is pretty straight-forward: loop and counter-loop until someone misses. This basically was his plan throughout the match, and it wasn't pretty.

Wang Liqin (CHN) vs Werner Schlager (AUT): 4-0 (6, 4, 8, 2)
This wasn't really much of a fair fight either. I'm not sure what Schlager was thinking, but whatever his game plan was (if he had one) was almost as good as not playing at all; Schlager is not usually this sloppy, and his matches are usually not this ugly. He did basically what Kreanga did, with the same result: rear back and loop as hard as humanly possible and just see what happens. 4-0, that's what.

Timo Boll (GER) vs Oh Sang Eun (KOR): 1-4 (9, 4, 9, -8, 3)
Timo was clearly off his game tonight. Like I said in a previous post, Timo is probably the only European with a shot at upsetting any of the Chinese players. But not this time. Oh's condition was pretty average, but Timo's was just off... Timo's unforced errors made the game easy for Oh, because the Korean didn't need to do very much. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing night for the Germans and for Timo.

Tan Ruiwu (HRV) vs Li Ching (HKG): 4-2 (-9, 6, -10, 8, 11, 11)
I actually didn't get to see the end of the match, but what I did see wasn't anything too spectacular. The excitement came because people sitting near us in the stands were cheering very loudly for Li Ching. In general, though, there were too many unforced errors from both players, and neither of them has a chance in the next round against Wang Liqin anyway...

Check back soon for pics and videos from today's matches. In about six hours, I will be watching the women's semifinals (Zhang Yining vs Li Jiawei & Wang Nan vs Guo Yue), and maybe some men's quarterfinal matches. Check out for live scoring!