China stay on course for table tennis gold sweep

China stayed on course for another Olympic Games table tennis gold medal sweep when their women retained the team title with a 3-0 thumping win over Japan on Tuesday.

China's men will attempt to capture the fourth and last gold of the tournament, for which they are odds on favourites, when they face South Korea in Wednesday's title match.

There was rarely much doubt that Li Xaioxia, the Olympic women's singles champion, and Ding Ning, the world champion, would control Tuesday's final, and so it proved.

Li generated China's winning momentum with a 11-6, 9-11, 11-2, 11-5 success against Ai Fukuhara, the Mandarin-speaking world number seven who once famously played against China's President Hu Jintao.

But Fukuhara's capture of the second game, by gambling with unreturnable but risky flat hits and smashes on almost all the rallies, was one of only two which Japan gleaned in the entire match.

Ding came back from 3-6 and 5-7 down in the second game with some clever changes of direction in her more varied clash against Kasumi Ishikawa, the world number six, winning by 11-4, 12-10, 11-4.

And then Guo Yue, the only survivor of the last Olympic winning team, who once disappeared from the scene for six months, made an appearance in the doubles.

She and Ding dropped the third game to Ishikawa and Syaka Hirano but it hardly mattered at all.

"We had only two players in the singles (because of a change of ITTF rules) in a tough field, but we did come together in the final," said Guo.

"In the team event, although there is also pressure, we are a solid team and we are able to take strength from each other."

But these were nuances amidst the overwhelming and predictable impressions of the skill, speed, subtlety and fitness of the world largest and best table tennis nation.

There were moments when Fukuhara's uncompromising flat-hitting took six points in a row and the second game against Li, and a few more moments when Ishikawa and Hirano inserted their left-right combinations into the doubles rallies well enough to purloin the second game.

There were even moments when an over-noisy Mexican wave and Ding's lengthy inspection of a ball which she thought might be cracked both delayed the Chinese too.

But the outcome was irrevocable.

Singapore won the bronze medal, beating South Korea 3-0, with world number eight Feng Tianwei getting the peninsula city-state off to a momentum-boosting win over Kim Kyung-Ah, the world number five, by 11-9, 11-8, 4-11, 13-11.

"I think this is the last time this team will be playing together so we cherished the opportunity," said Feng, referring to her team mates Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu. "But I never thought about winning a medal before."

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