USA’s Lily Zhang received a brief scare as she failed to adjust to Nigeria’s Offiong Edem’s tricky serves and deceptively slow pace and lost the first game of their round of 64 match-up in the women’s singles table tennis event at the Tokyo Olympics, but Zhang was able to quickly adjust with some reliable slow spins to cruise to a comfortable 4-1 victory.
One statistic to illustrate Zhang’s adjustments is to count her number of missed openings into the net. In the first game, Zhang missed three backhand openings into the net and another opening that caught the net and went out. In the four games that she won, Zhang did not miss a single opening into the net, as her high-arcing slow spinny loops tended to land more often and miss out when they did miss.
We present a full recap below. Unfortuntately, video hilights are limited due to difficulties obtaining recordings of the Olympics.
Zhang struggled with the unusually slow rhythm of Edem’s serve and pushing game early on in the match as Zhang missed three openings and popped up another serve return to fall into a 4-1 hole. However, Edem herself missed an opening forehand loop, and Zhang was able to get into a better rhythm for the next several points as she won four out of the next six rallies, resulting in a 6-6 tie.
Edem then tricked Zhang on a long fast serve and a spinny short serve, but Edem missed a follow up against a high-ball, keeping the score tied at 7-7. Zhang was able to get in two solid openings on her own serve to take a 9-7 lead. Zhang then missed three of her next four openings, resulting in a deuce score of 10-10 with Edem to serve.
Zhang took game point at 11-10 after winning a slow backhand-backhand exchange. Edem saved the game point with a nice wide forehand flick and wide counter to follow, and she then proceeded to beat Zhang on all three of her next serves. Zhang was able to save two game points but missed her backhand opening on the third one to give Edem the first game 15-13.
Zhang appeared to embrace the slow pace of the match in game 2, as she responded to nearly all of Edem’s pushes with slow spinny forehand loops targeted to Edem’s backhand and elbow. After several missed fast backhand openings into the net in game 1, the more forgiving forehand topspin allowed Zhang to only miss one opening (that went out of the table) the whole game. After Edem scored the first point of the game with a pretty down-the-line punch on a short serve to her backhand, Zhang won nine straight points before cruising to a 11-2 victory.
Zhang continued her absolute dominance in game 3, landing in slow spins from both the forehand and backhand side this time. Edem appeared to handle the spins slightly better in game 3, but the significantly faster Zhang was able to easily win every one of the quick rallies once the point reached past the opening. The only two points that Zhang lost were due to popping up a serve return on the push and missing a slow spin out of the table when up 6-1.
Zhang had trouble reading Edem’s serves again early in the game, but Zhang was able to win all her points on her own serve to take a commanding 8-2 lead. However, Edem was again able to take both the points on her own serve to narrow the gap to 8-4, and then she won a rare victory on a fast backhand-backhand rally, a play that Zhang had so far absolutely dominated in the match, to cut the lead to 8-5.
Edem missed a short flick and a high ball to give Zhang the 10-5 lead, but then Zhang hit the edge of her racquet on a forehand half-long opening as she again failed to read Edem’s serve properly, making it 10-6. Edem was finally able to pressure Zhang with a slow spin of her own to cut the lead to 10-7, and then Zhang missed another forehand counter to make it 10-8, as USA’s coach Gao Jun called time-out.
Down 10-8 with serve, Edem had a chance to put some heavy mental pressure onto Zhang, but when an unsure Zhang pushed Edem’s serve half-long to the middle, Edem opened the ball into the net, giving Zhang the fourth game 11-8.
Zhang caught an edge to open game 5 and after taking a quick 2-0 lead Edem called time-out. Edem was able to win two straight points with a surprise chiquita to Zhang’s elbow on the serve return to level it at 2-2, but Zhang was able to get back into rhythm and won seven straight points to go up 9-2. Zhang appeared to rush a high kill and miss a shot to cut the lead to 9-3, and Zhang could be seen motioning at herself to calm down after the miss.
Zhang then took match point with another slow spin to Edem’s forehand. Edem was able to save three match points with a pretty block, yet another chiquita to the elbow, and a net ball, but Zhang ultimately proved too much as she landed a cross-court winner, let out a cholae, and took the game 10-6 and the match 4-1.
Notes and Other Results
Zhang will play Taiwan’s Chen Szu-Yu in the round of 32. Zhang lost in the round of 32 in the 2016 Olympics to Korea’s Suh Hyowon.
The rest of the women’s singles brackets and results can be found here. One notable upset was Canada’s Mo Zhang over Germany’s Petrissa Solja in the round of 32. Zhang will face China’s Chen Meng in the round of 16.
The men’s singles brackets and results can be found here. In the round of 64, Lily Zhang’s male teammate Kanak Jha lost 4-2 to Russia’s Kirill Skachkov despite winning one game 11-0.
In the round of 32, one notable result was Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic’s upset over England’s Liam Pitchford. The match went six games, with the final four games all being decided by a margin of two (the final score was 11-8, 7-11, 12-10, 11-13, 11-9, 12-10). It’s a heart-breaking loss for Pitchford, although Jorgic himself also avoided many sleepless nights by pulling out the win: in Game 4, Jorgic missed his own serve at 9-9, and then lost the game off a net-ball by Pitchford.
Jorgic will play Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto in the next round. With a possible draw of Pitchford/Harimoto/Lin Yun-Ju/Fan Zhendong/Ma Long, Jorgic has perhaps the most difficult draw in the men’s singles event.
In mixed doubles, Japan’s Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani stunned China’s Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin with a 4-3 win to take the first non-Chinese gold medal since Ryu Seungmin in 2004.
If you are based in the United States, be sure to also check out our exclusive interview with Kanak Jha and a tournament that Edges and Nets will participate in hosting in San Diego in mid-August.