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How Armpit Space Affects The Ma Long vs Fan Zhendong Rivalry

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The Ma Long vs Fan Zhendong rivalry stands as perhaps the most compelling narrative in professional table tennis right now as the rest of the world struggles to keep up with them when it matters. Since the pandemic, Ma and Fan have both played in the 2020 China National Games, the 2020 World Cup, the 2020 ITTF Grand Tour Finals, and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and they have reached the finals in all four events (granted, no other Chinese players played the World Cup or Olympics).

Fan and Ma will both play the China National Games later this month and the World Championships in November. Although the Chinese Olympic Scrimmages saw Fan and Ma fall to some younger players, given their established dominance in high-stakes matches, there is a solid chance that Ma and Fan both make it to the finals in at least one of the two events.

Since the pandemic the two players have gone 2-2 against each other, with Ma winning by far the most important match in the Olympic finals. In this post we take a look at how a difference in armpit space between the two players’ strokes influences the game dynamics.

Comparing the Elbow

In the short clip below of Ma and Fan warming up together, you can see a slight difference in how high they raise their elbows when executing a standard backhand counter. Fan opens up his armpit more and raises his elbow slightly higher, while Ma tends to tuck his elbow a little bit lower in.

This difference in principle should give Fan the advantage when transitioning between forehands and backhands as his racquet is already where it needs to be with a slight turn of the body. On the other hand, Ma carries the slight advantage when stepping around as he requires slightly less space to pull off a forehand. We see an exaggeration of Ma’s preference for the middle and Fan’s preference for the corner in the two points shown blow.

This dynamic results in several tactical consequences.

Ma Targets Fan’s Elbow

Based on Fan’s weakest point, the middle, Ma’s placement strategy is quite straightforward: Ma overwhelmingly targets Fan’s elbow in the rallies, both in the opening and the follow-up shots. In the clip video, Ma wins four straight points targeting Fan’s elbow on every single shot.

How Ma Escapes the Backhand-Backhand Battles

Fan’s placement strategy to Ma is a little more involved. Both Ma and Fan know that, even if Ma places the ball well, Fan is favored to win pure backhand-backhand rallies between the two players due to several factors including stylistic difference brought about by the difference in armpit space in their neutral position. Hence, the burden is on Ma to step around and get out of the backhand-backhand battles to take his signature big forehand.

Stepping Around In the Flow of the Rally

Some variation of backhand-backhand battle ends up occurring in most of the points between Fan and Ma, so one of the key tug-a-wars in their matches is to see how often Ma can step around in the rally, and how often Fan is able to burn him for stepping around too early.

In their World Cup match-up, Coach Deng Yaping commented that although Ma clearly must hunt the forehand, he psychologically must also have confidence to engage in backhand-backhand battles. If he does not have confidence in his backhand and only looks to step around all the time, then Fan will beat him even more badly at the backhand-backhand battle and burn him down-the-line for stepping around early. Instead, Ma is at his best when he engages in the backhand-backhand battles but takes the big forehands when the chance comes like in the point below.

Fan’s job is to not let Ma rip forehands on him all day, so if Ma telegraphs early that he is going to step around, then Fan can burn him with a down-the-line roll for a clean winner like in the point shown below. Hence, in every match between the two, Fan is almost always the first player to go down-the-line to the forehand in the rallies.

Stepping Around in Anticipation

It is quite obvious that Ma needs to step around after he sees the ball come to his elbow or that Fan needs to go down-the-line if he sees Ma telegraphing that he will step around. However, both players also tend to try to squeeze a few extra points by anticipating their opponent’s actions and acting early. This can occur as early as the opening, before the rally has gotten into a rhythm.

While this yields great dividends if the player anticipates correctly, it also results in getting burned quite badly if he guesses wrong. In the point below, Ma serves half-long side-spin wide to the backhand and anticipates that Fan will go cross to the backhand. However, Ma guesses wrong as Fan burns him with a down-the-line opening for a clean winner.

Similarly, Fan does not appear to always go down-the-line in response to what he sees from Ma. If he anticipates that Ma is looking to step around, he may go down-the-line as early as the opening. However, if he guesses wrong like in the two points below, then Ma is perfectly in position for a big forehand kill.

While it looks embarrassing when they guess wrong, both players are betting on the fact that they can anticipate their opponent often enough that in the aggregate they come out on top from acting early. Furthermore, for Fan his down-the-line openings also serve as a deterrent for Ma to step around early all the time.

Ma’s Famous Chop Blocks

Another way that Ma mixes things up and escapes the fast-paced backhand rallies is with his signature chop-block.

Of course, the chop block is a difficult shot that requires an insane amount of touch, but his tucked in elbow also makes it easier for him to get his racquet onto the left-side of the ball and chop the ball forward. The chop block is just anothhe difference in how high Ma and Fan raise their elbows likely ends up affecting almost every shot in the game in one way or another.

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Liu Guoliang Looks Forward After China Wins Olympic Men’s Team Gold

Although Germany sounded optimistic going into their match with China, China defeated Germany 3-0 to sweep their way through the team events. Neither the Chinese men’s or women’s team dropped a single individual match en route to winning gold in both genders.

However, Ovtcharov gave China a brief scare when he took a 2-1 lead against Fan Zhendong, but Fan was able to stay calm and come back. As Liu Guoliang later remarked, if Ovtcharov had won that, then it would have been 1-1, which would have put China in an uncomfortable position. Based on Liu’s remarks, Fan will almost certainly be back in 2024 as a veteran presence.

Liu Guoliang already has his eyes set towards the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. He stated that while the women’s team is in a position of dominance given the youth of Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu, the men’s team will need to make some adjustments heading into the next Olympic cycle as Ma Long and Xu Xin age into retirement.

Liu in particular praised Sun Yingsha as an idol and role model for the next generation not just in table tennis but all of Chinese athletics. He also praised Chen Meng’s dominance in winning two gold at this Olympic Games, hinting that she may be back for the 2024 Olympics at the age of 31.

Liu also acknowledged the veteran presence of Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning and the impact they have had on the National Team culture. He praised Liu for the journey she took recovering from elbow surgery last Fall, and said although they obviously would rather have won gold in mixed doubles, there is not much to regret since she came out, performed, and gave it her all.

Liu also reflected on his own journey in table tennis, noting that it was his seventh Olympic games. He quipped that when he was a player, he felt that being a player was the most stressful job. Then he became a coach and realized being a coach was the most stressful job. Then he became head coach and then director of the Chinese National Team, and each time he realized that the job was even more stressful.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

Chinese Women Cruise To Olympic Gold

China defeated Japan 3-0 in the women’s table tennis team event at the Tokyo Olympics to win gold. China breezed through the competition, never dropping even a single individual match during their championship run.

Chen Meng takes her second gold medal of the Olympics, and she noted that the joy she felt for this gold medal was completely different since it was a team medal.

Sun Yingsha again defeated Mima Ito, although this time Ito was at least able to win a game as she lost 3-1. Post-game, Sun remarked, “Every time I compete with her, I can get a lot from it. I also fully prepared for the challenges of the competition. Today, playing against each other again is a brand new challenge!”

After Japan lost, a tearful Ito said, “The final match is over and I am very happy until the end. Of course, if you win it’s better, you will not be satisfied if you lose, but it is still a very happy competition.” Ito walks away from the Olympics with one gold, one silver, and one bronze medal to complete a colorful collection.

Ishikawa added that she was not satisfied either but acknowledged the strength of the Chinese National Team.

Hong Kong defeated Germany to win the bronze medal.

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Germany and Japan To Face China In Olympic Table Tennis Team Finals

The Olympic table tennis team finals are now set: China will face Japan in the women’s team event and Germany in the men’s team event. China was the top seed in both events, and Japan and Germany were the second seed in their respective events.

China Ready for Japan in the Women’s Finals

Wang Manyu, Sun Yingsha, and Chen Meng

The women’s finals match-up is no surprise as China and Japan were heavy favorites to make the finals, and neither country dropped a single individual match en route to the finals. However, the gap between China and Japan may be just as big as the gap between Japan and the rest of the world.

Following her 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Sun Yingsha in the women’s singles semi-finals, Mima Ito said, “What I was doing was not bad, but the results showed that we are not even close.”

“There’s a gulf in class.”

China appears equally confident. Chen Meng dismissed concerns about line-up match-ups, stating that regardless of whichever two of Chen, Sun, and Wang Manyu face Ito, it’s fine either way. Sun added, “I think the competitive state and mental outlook of the three of us are good. The finals are united and we must be confident while preparing for difficulties.”

However, Japan may still steal a victory in the event of a mental collapse by China. Coach Li Sun cautioned, “The key is to see which of the two teams can fight, and who can do it.”

Ovtcharov Makes History As Germany Readies for China

Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska

Germany ran the same line-up they did against Taiwan to defeat Japan in the semi-finals. The strategy was clear: have the superior Boll/Franziska team win doubles, have Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat up on the other country’s two weaker players, and live with losses to Lin Yun-Ju or Harimoto. The strategy worked perfectly, as Germany is now in the finals despite losing all their matches to Lin and Harimoto.

Ovtcharov has now secured his record sixth Olympic table tennis medal (singles bronze in 2012 and 2020 and team medals in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020). Although Germany’s line-up strategy has been straightforward, the road to the finals has not been easy. Following the win against Japan, Ovtcharov said, “I’m feeling really empty right now, physically and emotionally. It was really, really tough days here.”

While the Japanese women have often been viewed as the biggest threat to Chinese supremacy, the German team believes they have a shot against China. Boll remarked, “If we can be on our peak, all three of us have the skills and the will to win the match. We will definitely go no limits to prove that this is our time.”

Ovtcharov reiterated his belief in the German team on Twitter.

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Kanak Jha Upsets Mattias Falck In USA’s Losing Effort to Sweden

Sweden defeated USA 3-1 in the opening round of 16 of the men’s team event at the Tokyo Olympics. Sweden won quite comfortably, with Kristian Karlsson and Anton Kaellberg defeating Zhou Xin and Nikhil Kumar 3-0 in doubles, Kaellberg defeating Zhou 3-0 in singles, and Karlsson defeating Kanak Jha 3-0 in singles. Sweden will face Japan in the quarter-finals.

However, Jha was able to pull off a 3-1 upset against Falck in the match between the two ace players (i.e. the players that play two singles matches). We provide a full recap of the match below.

Game 1

Jha built an early 3-1 lead in the first game off of two pet plays that he would rely on throughout the match: a long fast serve to the elbow and a slow opening to Falck’s elbow.

However, Jha made a slew of errors including a couple of missed backhand openings, a push into the net, and a missed forehand flick to find himself down 7-5.

At 7-5, Jha then missed a block from the elbow and a backhand counter-roll to fall into a deeper 9-5 hole. Jha won a backhand-backhand rally, but missed another counter into the net to go down 10-6. Falck then missed a backhand roll into the net, and then Jha got a bit lucky as Falck missed a backhand loop against a high-short push from Jha, and Jha won another net ball to close the gap to 10-9. On the fourth game point, Falck surprised Jha with a deep long push to Jha’s forehand. Jha was able to land a decent quality loop wide to Jha’s forehand, but he was not able to recover in time as he missed the follow-up backhand kill, giving Falck the first game 11-9.

Game 2

A series of ambitious shots paid off for Jha early in game 2 as he landed two forehand flick kills, a hard backhand counter-roll wide, and hard loop to Falck’s elbow in the first ten points. Coupled with his usual pet plays, Jha was able to take a commanding 8-2 lead in game 2.

Falck tried to switch things up with a backhand serve down 8-2. He won the first point to make it 8-3 and then threw away any possible momentum by missing his next serve. Falck missed yet another long fast serve return from the middle to make it 10-3.

Jha then flicked into the net to make it 10-4, and despite getting a net ball on the next point, lost another backhand-backhand rally to make it 10-5. Falck then won another two points off aggressive responses to Jha’s chiquita, making it 10-7.

Jha called time-out and came back with a half-long serve to the forehand that he had previously not yet served into the net; however, Falck gave an equally surprising soft open down-the-line to the backhand, and Jha blocked it into the net. On the next point, Jha pushed the ball half-long to Falck’s forehand again, Falck opened to Jha’s backhand again, and this time Jha was able to land in a backhand counter-roll that Falck hit into the net, giving Jha the second game 11-8.

Game 3

Falck won the first point of the third game with a nice rally from far behind the table, and then Jha missed a chiquita to give Falck a 2-0 lead. Jha then proceeded to win two straight points off slow spins, two straight points off of nice forehand winners, and two straight points off of wide long fast serves that Falck hit out.

Falck and Jha were able to hold their own serve on the next eight points (with Jha receiving some help from an edge-ball), giving Jha a 10-6 advantage. Falck won another lucky point of his own to help narrow the gap to 10-9. However, he pushed Jha’s next serve into the net to lose the game 11-9, resulting in another failed comeback and a 2-1 lead for Jha in games.

Game 4

Jha and Falck exchanged several missed openings and first blocks to start game 6 as Jha built an early 5-4 lead, prompting Falck to call time-out. After the time-out, Jha and Falck had a nice exchange of well-placed shots, with Jha coming out on top with the 6-4 lead.

Falck was then able to go on a 4-1 mini-run to take an 8-7 lead thanks to two missed openings from Jha and a pretty long rally from way behind the table from Falck. Jha then ripped a half-long serve on the next point to level it at 8-8. Jha won the next point thanks to his bread-and-butter long fast serve to the elbow to go up 9-8.

Jha then gave a long serve and a half-long push to Falck’s elbow on the next two points. Falck, who had mostly been stepping around to take the slower elbow shots with his forehand earlier in the match, stepped to the right to take two surprising big backhands. Jha missed both blocks, giving Falck a 10-9 advantage.

Jha saved one game point with an opening to the elbow, Falck earned himself another game point with a long rally, and then Jha saved another game point with an opening to the elbow, making it 11-11.

Jha and Falck exchanged missed openings to keep it level at 12-12. Jha then got a net ball during a backhand-backhand exchange to take match point. He was then able to convert match point with a wide forehand kill against Falck’s opening from the elbow. Jha won the game 14-12 and the match, leveling the team match score at 1-1.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

Liu Shiwen Olympic Injury Withdrawal Prompts Speculation

Liu Shiwen has withdrawn from the team event of the Tokyo Olympics due to her lingering elbow injury and will be replaced by Wang Manyu. The timing, right after a mixed doubles loss, has prompted speculation among the top comments on WTT’s Instagram post that the withdrawal was due to either China or Liu’s lack of confidence in Liu, and that the injury was merely an excuse.

An informal Instagram poll (consisting of almost 200 people) overwhelmingly supported the idea that Liu’s withdrawal was not related to her elbow injury.

However, while the timing is suspicious, there is no rigorous evidence that the withdrawal was not due to the stated reason of an elbow injury, which indeed has been bothering Liu for roughly a year now. Certain netizens were quick to point this out:

This is not the only table tennis “conspiracy theory” involving Liu to emerge during the Olympics. Another comment further on the WTT post was a Chinese fan complaining about perceived cheating or poor sportsmanship by the Japanese mixed doubles team when they won gold.

The allegation of cheating or poor sportsmanship that Chinese fans are making appears to be largely based on two ideas. One is that the small court size was intentionally done by Japan to hamper Xu Xin’s playing style. The second is that Mima Ito blew on the ball before the point (with the implication that she was trying to cheat), and that umpires intentionally ignored it to benefit Japan.

The second allegation appears to be quite shaky as it fails to mention several things. First of all, Xu and Liu did not appear to even complain about Ito blowing on the ball to the umpire. Second, blowing on the ball was made illegal due to COVID restrictions, not due to unfair competitive advantage, and is quite common during a match during non-COVID times. Even during COVID, Timo Boll was seen blowing all over a ball during the European Championships earlier this summer, and Anton Källberg did not mind at all:

An earlier Instagram poll (roughly a couple hundred participants) also voted along similar margins that they do not believe the allegations of Japan “rigging” the Olympics.

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Olympic Table Tennis Teams Schedule, Bracket, and Results

Below are the schedule, brackets, and results of the table tennis men’s and women’s team events at the Tokyo Olympics.

Results will be updated daily. Time for matches will be posted when both opponents are confirmed. Click on a table to view the table number. All times are in Pacific (Los Angeles) time.

The bracket for the men’s singles can be found here. The bracket for the women’s singles can be found here.

Men’s Team:

Women’s Team:

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

Ma Long Defeats Fan Zhendong to Win Olympic Gold

Ma Long defeated Fan Zhendong 4-2 (11-4, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-7) to become the first male table tennis player to win two Olympic singles gold medals.

Before the match, Ma noted that Fan was the favorite, so he had no pressure and just to go out and fight. Ma also commented that he indeed showed more initiative and agressiveness in the match; this may have been reflected in the early 6-0 lead that Ma jumped to in the first game of the match

Post-game Fan Zhendong did not appear completely satisfied with the result, saying, “I felt like Ma Long controlled the situation today. I had chances to take control of the situation, especially in the third and fourth game, but I wasn’t able to…I wasn’t able to find my game today. Winning the second game was a miracle, but in the third game I wasn’t still relaxed or positive enough, so in the end I wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity.”

When asked if Ma Long was the greatest of all time, Fan replied that it’s hard to compare across eras, but at least in this generation, Ma Long is the greatest.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov defeated Lin Yun-Ju 4-3 to win the bronze medal.

Unfortunately, we will not be providing a recap for this match. Should we get access to a high-quality recording, we look forward to taking a closer look at what happened in this match. In the meantime, check out our recap of the women’s singles final.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

Chen Meng Defeats Sun Yingsha 4-2 to Clinch Olympic Gold

After Sun’s backhand block sailed off the table at match point to deliver Chen Meng the Olympic gold medal, an elated Chen let out a loud cho-lae and immediately went over to hug coach Ma Lin. Chen then went over to give a disappointed Sun a hug, and the gold and silver medalist of the Olympic table tennis women’s singles event took a picture with the Chinese flag.

After dropping the first game, Chen was able to come back with extremely solid play as she took the match 4-2 (9-11, 11-6, 11-4, 4-11, 11-4, 11-9). After the match, Chen said, “Now that the match is finally over, I feel like I can finally laugh. “

“Now I feel normal, like I just finished a match, but during the match I was so nervous.”

“I may not have looked that nervous [compared to Sun Yingsha], but I was very nervous, because I have given so much, and she has given so much, everyone really wants the gold. But during the match, I maybe executed better than her, and I think my mentality is more experienced than her too.”

“I think Sha sha played okay today, and I played okay too. To be honest, I don’t think today’s match was pretty to watch, because outside of the first and last game, which were 11-9, the other games were not close, and in the middle we had a lot of errors and mistakes. I think either result [win or lose] of today’s match was reasonable, but in the end I think I was more experienced.”

A gracious Sun said she was satisfied with the result too: “I think I played okay today. Even though I lost, everything I did during my preparations and training, I was able to execute today. Perhaps my skills are just a bit short.”

“I played pretty aggressively the first game, but something about my rhythm just didn’t feel quite right in the next two games.”

“I really have no regrets. I played well, but Meng is better than me…If if I did have regrets, it’s that I didn’t win the finals, but really I gave it my all. I played my own style and to my level, and I have tried my best. The road ahead is still very long. I hope I will also realize my dream!”

Ultimately, the stable Chen held a slight edge on pushing quality and consistency and a small but noticeable advantage on the ever-present backhand-backhand rallies. Sun tried to disrupt things with faster and more aggressive off-the-bounce attempts at winners, but each time it felt like Chen simply took a step back, stuck her racquet up, and blocked back almost everything Sun threw at her.

Sun, who had until the finals not dropped a single game, was still able to push Chen to her limit. Although it felt like Chen was strongly favored to win starting roughly around when she won a critical long rally at 6-4 in Game 5, the outcome of the match never felt determined until Sun’s final block landed out.

Game 1

Both players exchanged crisp serve and return play and backhand-to-backhand rally play as they opened up the game tied 6-6. Sun then won a very long rally after she was able to get one very quick off-the-bounce winner with her backhand that wide to Chen’s backhand. On the next point, Chen pushed deep to Sun’s backhand, Sun spun the ball up, and Chen missed the forehand counterloop to go down 8-6.

Chen closed the gap to 8-7 with a backhand opening to Sun’s elbow followed by a hard wide backhand roll to the corner. Sun was then able to land a cross-court forehand winner against a long push from Chen on the next point. Chen missed a down-the-line roll on the next backhand-backhand rally to go down 10-7.

Chen was able to save two game points with some impressive blocks, including a saved net ball to make it 10-9. On the third game point, the two players engaged in a long backhand-backhand rally, in which Chen saved a net ball before getting a net ball of her own. Sun fished the net ball up, and Chen missed the step-around kill against the high ball to give Sun the first game 11-9.

Game 2

Despite pushing a serve in to the net on the second point of the game, Chen was able to open an early 3-1 lead thanks to two strong openings and a won backhand-backhand rally following a long fast serve to the elbow by Chen. However, Sun was able to win four points in a row off of two strong openings and two missed openings by Chen, giving Sun a 5-3 lead.

Chen answered with a five-point streak of her own off of quality push play and her staple backhand-backhand game to go up 8-5. Sun was able to take a point back by killing a slow roll by Chen to make it 8-6, but two quality attacks and Sun’s second missed push of the game gave Chen the next three points to take the game 11-6.

Game 3

Chen built an early 6-3 lead as she maintained her slight edge over Sun on the backhand-backhand rallies and pushing consistency—Sun made two pushing errors and Chen made none. Chen missed a step-around forehand on the next point against a well-placed backhand spin from Sun to the elbow to make it 6-4. However, Chen was able to win the next five consecutive rallies to take game 3 at a comfortable score of 11-4.

Game 4

Sun came into the game 4 using a new shovel serve from the forehand corner. It was quite effective, as Chen missed three of her first four serve returns, giving Sun an early 5-1 lead. Sun was able to expand that lead to 7-2 with the help of a net-ball, and a confident Sun was able to take control of the next several backhand-backhand rallies to go up 10-4. Sun rushed a winner and missed to cut it to 10-5, but Chen missed a forehand flick against a high push from Sun on the next point to give Sun the fourth game 11-5

Game 5

Whatever advantage Sun had gained through the new shovel serve in game 4 seemed to completely vanish in game 5 as Chen controlled the serve return with quality short pushes and deep pushes to Sun’s backhand and elbow. Although it felt like Chen was blocking all the would-be winners that Sun was throwing at her, Sun was able to keep the score close at 6-4.

At 6-4, the two engaged in a long rally with Chen grunting hard on the last three to five shots of the game before she eventually was able to grind out the point with a pretty down-the-line backhand roll. This gave Chen Meng a 7-4 lead and all the momentum in the game as she cruised to an 11-4 victory after this point.

Game 6

Chen’s hot streak continued into the first point of game 6 as she blocked back several hard loops from Sun before eventually landing a down-the-line forehand winner. Sun was able to take the next point, but missed a push and then a rushed winner to go down 3-1, prompting her to call time-out.

Chen was able to win a backhand roll-to-roll rally on the very next point to go up 4-1, but a combination of nice winners and backhand-backhand rallies from Sun narrowed the lead to 5-4. Chen then attempted to step around on a shot to the elbow twice—once for a cross-court winner and once for a down-the-line winner—but missed both, giving Sun her first lead of the game at 6-5.

However, Chen was able to regroup and level it back to 7-7. At this point, the nerves may have gotten to both players as Chen missed a push and Sun missed two half-long openings, resulting in a 9-8 advantage for Chen. On the next point, Sun hit several hard loops to Chen, but Chen was able to block everything before Sun rushed a forehand into the net, giving Chen a 10-8 advantage.

Sun saved one match point with a deep push to the elbow that Chen looped out to make it 10-9. Sun tried the same play on the next point, but this time Chen was able to execute an opening to Sun’s elbow. Sun blocked the ball out, giving Chen the game 11-9, the match 4-2, and the Olympic gold medal.

Game Notes

One of the more interesting side-notes in the viewership experience is seeing who spectates the game. While a crowd of Chinese athletes (table tennis and non-table tennis) including an alone and depressed Liu Shiwen came out for the Sun vs Ito semi-final, the stands were quite empty for the China vs China final. The spectators mostly consisted of Chinese coaching staff (e.g. Ma Lin, Li Sun, Liu Guoliang) and two Chinese players—Wang Yidi and Wang Manyu—sitting together. Behind Ma Lin sat an alone and very studious-looking Miu Hirano, who will likely be facing one of the Chen and Sun in the women’s team final.

Chen noted her quarter-final match against Doo Hoi Kem as a scary moment for her in the Olympics: “Because in the process, I ran into a lot of difficulties, especially in the quarter-finals…Afterwards I watched the video and I saw Ma Lin jump around, and I feel like he was even more excited than me…I am very thankful to the coaching staff. If it weren’t for their support that day, I probably would not be able to stand on the podium right now.”

More on Ma Lin, “Coach Ma was very excited, even more excited than me. Especially because I think he had a lot of pressure after losing in mixed doubles… But after winning gold, I feel like we can relax for the next couple days [until the team event].”

When asked what she was going to do after the match, Chen laughed and said, “I don’t know yet. I still have unwashed laundry…maybe admire my medal. It’s pretty heavy.”

The players will not have much time to celebrate as the team event starts in a couple days.

The women’s singles event ended up largely playing to expectations, with the heavy favorite Chen Meng taking gold, Sun Yingsha taking silver, and Mima Ito taking bronze.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

Sun Yingsha Crushes Mima Ito 4-0 In Olympic Semi-Finals

Sun Yingsha crushed Mima Ito 4-0 (11-3, 11-9, 11-6, 11-4) in the semi-finals in the table tennis women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics. Although this match-up was very hyped by this blog and Ito was widely seen as the biggest threat to China at the Olympics, Sun made sure tthat he match was nowhere near competitive. Other than a brief scare in game 2 that Sun was able to take care of with eight straight points, the outcome of the other three games never seemed in doubt once the game passed the half-way point.

Sun’s relentless spins were too much for Ito to handle as Ito missed backhand punch after backhand punch. Ito of course tried to balance the match with her short pips magic tricks, but Sun seemed to be ready for almost all of Ito’s tricks, and when Ito did catch Sun off guard, Sun was able to recover defensively to get back into a spin-to-smack rally that heavily favored Sun.

Sun advances to the finals, where she will play top seed Chen Meng, without even having dropped a single game in this tournament so far.

Game 1

Sun had her absolute way with Ito throughout the first game. Ito was up 2-1, lost eight points in a row to go down 9-2, and then Sun cruised to an 11-3 victory. Sun was appeared to target Ito’s backhand as Ito did not attempt a forehand smash until she was down 9-3. The strategy clearly worked as Ito missed her backhand punches in every way possible: out, into the net, missed cross-court backhands, missed down-the line-backhands, etc.

Game 2

Ito appeared to come into game 2 with a solid serve and receive plan as she landed two fast backhand punches against Sun’s long fast serve (that Sun returned into the net) to go up 2-0. Sun then pushed two of Ito’s short serves to the forehand out to give Ito a 4-0 lead. Ito then caught Sun off guard with a deep push to the backhand on the serve return to go up 5-0. Ito then missed a backhand punch to make it 5-1.

Ito then served two half-long to Sun’s forehands. Sun looped the first one cross, and a ready Ito smashed it back even wider cross for the winner. Sun looped the next one down-the-line, and a waiting Ito punched the ball back and won the point with some help from a net-ball to go up 7-1. Ito then missed two serve returns (one flick and one deep push) to cut the lead to 7-3.

Sun then missed a backhand opening on the next point, and Ito was able to execute a pretty chop block-forehand smash sequence on the next point to go up 9-3.

Ito then missed two backhand punches and another chop block to cut the lead to 9-6. Ito served a short serve to Sun’s forehand, and ready for Sun’s forehand slider to the backhand, stepped around for a forehand opening, but Sun was able to catch a net-ball on rhw block and win the point to cut it to 9-7.

Ito called time-out and came out of the time-out with a slow and heavy side-spin banana flick on the serve return to Sun’s elbow. Sun was caught off guard, but was able to defensively recover and eventually hit a wide arcing shot to Ito’s forehand that Ito hit into the net. Sun was able to take control of the offense on the next two points to take a 10-9 lead, and then Ito nearly whiffed a backhand punch on the next point to give Sun eight straight points and the second game 11-9.

Game 3

Mentally, it seemed that Ito was not as eager to cho in game 3 after the heartbreaking ending to game 2 for her.

Ito opened game 3 with a new long serve to the middle and was able to punch Sun down after she stepped around for a forehand opening. Ito then missed three backhand openings over the next several points, but Sun also missed a backhand block and another long fast serve to the elbow to keep the score tied at 3-3.

Sun then served two straight (i.e. no sidespin) serves, and Ito flicked one out and pushed another one into the net to make it 5-3 Sun. Ito then served two high-toss serves and was able to get a forehand winner on the first one, but Sun was able to counter-spin Ito’s opening on the second to keep the lead at 6-4.

Ito was able to win another quick point with a pretty drop shot on the serve return to cut it to 6-5, but went 1-2 on the next two critical rallies to make it 8-6 Sun. Ito appeared to try her hand at some tricks, but she missed her first attempt at a deep push to make it 9-6, and Sun had no problems with Ito’s funky banana flick on the next point to make it 10-6. Ito tried what appeared to be a new serve on the next point, but Sun had no problem spinning it up, and Ito smashed the ball out to give Sun the third game comfortably 11-6

Game 4

Between Sun’s 3-0 lead and a potentially still lingering aftertaste from Game 2, Ito was unable to figure out a way to disrupt Sun’s rhythm as she spun Ito’s backhand down to dust on point after point to jump to an 8-3 lead. Ito won a point with a down-the-line backhand open to make it 8-4, and Sun immediately called time-out. Ito missed another two smacks to make it 10-4, and then she missed her own serve to give Sun the game 11-4 and the match 4-0.

Other Game Notes

The crowd was significantly fuller (of Chinese athletes from other sports) in today’s matches than in yesterday’s morning matches.

A very sad-looking Liu Shiwen was shown watching the match by herself in the audience.

The British commentator, which we have memed in this space, doubled down on relentlessly explaining why it is important to wipe sweat off the table.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out the rest of our Olympic coverage.

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.

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