China's Li rallies from 3-0 deficit in singles win
It's all China, all the time in table tennis, and the Asian Games singles finals were no exception.
Li Xiaoxia rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat teammate Guo Yue in the women's title match on Saturday, while Ma Long defeated Wang Hao in the men's China vs. China face-off.
The competition in Guangzhou was a taste of things to come at the London Olympics for the Asia-dominated sport. With China taking all eight gold medals during the Beijing Olympics, it would be a surprise if the result were any different in two years' time.
The Chinese won every table tennis gold at the 2010 Asian Games, rolling over competition that included some former national squad teammates who left for better playing opportunities in countries where the talent pool isn't so deep. But even after dominating so thoroughly, they're not relaxing one bit.
''Playing well in one competition doesn't really mean anything ... everyone says this is a preview of the Olympics but I will still work at it bit by bit, demanding more of myself,'' said Li, who at world No. 8 was the lowest-ranked player on China's women's team. ''There's still two years' time, anything can happen.''
Guo, a left-hander who's known for her attacking style, initially controlled the pace of the women's final with her high-speed spin shots but began to falter midway through with her returns zipping off the table and out of bounds.
Li recovered from a 3-0 deficit as she found her rhythm. She and Guo almost matched each other point for point in the final two games. Li won 5-11, 4-11, 11-13, 11-8, 11-6, 12-10, 11-9.
Guo came into the finals after a difficult win earlier in the day over Japan's Ai Fukuhara. The diminutive Ai also forced Guo to seven games, challenging the Chinese athlete with aggressive attacks and taking advantage of her poor returns.
''This afternoon's match against Ai really wore me out,'' the 22-year-old Guo said. ''I thought I would be tired on the floor but I thought I played pretty well for the first three games.''
She blamed her loss on poor strategy, for not calling a time-out to slow down the game after slipping on the floor and when falling behind.
Guo's disappointment was palpable. She stood expressionless on the podium when accepting her silver medal, weakly waving her bouquet a few times. Afterward, Guo quickly walked away from the ceremony area while the other medalists posed for pictures, pulling the medal off her neck as she strode away.
In the men's final, Ma and Wang challenged each other with powerful forehands, including a few rallies where they smashed the ball standing two meters (six feet) back from the table. The crowd roared during the exchanges and chanted the name of whoever happened to be trailing at the time.
Ma won by a score of 9-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-3, 4-11, 12-10.
''Getting second place, I think that's pretty normal,'' said Wang Hao, who's No. 3 in the world, two spots below his top-ranked opponent. ''Ma Long and I play at a similar level, winning or losing is always decided by a point or two.''
Wang, who won a team gold and individual silver at the Beijing Games, also said there's plenty of work to do before London.
''Participating in the Asian Games is a preparation for the London Olympics, there's still more than a year's time. During this time, I need to develop my game to its very best, my abilities and mentality need to be stepped up,'' he said.