China’s delight and Korea’s misery were the themes running through the opening session of today’s quarter-finals in two paired events.
In the bitter aftermath of a bad morning for Korea, Lee Yong Dae’s dreams of a first Olympic Men’s Doubles title lay in the dust. Lee and Yoo were caught off-guard by the stunning form of Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, who beat them for only the second time in seven matches.
Other head-line stealers were Great Britain’s Chris Langridge/Marcus Ellis (featured image), whose dream run at Rio continued, and India’s hope Srikanth Kidambi, who blitzed Denmark’s Jan O Jorgensen in the Men’s Singles pre-quarter-finals.
What made it a difficult morning for Korea was the loss of Kim Gi Jung and Kim Sa Rang to China’s Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan after dominating the whole match and blowing up three match points. Korea’s misery was complete with the loss of Women’s Doubles duo Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee to Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl.
Meanwhile, things went swimmingly well for China. Leading the way was Fu and Zhang, who are a couple of steps away from sporting immortality – Fu is in line for a second successive Men’s Doubles gold, while Zhang can add to the Mixed Doubles gold medal from London 2012.
The two were under the gun from the two Kims for the most part of the 72-minute battle, but steely nerves and some luck helped them emerge victors at 11-21 21-18 24-22.
Kim Gi Jung and Kim Sa Rang were immaculate until they self-destructed in the third. Playing softly at the net and extracting the lifts which they put away, the Kims led 10-2 in the third but started to get profligate at this stage, helping Fu and Zhang claw back. With two match points, Kim Gi Jung served into the net; he was to blow another open kill a couple of points later. Having saved three match points, Zhang and Fu gained the psychological edge and they made no mistake when it was their turn.
“I told Zhang Nan that no matter what, we just had to stay close to them. It was hard to get into rhythm as ours was the first match of the day. We found it difficult to catch up with them, but after we won the second we were clear about our strategy. We know how to win. They are not stable enough, at times they made a lot of mistakes.”
Chai Biao and Hong Wei then joined Fu/Zhang in the semi-finals with a hard-fought 21-13 16-21 21-16 victory over Yonex All England champions Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov of Russia. Chai/Hong take on Goh/Tan, while Fu/Zhang play Langridge/Ellis.
The Great Britain pair have proved to be the surprise package of the Olympics, winning their fourth match in a row. As they showed in previous encounters, they kept their heads at the death in both games against Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa, coming away winners 21-19 21-17.
“We’ve been enjoying our matches,” said Langridge. “They were the favourites and we were the underdogs, there was no pressure on us. It’s insane. We were up-and-down in the season, but here we’ve shown what we can do. I was fatiguing in the second, luckily I have a spring chicken for a partner. I was just dying for it to end in two games. I don’t know if I’d have been fine in the third.”
Goh and Tan were as sharp as they’ve ever been. Despite losing the first, the two kept the top seeded Koreans under pressure, with Goh hammering down smashes and Tan making clever interceptions which caught Lee and Yoo by surprise. The top seeds saved three match points to make it a tight finish, but the Malaysians were not to be denied their memorable victory: 17-21 21-18 21-19.
“I would have liked to leave the Olympics with great memories, but I’m feeling terrible,” Yoo, who was close to tears, said, while Lee still managed a smile.
“I’m disappointed… we could have done better. It’s a pity… although we finished the first game strongly, I felt our confidence went down in the second,” Lee said.
The Women’s Doubles has four nations in the hunt. Top seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (Japan) will take on Korea’s Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan, while second seeds Tang Yuanting/Yu Yang (China) face Denmark’s Pedersen/Rytter Juhl.
Matsutomo/Takahashi prevailed over Malaysia’s Vivian Hoo/Woon Khe Wei fairly easily in the third; Jung/Shin made it past Dutch pair Eefje Muskens/Selena Piek in somewhat similar circumstances.
Tang/Yu destroyed the challenge of Indonesia’s Greysia Polii/Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, 21-11 21-14, in 47 minutes. Pedersen and Rytter Juhl had a much harder time against Korea’s Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee, winning 28-26 18-21 21-15.
In Men’s Singles, Kidambi Srikanth came out guns blazing against Jorgensen, attacking at the hint of opportunity, and the attacking strategy paid off as he came away a 21-19 21-19 winner. The Indian has a quarter-final appointment with his hero Lin Dan of China.
“Basically it was about keeping it simple, not making mistakes,” Srikanth said. “I played a good attacking game today. Even though I lost a lot of first round matches over the last few months, my confidence never went down because I wasn’t going down in single digits – all the matches were close. Against Lin Dan in the quarter-finals – it’s a dream come true as he’s my idol. It’s a long time since I beat him last time in the China Open final, so this will be a new game.”
Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen and Korea’s Son Wan Ho progressed at the opposite ends of the draw: Chou easing past Hong Kong’s Hu Yun 21-10 21-13 and Son keeping his nerve in a close match against another Hong Kong player, Ng Ka Long, 23-21 21-17.