China takes on Japan in a bid for the glory of gold

By Katie Garner

Players: Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei (China) versus Mizuki Fujii / Reika Kakiiwa (Japan)

Looking at the line up, you automatically expect a great performance from the Chinese duo here, who must have more accolades than they do medal space at home. The only question is how challenging the Japanese team where going to be and how they were going to tackle the dynamic Chinese.

China leapt out of the gate with aggressive play from the start, with decisive smashing from the front of the court. Admittedly Japan did well to return as many as they did, although China were railroading slightly at the beginning. I think the main advantage that they had, was that Zhao Yunlei was the only player on court who also plays in the mixed doubles, and this gives the Chinese pairing great strength at the front of court, as she is particularly spectacular at interception at the net, and with quickly nipping in with the odd smash when necessary. Japan weren’t really prepared for this and spent a lot of their time hitting clears which the Chinese dealt with easily.

The Japanese made quite a few unforced errors as the first game began to develop, and they also seemed to adopt a more defensive style of play taking sides instead of front and back, which is thought to be more aggressive and attacking. I think the main problem that Japan encountered was that they simply cleared too much and allowed the Chinese too much height to smash and drive their way to winners, and this also encouraged a faster pace of play, which the Chinese also prefer.

China were incredibly dominant in the first game, smashing the Japanese out of position and then finishing off with a very delicate net shot. The Japanese also don’t seem as smooth at court rotation, which meant it was harder for them to find their positioning and therefore harder to react with the same speed as the Chinese. The Chinese managed a comfy win in the first game with 21-10 in just 17 minutes, looking very practised, experienced and attacking.

The second game commenced and I believe that Japan still played it far too safe with numerous clears, and I don’t believe they were pro-active enough in building winnable points, especially as they also ended up with a few errors on their side. Japan however began to pick up as they focus on Qing, the weaker Chinese player, and here they gain some extra points. The Chinese get annoyed with themselves and allow the Japanese to get a whiff of the game, and let them back in. A nervous service fault at 18-18 from the Japanese hands the power back to China, although Japan really power through at the end of this game, totally raising their game. In the end, it isn’t enough though, and the Chinese take the win with 25-23 in the final game, proving how hard the Japanese worked to regain some power from the Chinese.

What was truly fabulous though was the brilliant attitude that the Japanese had. It would have been so easy to be daunted by the all dominating Chinese, but they entered with a can do attitude, and despite losing the first game, they were constantly smiling and giggling, enjoying the absolute joy of being in the final of an Olympic games. They had nothing to lose, whatever happened, they would leave with silver, and their attitude was really brilliant as they simply soaked up the atmosphere whilst still doing their absolute best. At the end of the day, the Chinese pair played fantastically well and were incredibly dominant with their practised style of play which proved them unbeatable.