Team Singapore’s veteran paddler Gao Ning narrowly lost a thrilling match to Great Britain’s Paul Drinkhall 4-3 after fighting his way back into the second round contest at the Riocentro Pavilion 3 on Sunday.
The 33-year-old, playing in his third Olympics was left “very disappointed” with the result and even his opponent conceded that he came close to winning the game in the decisive seventh set.
TeamSG paddler Gao Ning preparing for round 2 of the Table Tennis Men's Singles. Photo: Sport Singapore
To get to that final game, Gao Ning turned around a 9-5 deficit to win the fifth and keep himself in the game. He then won next game to force a seventh with his British opponent struggling at times to cope with his forehand spin.
Gao Ning, who had a bye in the first round, said that twice though in the final game he lost the ball in the lights, including once when he was going for a slam.
“I started very slow, losing the first two sets very quickly but then I picked up things. But there were two big points I lost in the lights,” he said.
“It is disappointing to go out in my first game, of course,” he added.
Drinkhall had never previously beaten Gao Ning and clearly considered the win to be a major triumph.
TeamSG paddler Gao Ning against Great Britain's Paul Drinkhall. Photo: Sport Singapore
“I let it slip a bit at 3-1 but he played some great shots at the end of that set and managed to get himself out of it - I think it was more him doing the right thing rather than me doing the wrong thing. I just had to keep my head, especially after losing the next game too,” he said.
Gao Ning said he had received some insight from his coach Liu Jia Yi who had previously coached Drinkhall for 13 years in England.
But his opponent noted that the players know each other so well that coaching briefings would have made little difference to the outcome.
“We watched videos of Gao Ning before the game and there are so many matches where he just finds a way to win matches - he almost did it again today but I was able to stop him,” he said.
Singapore’s other male paddler Chen Feng has also been eliminated so the focus for table tennis fans will switch to the women’s team and singles events.
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