Ding completes grand slam

China's Ding Ning (in pink) celebrating with her supporters after beating compatriot Li Xiaoxia in their table tennis singles gold-medal match at the Riocentro venue on Wednesday. She had suffered a bitter loss to the same opponent in the London 2012
China's Ding Ning (in pink) celebrating with her supporters after beating compatriot Li Xiaoxia in their table tennis singles gold-medal match at the Riocentro venue on Wednesday. She had suffered a bitter loss to the same opponent in the London 2012 final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

She claims Olympic gold to go with World C'ship, World Cup; maintains China's grip

RIO DE JANEIRO • Four years after she lost the table tennis women's singles title in acrimonious circumstances when she became embroiled in a row with the referee, Ding Ning , nicknamed 'big baby', finally won the gold she had hankered after so dearly.

The Chinese player beat Li Xiaoxia 11-9, 5-11, 14-12, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7 in the final in Rio on Wednesday to avenge the bitter defeat she suffered at the hands of her compatriot at London 2012.

The top seed thus completed the Grand Slam of World Championship, World Cup and now Olympic title and helped China maintain their supremacy, having won every women's singles Olympic title since table tennis was introduced in Seoul in 1988.

"I'm a little dazed by this," said the hugely popular and charismatic Ding.

"I was able to forget the sad memory of that defeat in London.

"In the four years since, I have become more experienced and seasoned and I told myself before the final to fight for my dreams."

On her relationship with Li, she said: "With Xiaoxia, we are team-mates. She's the team leader, I've learnt a lot from her, but today of course we were rivals."

However, Li proved a magnanimous loser, praising Ding for prising the title from her and adding: "As long as the ball doesn't hit the floor, I continued to do my best."

Ding, 26, claimed the opening game in eight minutes. But it took Li, 28, only seven minutes to level the match.

Left-hander Ding, in bright pink, then scraped the third 14-12.

Li, though was not in the mood to relinquish her title without a battle, pocketing the fourth game.

The balance of power swung Li's way then as the third seed came out on top in a pulsating 25-stroke rally on her way to the fifth set.

With her second tilt at the Olympic title seemingly slipping from her grasp, Ding dug deep to take the sixth game 11-7 and send the final into a nerve-jangling decider.

In the final game, at 10-7, she called a strategic time-out and then summoned all her skill and guile to finally net the one title that she had always wanted to win.

"I was crying when I knew it was done, it was from relief," she said.

"As for my goals? The first is to focus on helping the Chinese team win team gold."

Li said she had given her best, despite not training sufficiently over the last four years because of injury problems. She also admitted she had vacillated on retiring.

"I do think if I had spent one year properly training I would have won the match. But I have no regrets."

North Korea's Kim Song I, 22, who was playing in her first Olympics, took the bronze with a 4-1 win over Japan's Ai Fukuhara, 27.

Kim hugged her coach and cried into her towel after her win, before running off when reporters tried to approach her for interviews.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ding completes grand slam'. Print Edition | Subscribe