Li Jiawei’s losing streak to China’s Zhang Yining stretched to 13 games this morning as she went down 1-4 to her former Beijing Sports School teammate in the women’s singles semi-finals.
The 26-year-old lost 11-9. 8-11, 10-12, 8-11, 5-11 to Zhang who maintained her Games record of not losing more than one set in all competitions.
The result does not mean that Singapore’s hopes of winning its second Olympic medal at the Beijing Games are over.
Just like in the Athens Games, Li still hasa shot at the bronze medal. But it will be tough as the world No 6 will play world no 2 Guo Yue who lost 2-4 to compatriot Wang Nan in the other semi-final (11-3, 8-11, 11-4, 7-11, 3-11, 6-11).
Olympic champion Zhang was given a surprisingly tough time by Singapore’s Feng Tianwei in the quarter-finals before triumphing 4-1 and it looked like Li took a leaf from Feng’s tenancious, attacking play this morning.
She got off to a good start, her aggressive, attacking play giving her a surprise 10-5 lead. But a lapse in concentration enabled Zhang to reduce the deficit to 9-10 before Li finally grabbed the two remaining points and the first set.
But Zhang, buoyed by constant cheers of “Jia You” from the home crowd at the Peking University of Technology Gymnasium, was in commanding form in the second set, racing to a 7-5 lead before eventually winning 11-8.
The third set was a see-sawing nail-biter. Zhang led 3-2 before Li reeled off a string of winners to reverse it into a 6-4 advantage. But Zhang came back to make it 7-6. The two women battled it out to 9-9 and then 10-10 before two mistakes by Li gave Zhang the set at 12-10.
With Zhang leading 2-1, Li knew she had to win the next set so as not to cede the psychological advantage to the world No 1. Which probably explains why she went on an attacking blitz from the start, setting up opportunities which she then smashed with gusto for the kill.
She opened up a 5-3 lead. But then it went downhill from there. Zang caught up to level the score a t5-5 before moving ahead 8-6. She then made it 10-8 before Singapore coach Liu Guodong called for a time-out to give Li some respite. But the call didn’t work. Both women returned to the table and seconds later, Zhang hit the winning shot to make it 11-8 for a 3-1 lead.
And with that, Li started to crumble mentally. That much one could see on her face as Zhang went for blood. It was as if the world No 1 then decided to go into fifth gear and raise her game to the next level as she sped to a 3-6 lead.
Those familiar weak smiles of resignation started to appear on Li’s face, a surefire tell-tale sign of her weakening resolve, and Zhang struck again and again to make it 10-4.
Li won back a point back but it was too little too late. Zhang hit a stinging smash and it was game over.
Li wll play against Guo Yue for the bronze medal tonight at 730pm.