Taiwan’s Chuang Chih-yuan advanced to the quarter-finals of the men’s singles table tennis on Monday, positioning himself one win away from the best performance ever by a Taiwanese man at an Olympic Games.
Chuang opened the day by defeating Daniel Zwickl of Hungary 11-8, 11-8, 11-6, 11-9 in a round-of-32 match. He then proceeded to topple unseeded Andrej Gacina of Croatia 11-8, 11-5, 11-4, 7-11, 3-11, 11-5 to reach the quarter-finals, equaling his best ever Olympic result.
China-born Chen Jing won a silver representing Taiwan in the women’s singles in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996, but no Taiwanese male has ever made it past the quarter-finals.
Chuang reached the quarters at the Athens Games in 2004, before falling to Wang Hao of China in six sets. He then suffered a bitter defeat in the round-of-32 in Beijing four years later, but now has a legitimate chance to move deeper into the tournament.
The 31-year-old was playing his first matches of the event on Monday, having gotten byes into the round-of-32 by virtue of being one of the top 16 seeds. His opener was tougher than he had expected, even if he won in straight sets.
“He [Zwickl] played like it was the tournament final. I hoped I could get into the match more quickly,” Chuang said.
By the second match, Chuang felt more comfortable with the surroundings and he had made the necessary mental adjustments, but against Gacina there was still a two-set lapse.
“He changed his serving strategy, and that caused me to drop the fourth and fifth sets,” said Chuang, who decided to get more aggressive in the sixth set, putting the match away with the help of some unforced errors by the Croatian.
Up next for Chuang is 15th seed Adrian Crisan of Romania, who reached the quarter-finals by stunning fourth seed Timo Boll of Germany in five sets.
The Taiwanese player has defeated Crisan in their three previous encounters, but in a tournament where ranking has meant little — only four of the top 10 seeds are left — there is no reason for Chuang to feel overconfident or look ahead, and he is not likely to, having insisted even before the tournament that he would take it one match at a time.
Even in his third Olympics, Chuang remains humble enough to know that press clippings or a ranking cannot beat performance.
In the mixed zone at the Excel Centre, a tournament official had this to say about Taiwan’s No. 1.
“Chuang Chih-yuan is really cool. He always has a poker face, but also controls the ball like a magician,” he said.
When Chuang heard the comment, he was as cool and humble as always.
“I’m not that good,” he said.
However, he is now ideally positioned to show how good he really is in what is likely to be his final Olympic Games.