Jiang Tianyi is our future, says Hong Kong coach
The future of men's table tennis in Hong Kong lies with Jiang Tianyi, even if he fails to make it past the quarter-finals in London, according to coach Chan Kong-wah.
Jiang came from two sets down to beat North Korean Kim Hyok-bong 14-12, 6-11, 11-13, 9-11, 11-6, 11-7, 15-13 in the last 16, but the real test is to come - a quarter-final showdown against Zhang Jike of China today.
Zhang, the reigning world champion and favourite for Olympic gold, was given a scare by veteran Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, who blew a 3-2 lead to lose 4-3.
Jiang admitted he would be the underdog against Zhang, whom he has met many times in competition as both are Shandong natives.
'We first played together at junior level and then got promoted to the provincial team at the same time,' said Jiang, 24. 'We know each other very well, on and off the table. But he is definitely the better player, although we seldom play against each other at international level.
'He is now the world champion and the hottest player on the tour. As the number one seed, he is facing a lot of pressure and I hope to take advantage of this and play [well].'
Whatever the result, Jiang will be the face of the Hong Kong men's team for the next few years, following the retirement of Ko Lai-chak and the impending retirement of Li Ching.
Ko and Li won a silver medal for Hong Kong at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
'Jiang has been making good progress over the past couple of years,' coach Chan said. 'He collected all nine points in his matches at this year's world team championships, which is the best result among the team.
'It's time to give him more responsibility, especially after the baptism of fire at an event like the Olympic Games. Although he still has a lot to learn, he should be the man to lead the team, judging from his performances so far.
'I don't think Jiang can get an Olympic medal in London, as the next match against Zhang will be tough. But he has nothing to lose and that could work to his advantage.
'He will certainly be a better player after this experience.'
Meanwhile, the city's two women's singles players, Tie Yana and Jiang Huajun, are both out of the singles tournament. Jiang took a set against world champion Ding Ning of China before losing 4-1 in her fourth-round match, while Tie, rather surprisingly, was beaten by Romanian Elizabeta Samara 4-2 in the third round.
'We have to focus on the team event now, and hopefully the singles competition has given our players a wake-up call and they will perform better,' coach Li Huifen said.
The third member of the team, 19-year-old Lee Ho-ching, has been training well since her arrival in London, according to the coach. Each nation is only allowed to field their two best players in the singles, while three players are needed for the team events.
The Hong Kong women are seeded fifth in the 16-team tournament and will meet Austria in the first round. If they go through, they are likely to meet South Korea in the quarter-finals, while China will be the next obstacle.