Leung Chu-yan gave himself the best birthday present he could have wished for when he secured his ticket to the London Games with an impressive victory over former Olympic champion Ryu Seung-min of South Korea yesterday.
Leung, who turned 33 yesterday, outplayed the 2004 Athens Games champion 11-7, 5-11, 11-9, 12-10, 7-11, 11-5 in the semi-finals of the Asian Olympic table tennis qualifying tournament at Queen Elizabeth Stadium.
'It is a great result,' said Leung, who also competed at the Olympics in 2000 (Sydney), 2004 (Athens) and was a reserve at the 2008 Beijing Games.
'I can't believe my birthday fell on the same day as this semi-final. It is so wonderful the two things coming together. It's definitely the best birthday gift.'
Leung will now make up the third member of the Hong Kong men's team after Tang Peng and Jiang Tian-yi qualified by virtue of their world ranking. Tang and Jiang will also be allowed to start in the singles competition in London.
Against Ryu, whom he had never beaten before, Leung showed great determination from the beginning, taking full advantage of his strong forehand to give the Korean few chances.
'I have improved my return of serve which was my greatest weakness against Ryu before,' Leung said. 'But even more important was my mental state as I kept focused throughout the match, even when I was losing.
'I thought before the tournament it might take seven to eight matches for me to win an Olympic berth but I have now completed the task after just three matches.'
Coach Chan Kong-wah heaped praise on Leung. 'He was very positive today and kept Ryu under tremendous pressure,' Chan said.
'Also his physical fitness has improved a lot since he gave up his professional club career in Europe this year to focus on qualifying for the Olympics.'
In the other semi-final, Japan's 17-year-old Koki Niwa pulled off a big upset, defeating Ma Long of China, the world No 1, 4-2 to secure his London berth. Ma, who had lost only once - to compatriot Zhang Zike - since the China Open last August, had won 51 straight matches.
Niwa, the reigning word junior champion, said he had never expected to beat the world's top player though he was confident he would win one of the eight London berths up for grabs in Hong Kong.
Ma and Ryu also qualified for London after they won play-off matches later yesterday.
In the women's event, Hong Kong's Lee Ho-ching squandered a 3-1 lead over Nanthana Komwong of Thailand and eventually lost her play-off 4-3. Lee will now have to play again in the losers' pool today.