China’s Li Xiaoxia and Ding Ning reached the semi-finals of women’s singles, with Japanese Kasumi Ishikawa and Feng Tianwei of Singapore also reaching the last four in table tennis.

Li defeated Li Jiao of Singapore 4-0, and Ding won over Ai Fukuhara of Japan 4-0 on Tuesday. Ishikawa defeated Wang Yuegu of Singapore 4-1, and Feng beat Kim Kyun-gah of South Korea 4-2. Ding and Li are the favourites to play in Wednesday’s gold-medal final.

Anything other than an all-China final will be a shock.

China has monopolized pingpong, winning 20 of 24 gold medals since the sport was introduced in the 1988 Olympics. Four years ago it won all three medals in women’s singles, prompting the sports governing body to limit men’s and women’s singles entries this time to two per country.

The 19-year-old Ishikawa is trying to make history in Japan, which has a strong tradition in table tennis but has yet to win an Olympic medal of any kind in the sport.

“I don’t feel tremendous pressure,” Ishikawa said. “I feel very nervous, obviously. But I know that I don’t have to win, so I am just enjoying it.”

Japanese flags are spotted around the venue at the ExCel center, making a cozy atmosphere in the 6,000-seat arena a cavernous space by table tennis standards.

“The crowd support is fantastic and it’s really given me a lot of strength,” Ishikawa said. “Yeah, it’s a bit like playing in Japan.”

Ishikawa will begin to share popularity in Japan with Fukuhara, who is a superstar athlete back home. She played at 15 in the 2004 Olympics and was the flag bearer at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Ishikawa was to face Li in the semi-finals later Tuesday, and Ding plays Feng.

Fukuhara pushed Ding, losing 15-13 in the first game. Dispirited, she lost the next three 11-6, 11-6, 11-4.

“If I had won the first game, I’d have had a chance,” she said. “She (Ding) is so strong.”

Asked to compare the Chinese game to the rest, Fukuhara raised one hand above her head and lowered the other.

“That’s the difference,” she said.

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