Table tennis: Paul Drinkhall continues progress

 

Paul Drinkhall pulled off one of the finest wins of his table tennis career to move into the third round of the men's singles at the London 2012 Olympics.

Drinkhall, who eased to victory against Kuwait's Ibrahem Al-Hasan yesterday, was the underdog heading into today's encounter versus Singapore's Zi Yang, who sits 53 places ahead of him in the ITTF world rankings.

Yet, despite having never defeated Yang, the 22-year-old was bullish about his chances yesterday - and his confidence proved justifiable.

Indeed, the Brit sealed an astonishing 4-1 (11-7, 11-7, 11-8, 4-11, 11-9) triumph to set up a mouth-watering clash with Germany's world number 12 Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

The success is a major shot in the arm for British table tennis, especially after Drinkhall's girlfriend Joanna Parker was beaten this morning by Kristin Silbereisen.

In a repeat of the 2010 Commonwealth Games quarter-final, which Yang won, Drinkhall started impressively, forcing his opponent into some surprising early mistakes to move 4-2 ahead.

Yang battled his way back, however, and moved into a 6-5 lead courtesy of some good fortune, the ball clipping the net but dropping in.

Drinkhall's response underlined his determination as he claimed six of the next seven points, each of which was followed by a roar that felt like it could have been heard across London in the Olympic Park.

It appeared Drinkhall would maintain his momentum at the start of the next; the Brit's backhand and forehand were initially flawless as he moved 4-1 ahead.

Yang upped his tempo at that stage, but his opponent proved he had defensive nous too, eventually taking a 2-0 lead.

Chants of "Paul, Paul, Paul" echoed around the arena at the beginning of the third and the crowd's new hero duly delivered the goods once more against an increasingly unsettled Yang.

He quickly moved 4-0 ahead, showing a finesse that contrasted with yesterday's more forceful approach, highlighting his versatility.

Yang threatened to get back into the contest, only for Drinkhall to step back on the accelerator whenever the favourite closed in.

A cross-table forehand ensured he kept his two-point lead at 8-6, after which he took the game to move to the brink of victory.

Having looked beaten, Yang found some resolve in the next as his forehand, in particular, gave Drinkhall problems.

He claimed the game comfortably, leaving the crowd a little more subdued until the action resumed, when another loud roar reverberated around the hall.

Yet it was now Yang in the ascendancy as, like Drinkhall had earlier, he always kept his opponent at least a point or two away.

That was until the latter stages. After levelling at 7-7, the home representative eventually finished the job, forcing Yang into the net to give his new-found fans the victory they had been hoping for.

PA

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