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Underdog Zhou ends China's table tennis simulation in heroic fashion

Zhou Qihao had a five-day fairytale journey at the Chinese table tennis Olympic simulation with another victory over title favorite.

Already knocking reigning Olympic and world champion Ma Long out in the semifinals, Zhou upset world No. 1 Fan Zhendong 4-2 and claimed men's singles title here on Friday.

Gold medalist Zhou Qihao (C), silver medalist Fan Zhendong (L) and bronze medalist Ma Long pose during the awarding ceremony after the men's singles final at the 2021 WTT (World Table Tennis) Grand Smashes Trials and Olympic Simulation in Xinxiang, central China's Henan Province, May 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Li Jianan)

Women's singles event witnessed less surprise, as top two seeds Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha set up an encounter in the final before top-placed Chen emerged victorious with the same scoreline.

Ranking 122nd in the world, Zhou was listed as the eighth seed. After sharing the spoils with Fan in the first four sets, he took away the following two sets, 11-8 and 11-9, to conclude his heroic feat.

"I had not expected it (the champion). From group phase to quarterfinals, semifinals and the final, I competed against many outstanding players, so I just went all out in every game," said Zhou. "I played 120% of my level in this competition."

Fan admitted he made adjustments a bit slow. "I got the initiative on many occasions, but I failed to make it. Then I became a bit hesitant and gave much space to him to attack."

Ma kind of got consolation by rounding out the podium with a 12-10, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9 victory over Wang Chuqin.

"I had a better control on crucial points," said Ma. "We haven't played any competitive match for almost half a year, and staging this competition is quite necessary for our Olympic preparation."

In women's singles, Sun saved two set points from Chen and won four straight points for 12-10 in the opening set.

Chen made timely adjustments afterward and raced ahead 2-1 in sets. After conceding two set points in the fourth set, Sun called a timeout before holding firm to win 11-9 and leveled the score. Chen regrouped herself from there and pocketed the next two sets, 11-7, 11-3.

For Chen, the first four sets were quite intense and extended into the fifth set. "At 7-7, I stayed firm to win this set and became relieved in the sixth set," she said.

Wang Yidi claimed third place with a 14-12, 11-7, 11-6 win against Zhu Yuling.

"I had fewer unforced errors and scored many points in long rallies today," commented Wang.

Zhu said she attempted to make changes on the court, thus caring more about her efforts than the result.

The mixed doubles event also concluded surprisingly, as defensive paddlers Ma Te and Liu Fei had the last laugh by going past Zhou Yu/Chen Xingtong 4-2 in the final.

After surprising second seeds Liang Jingkun/Sun Yingsha in the semis, the two choppers comfortably moved ahead 7-1 in the sixth set before wrapping up a victory of 11-7, 4-11, 12-10, 8-11, 11-9, 11-7 over Zhou Yu and Chen Xingtong.

"We won because we were stern-minded, especially when the opponents were poised to come back in the middle of the decisive sixth set," said Liu.

Liang and Sun claimed third place after rolling past Lin Gaoyuan and Zhang Rui 11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-2.