Medal Tally
Team China

Chinese lament Fukuhara's loss to Chinese Guo

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Japanese table tennis star Ai Fukuhara has proven her popularity in China as her seven-set loss to Chinese Guo Yue in the Asian Games caused sighs and groans from Chinese reporters and Internet chatrooms.

The doll-faced Fukuhara, who has a huge fan base in the country which regards table tennis as the "national sport", came close to reaching the the women's singles final but had to settle for bronze on Saturday.

Guo Yue, ranked fourth in the world, came from two sets down to beat Fukuhara 5-11, 10-12, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 at Guangzhou Gymnasium, setting up an all-Chinese championship duel with Li Xiaoxia later on Saturday.

"I believe eighty percent of Chinese table tennis fans were hoping Fukuhara would beat Guo Yue," said Wang Zhi, an Asian Games reporter with a Beijing-based national newspaper.

"She is so cute and polite. She is the image of otherwise boring table tennis."

The 22-year-old Fukuhara, who won bronze in the women's doubles and the mixed doubles earlier in the tournament, failed at her attempt to avenge her loss to Guo in the team event last week.

"Fukuhara has won Chinese hearts not only with good looks and manners, but also with fast-attacking playing style that is very much like the Chinese traditional style," said Ke Fei, a reporter with China's Table Tennis World magazine.

Fukuhara speaks fluent mandarin with a bit northeastern accent, acquired when she played in Liaoning club with Guo Yue. She now plays for a Guangdong club.

Fukuhara is the first Japanese woman to medal in the Asian Games women's singles event since Chire Koyama, who won gold at the Hiroshima Games in 1994.

Koyama, who had won a world championship for China under her maiden name of He Zhili, switched her allegiance after missing out on the 1988 Olympic Games. In the 1994 Games, she upset Chinese top players Qiao Hong and Deng Yaping en route to the title, causing an uproar in China, where media and fans branded her as a "traitor".

Chatrooms in popular Chinese Internet portal Sina were full of sympathetic comments on Fukuhara.

"The loss of 'Porcelain Doll' took the gloss of the Asian Games table tennis tournament," wrote a netizen called "Root For Doll". "I hoped she would beat Guo Yue and finally won the championship."

"Please forgive me for forgetting national glory for a while. I really like Fukuhara and hoped she would make a kill when Guo clawed back," showed another comment.

China has ensured a clean-sweep of seven table tennis gold medals in Guangzhou.

Li Xiaoxia ousted South Korean Kim Kyung Ah in the women's semifinals on Saturday, while Chinese Wang Hao and Ma Long shut out Japanese Jun Mizutani and South Korea's Joo Sae-Hyuk respectively to set up an all-Chinese men's singles final.

"Chinese have taken away all the thrills of table tennis," said Guangdong-based reporter Song Fang. "We took seven out of seven and made the sport a boring one."

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