OVTCHAROV: My big goal is a medal in the team and in the singles event
OVTCHAROV and SAMSONOV are expected to face off each other as early as the quarterfinals
Second seeded in the men's singles event, reigning Olympic Champion ZHANG Jike (CHN) has ended up with a tough draw to defend his title at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The world number four have been drawn to the same half of the draw as CHEN Chien-An (TPE), Stefan FEGERL (AUT) and Dimitrij OVTCHAROV (GER), all of whom have beaten him on the international stage over the past year. World number nine Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR) who has also defeated ZHANG in the past, falls in the same half as well.
Best friends off court, and teammates at the Russian League, current and former European Champions OVTCHAROV and SAMSONOV are also expected to face off each other as early as the quarterfinals. The legendary SAMSONOV commented: "OVTCHAROV and I are best friends, and we are teammates as well, we know each other very well. But it's competition, so we will all do our best to fight for a medal here."
The German men's team have won medals in the past two Olympic Games where the team event was held, but Rio will not be easy for them as they will face the strong team of Chinese Taipei led by world number seven CHUANG Chih-Yuan, followed by the winner of Austria and Portugal, both of which defeated them in the past two European Champions to claim Team Champions.
"My expectations were high last Olympics. I was the eighth seed but if the draw was not on my side, it would have been tough. I was lucky with the draw, I only had opponents I could beat and I took my chances. This time I have the same expectations, but better seeding. I'll have to play a top Chinese player at the earliest at the semi- final stage. There's a lot of strong players from the beginning but my big goal is a medal in the team and in the singles event, but the pressure is more on me than four years ago, of course."
On his Germany teammate Timo BOLL:
"Timo is a few years older now, the last years I've been able to beat him quite often but he's still very strong. Everything that he did for German table tennis, in his best times he gave Europe and the rest of the world hope you can beat China. I am lucky to have him in my team and I have learned a lot from him."
On whether he voted for BOLL in the competition to determine the German flagbearer:
"I was one of the first!"
On the prospect of beating the Chinese:
"I think it would improve the confidence of the rest of the world. I mean, the Chinese have been very consistent, since 2004 they've taken all the huge titles. The Chinese are very strong but there is a lot more pressure as MA Long (CHN) has mentioned."
On the Chinese coach encouraging MA Long to drink alcohol in order to relax:
"Maybe I should try (laughs). If it works for the world No.1 it can't be too bad. To relax I prefer music and taking some walks in nature to calm down, but I'm world No.5 and he's No.1, so if it works well for him, we'll see."
Top seed and hot favourite in the women's singles event, China's DING Ning will face few of the world's best defenders on her way to securing an Olympic Gold, having LI Jie (NED) and HAN Ying (GER) in her half of the draw. In her previous encounters with LI and HAN at the 2016 World Team Championships and the 2015 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals respectively, DING had faced difficulties against both defending players, only to win by a narrow margin in the end.
DING who is known to be weaker against defenders, shared after the draw "It's going to be a test on my ability against defending players this time in Rio, and I am fully prepared for it!"
Fans are in for a treat in the women's team event, and could expect an epic clash between Germany and Japan in the semifinals. The two teams faced off each other earlier at the 2016 World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Germany first beat Japan in the group stage, but the Japanese girls came back to avenge their loss in the quarterfinals.
The Rio 2016 Olympic table tennis event will be held from 06-17 August 2016 at Riocentro Pavilion 3.