By Eimi Yamamitsu
TOKYO (Reuters) - Egypt's Omar Assar lost 4-1 in a battle against defending champion Ma Long on Wednesday, but he leaves with confidence as the first paddler to storm into Olympic singles quarter-finals from his country.
At a match where oohs and aahs echoed inside a somewhat empty gymnasium, Rio singles gold medallist Ma flexed his muscle but Assar persevered, cornering his opponent with nail-biting, long rallies.
Assar, world number 43, beat the odds in the previous rounds after wins over world number 9 Mattias Falck and number 27 Chuang Chih-Yuan.
"I think these Games were very important for me," said Assar, reflecting on his overall performance at the Tokyo Games.
"I know what my strength is, what my weaknesses are. I will try now to be more confident that I can reach many balls and complete my balls at the table," he told Reuters, reflecting on his overall performance at the Tokyo Games.
Chinese victor Ma will be battling at the Olympic singles semi-final along with his compatriots Chen Meng, Fan Zhendong and Sun Yingsha.
World number one paddler Chen had to dig deep and fight back to beat Hong Kong's Doo Hoi Kem 4-2, as she bids to preserve China's undefeated record in Olympic women's singles.
"At the Olympics, until the final point, anything can happen. As long as I don't give up, I can turn it around," Chen said.
The match was interrupted several times by the umpire ordering Doo to cover a brand logo on her shorts with black tape, which kept falling off.
Doo said the distraction did not affect her play.
"I felt my performance was better compared to the last two matches that I played yesterday. I was able to exert all tactics that I had planned with my coach prior to the match, and I gave it my all," Doo told Reuters.
Sun, ranked third in the world, earned a semi-final spot with 4-0 wins in all three matches.
Japan's medal favourite Mima Ito, the biggest rival to the Chinese heavyweights, kept her run going with a confident 4-0 victory over South Korea's Jeon Jihee.
In the men's singles, Fan crushed 29-year-old South Korean Jeoung Youngsik 4-0.
"I was able to play a steady match, as I expected. I knew that it'd be a difficult match since it's against the world's top-class player who has played at the Rio Games. I made sure to prepare by making adjustments to my tactics," Fan told Reuters.
The 24-year-old said he had used unusual methods to keep motivated.
"That could sometimes be striking a pose, or talking with myself. I do things that make me feel positive on the spot," he said.
Singapore's Yu Mengyu, Taiwan's Lin Yun Ju and German paddler Dimitrij Ovtcharov will also advance to the semi-finals.
(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Stephen Coates, Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)