Tough draws for Japan, South Korea in table tennis

Aug. 07, 2008, 7:46 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The top-ranked Chinese men and women aren't expected to face stiff competition during the first round of team table tennis at the Beijing Olympics, though other strong squads such as South Korea and Japan will have a tougher road to the playoff rounds.

The draw held Thursday for the first ever team event in Olympic table tennis placed the Chinese men in Group A with Austria, Greece and Australia. The Chinese women are in Group A with Austria, Croatia and the Dominican Republic.

Although China has the world's best players, team manager Huang Biao refused to look past the first round.

"For the Chinese team, the drawing is the beginning, not the result," he said. "The competitors are ones we know well, and they're strong."

There are only three players on China's opposing teams who crack the world top 20, led by Werner Schlager of Austria at No. 16. It will be difficult for anyone to beat China in the team competition, played in a best-of-five format with four singles matches and one doubles match.

The competition is more evenly matched in the women's Group D, where Kim Kyung Ah, a bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Games, leads the South Korean squad and the 12th-ranked Ai Fukuhara plays for Japan.

South Korea and Taiwan face off in the men's Group C, while Hong Kong and Japan are likely to battle for the top spot in Group D.

The table tennis team event replaces the doubles competition. The event begins with a round-robin stage, with group winners advancing to a knockout stage for the gold and silver medal matches. The second-place team in each group and the semifinal losers play for bronze.