China dominates as team table tennis matches begin

Aug. 13, 2008, 1:05 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The boisterous home fans got exactly what they wanted - big wins by China. From here, it gets tougher.

The top-ranked Chinese women's table tennis squad defeated Croatia and the Dominican Republic on Wednesday by scores of 3-0 in the best-of-five format made up, potentially, of four singles and a doubles. The Chinese men had a few anxious moments against Greece, dropping two games in their 3-0 win.

Up next for the women is No. 8 Austria on Thursday, China's highest-ranked opponent yet.

"Yes, it's going to be tougher. The games are going to get harder and harder," Zhang said.

The wins over Croatia and the Dominican Republic set up a likely second-round matchup against No. 3 Hong Kong or No. 4 South Korea, although the players - the best in the world - were not taking anything for granted.

"I don't differentiate between strong and weak opponents. I play each game like it's a final," said Zhang Yining, who won gold in singles and doubles in Athens. "If you're not prepared and ready for a challenge you'll find yourself in a bad situation."

The team gave up only one game all day, against Croatia when Wang Nan defeated Andrea Bakula 10-12, 11-5, 11-4, 11-9.

"I played many good matches last year, year and a half, against the Chinese," Bakula said. "I always win one set. Always play one or two more close. But in the end, you know, they are tough in the head and it's quite difficult with them."

When Wang fell behind 4-0 in her first game, the crowd chanted "Wang Nan Jia You!" or "Go Wang Nan!" until she scored.

Table tennis is the national sport of China, which faces immense expectations of winning gold.

Though the Chinese men also are expected to win the team competition, beginning with group matches that include contests against Austria and Australia, they trailed several times behind a determined Greek side.

"Definitely there was some pressure," said world No. 1 Wang Hao. But he said the friendly crowd helped the team's performance. "We're on the home court so everyone wants us to get a good result."

At one point, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin were down 10-1 in the doubles game against Ntaniel Tsiokas and Panagiotis Gionis. The crowd's chants of "Go China!" practically shook the gymnasium. Greece ended up winning that game 11-9.

When the Chinese bounced back to take the third game, the audience waved their arms and Chinese flags.

Wang Liqin was shaky during his appearance, sending several key returns out of bounds or into the net. He brushed off suggestions that he might feel under pressure.

"I think I played pretty normally because I still haven't completely adjusted to this competition," Wang said. "And in the first game I didn't have a good grasp of their spin ... but toward the end it was better."

Though the audience was dominated by Chinese fans, they applauded for exciting rallies on any of the eight tables where games were being played simultaneously. At one point, the crowd shouted "Waah!" repeatedly as Japan's Jun Mizutani and Nigeria's Segun Toriola traded shots while standing 10 feet back from the table.

The U.S. women's team, ranked No. 9 in the Olympic tournament, was unable to keep up with No. 2 Singapore. Gao Jun, who won a silver medal for China at the Barcelona Games before immigrating to the United States, had several long rallies with Wang Yue Gu but lost her match 3-1.

The Americans later beat the Netherlands in a contest so intense that Dutch player Elena Timina tumbled to the ground several times during the doubles match. With the Chinese team long gone and the gymnasium half empty, flag-waving American fans started a few robust chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A!"

The Chinese fans cheered tirelessly throughout the sessions, switching to "Go Hong Kong!" and "Go Taipei!" after the home team had finished. But they got a bit impatient as the Hong Kong-Russia matchup stretched past the two hour mark. "Go Hong Kong!" one man yelled just after 12:30 p.m. "It's time for lunch!"