China edges Australia in team table tennis

Aug. 14, 2008, 5:49 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) China defeated Australia in men's team table tennis 3-0 Thursday, although more unsteady play by Wang Liqin revealed a potential weak spot for a top-ranked team.

The Chinese women, meanwhile, sealed a place in the semifinals with an easy win over their highest-ranked opponent so far, No. 8 Austria.

Wang, ranked No. 4, defeated William Henzell, ranked No. 147, in four close games - 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-9. Wang seemed unable to contain his opponent, sending returns out of bounds or missing shots.

The two-time Olympic medalist also struggled in his doubles match against Greece on Wednesday.

He acknowledges the pressure of meeting the immense expectations of the Chinese public, which will be satisfied only with gold medals.

"The Olympics isn't any ordinary competition - there's definitely more pressure," said Wang, who tried to draw some encouragement from his rough outing.

"I didn't play to my full potential, but it was good training for me psychologically," he said. "When I was behind 1-0, and even when I was trailing in the second game, to be able to come back from that, psychologically, that was good for me. I think it'll be helpful for the upcoming games."

Fans were asked before the competition to remain quiet and turn off cell phones to avoid distracting the players. Spectators in the mostly full stadium rallied behind Wang, particularly when he trailed Henzell 7-1.

Shouts of "Go Wang Liqin" reverberated through the 6,200-seat gymnasium, which was built especially for table tennis. When Wang went ahead 11-10 after a rally in which players took big swings at the ball, he let out a shout and threw up his fists, prompting fans to scream and wave Chinese flags.

In the women's competition, Austria was no match for the Chinese, who won 3-0 in just 56 minutes. Singapore also advanced to the semis, with a 3-0 win over the Netherlands. The U.S. and Austria advanced to the bronze medal round.

The Chinese women will play Japan, South Korea or Hong Kong in the semifinals, all frequent opponents.

"Any team that can win their groups at the Olympics are quite strong. These teams are basically China's primary opponents," women's coach Shi Zhihao said. "Maybe overall China is stronger but on an individual basis, they've beaten us before in singles matches or other contests."

Meanwhile, four of the top men's teams - Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea - found themselves in must-win situations. While there had been little doubt about the outcome of China's contests, the crowd was spellbound by the tense face-offs involving the regional rivals.

South Korea's Ryu Seung-min, the defending singles gold medalist, went point-for-point with world No. 10 Chuan Chih-yuan during the last game of their singles match. The fans tuned out the Chinese women who were playing a couple tables over, and started chanting "Go Taipei!" while madly waving the flag of mainland China.

At one point Ryu jumped straight into the air with both feet off the ground to return a shot. He dived to the floor in a failed effort to save the ball on the last play. Chuan won the game 19-17, and began jumping up and down, yelling and pumping his fists.

At the opposite end of the gym, Hong Kong and Japanese players leapt and swung their paddles wildly. Many spectators were so excited they couldn't stay in their seats and shouts of "Jia You!" (Go!) and "Hao!" (Yes!) rained down on the rectangular playing area from all sides.

"I didn't hear anything during the match," Chuan said. "I didn't have time to listen to anything, I was thinking about strategy."

In the end, Japan beat Hong Kong 3-0 to advance to the semis. South Korea advanced with a 3-1 win over Taiwan.

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