China men, women sail into table tennis semis
BEIJING (AP) The top-ranked Chinese men and women sealed spots in the Olympic table tennis teams semifinals with lopsided wins Thursday.
The women advanced with an easy victory over their highest-ranked opponent so far, No. 8 Austria. The men beat Australia 3-0, then defeated Austria 3-0 in a contest where the hosts kept complete control.
The Chinese men will face South Korea in the semifinals, while Japan takes on Germany. In the women's competition, China plays Hong Kong and South Korea takes on Singapore.
"We got some practice in the group matches. It's like a single elimination competition too, because only the top team in each group can play for the gold," China's Ma Lin said. "So during every game, there was quite a bit of pressure and that will be helpful in the semifinals and finals."
Against Austria, Wang Hao defeated Chen Weixing with blistering shots, often accompanied by a loud stamp of his foot. Chen glared at Wang or shook his head in disgust, but couldn't stop smiling during the later doubles match when China's win was all but assured.
"Compared to the Chinese team, we don't have as much pressure," he said. "I think they're the strongest team. For them to win the gold, that would be routine."
Wang Liqin had been unsteady on two previous outings, but he regained his stride against Austria's Werner Schlager, who at No. 16 in the world was the highest-ranked opponent for the Chinese so far. Wang's quirky spins and tricky breaking shots left Schlager swinging repeatedly at air.
Wang, a two-time Olympic medalist, needed four close games to defeat Australia's William Henzell, ranked No. 147 in the world, earlier in the day. He also struggled in his doubles match against Greece on Wednesday.
He acknowledged 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 added he was using the rough outings as psychological training for his upcoming matches. The tactic apparently worked.
Fans were asked before the competition to remain quiet and turn off cell phones to avoid distracting the players. Still, 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 in his match against Henzell 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 of all sizes.
In the women's competition, Austria was no match for the Chinese, who won 3-0 in just 56 minutes.
Women's coach Shi Zhihao said he expected matches to get tougher in the semifinals.
"Any team that can win their groups at the Olympics are quite strong. These teams are basically China's primary opponents," Shi said. "Maybe overall China is stronger but on an individual basis, they've beaten us before in singles matches or other contests."
Four of the top men's teams - Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea - found themselves in must-win situations Thursday. 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.