Singapore, China to meet in table tennis finals

Aug. 15, 2008, 9:57 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) For the Chinese, breezing into the gold medal round of the table tennis team event was just business as usual. For Singapore, cinching the city-state's first Olympic medal in decades required an emotional showdown that took all afternoon.

No. 2 Singapore outlasted No. 4 South Korea 3-2 Friday in the tense semifinal that highlighted their opposite playing styles. Meanwhile, the heavily favored Chinese squad rolled over Hong Kong 3-0 in a contest that was over so fast the fans hardly had time to warm up their seats. The finals are Sunday.

The home team is so dominant that Hong Kong's Tie Yana began laughing when asked if she could name China's weaknesses. "Weaknesses?" she said, scrunching up her nose. "Hard to say."

The matchup between Singapore and South Korea was much more competitive. The aggressive Singaporeans tried to win points with high speed returns whizzing with topspin, while South Korea's Kim Kyung-ah and Park Mi-young - the world's top defensive players - countered with backspin-heavy chops that seemed to float across the net.

After Singapore's Feng Tianwei won the final point in the 3½-hour contest, she jumped in the air as coach Liu Guodong ran onto the floor and squeezed her in his arms. He later kissed the table.

The win guarantees at least a silver medal for tiny Singapore, whose last Olympic medal was a silver in weightlifting in 1960.

"We haven't won a medal in 48 years. I've been anticipating this match since the Athens Olympics," Singapore's Li Jia Wei said. "For us to get the finals, we feel like we've already done really well. China is definitely stronger than us and all we can do is compete."

"Besides the Chinese, we're the next best team," her coach added.

Top-ranked China was all business Friday night, shutting down No. 3 Hong Kong in just over 50 minutes without giving up a single game.

The matchup was so lopsided that the Beijing Olympics panda mascot was brought out in the middle of the contest to dance to a remix of the "Beverly Hills Cop" theme song, apparently to make the evening last just a tiny bit longer for the thousands of flag-waving fans.

"You could say it was a little easier than we thought," China's Guo Yue said modestly, without a drop of sweat on her face. "Lin Ling and I have played many times before and I've never lost, so I was really confident going up against her. I think we played reasonably well."

The closest match in the semifinal round featured the best players of the South Korean and Singapore teams - No. 11 Kim and No. 6 Li. The pair strung together numerous long rallies that were cheered by the pro-Singapore crowd, who pounded inflatable thundersticks and rattled plastic abacuses.

Li tested Kim's tactic of patiently returning shots with a chop and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake. The Singaporean would maintain the slow pace for a few volleys, then abruptly change speeds and stab at the ball with a forehand.

Kim won in five games. She raised both fists after scoring the last point, then crumpled to the ground in relief.

South Korea will play in the bronze medal round against the United States, which defeated Romania 3-1 earlier in the day to keep its medal hopes alive. Hong Kong will meet Japan, a 3-0 winner over Austria.

In the first-round bronze medal competition on the men's side, Hong Kong eliminated Taiwan and will go on to play the loser of China-South Korea. Austria defeated Croatia and will play the loser of Japan-Germany.

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