Chinese women advance to table tennis semifinals
BEIJING (AP) The Beijing Olympics are China's games, and the table tennis team seems to want to put an exclamation mark on that statement, the way they're dominating their national sport.
Top-ranked Zhang Yining of China outclassed her opponent on Thursday despite not being able to play with her normal paddle, setting up a semifinal round that will include all three Chinese players.
Meanwhile, the United States' best showing ever in Olympic table tennis, thanks to a veteran of the Chinese national team who became an American citizen two years ago, came to an end with Wang Chen's loss.
Wang had clinched her spot in the quarterfinals earlier in the day after defeating South Korea's Kim Kyung-ah of South Korea 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 10-12, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5. After the final point in that game, Wang fell to her knees and burst into tears.
"I'm in the quarterfinals, it's a dream come true," she said. "I was very emotional."
However, the 34-year-old Wang could not match up with her quarterfinal opponent, Singapore's Li Jia Wei, who is seven years younger and ranked sixth in the world. She lost 15-13, 11-6, 12-10, 13-15, 11-4.
"In terms of energy I couldn't keep up. This morning wore me out and I didn't sleep this afternoon and I felt so tired," said Wang, who is ranked 23rd. "I think if I could have played this game tomorrow I could have done better."
Previously, the best finish for the U.S. was when Gao Jun reached the round of 32 in singles and doubles at the Athens Games.
All three players on the Chinese team advanced into the semifinals. The hosts are guaranteed of at least two medals, although China's dominance throughout the tournament suggests a sweep is a distinct possibility.
Zhang beat Feng Tianwei of Singapore despite an umpire's ruling that she could not play with her normal paddle because it did not meet regulations.
The problem might have had something to do with the thickness of the sponge layer in the paddle, Zhang said. She blamed the thin margins in the score, 13-11, 12-14, 14-12, 12-10, 13-11, on her backup paddle, which she said is smaller and difficult to hit with.
"When I came onto the court and saw it was my backup paddle, my heart almost stopped," Zhang said.
Feng attacked fiercely throughout the match and had Zhang in the uncharacteristic position of playing on the defensive and making errors like hitting the ball out of bounds. High-speed rallies had spectators shouting "piao liang!" (beautiful!) as the ball whipped between the four corners of the table.
Zhang's dominance stems in part from her stoicism during matches. When she won the third game, the crowd roared and coach Shi Zhihao jumped out of his chair pumping his arms. But Zhang calmly put her paddle on the table and walked to the bench for a drink of water.
China's Wang Nan defeated Hong Kong's Tie Yana 4-1 later Thursday, while Guo Yue beat Wu Xue of the Dominican Republic 4-0. Wu also made history Thursday by reaching the quarterfinals, the best result ever for a table tennis athlete from the tiny Caribbean nation.
Zhang will play Singapore's Li in the semifinals, while Wang and Guo will meet in the other match. Li, the only player preventing an all-China medal ceremony, lost 3-1 to Zhang during a singles match in the earlier team event.
In men's singles, the three Chinese players won easily and advanced to the quarterfinals. The top threats to the Chinese, world No. 5 Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and No. 6 Timo Boll of Germany, were eliminated during the round of 16 on Thursday night.
Also out of the medal race was defending gold medalist Ryu Seung-min of South Korea, who dropped out after losing in the round of 32 to Hong Kong's Ko Lai Chak. Ryu has had a disappointing performance at the Beijing Olympics, losing five of his eight singles matches in the team competition.
"Even though there has not been a great deal of pressure on me, I have met many strong players in this tournament," Ryu said.