China's Zhang advances in Olympic table tennis

Aug. 20, 2008, 4:59 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Defending gold medalist Zhang Yining of China advanced easily in the women's table tennis singles competition Wednesday, needing only 25 minutes to beat Belarus' Viktoria Pavlovich in straight games.

Zhang, the top-ranked player in the world, was simply too fast for her 34th-ranked opponent. Just like she had done during the team competition, in which China won the gold, Zhang dominated with speedy returns and near-flawless execution.

"When she chops at the ball, the shots are long and have a lot of spin and she doesn't hit them high. It's difficult to hit them hard," Zhang said after the 11-7, 11-2, 11-7, 11-5 win. "It's like picking the bones out of a piece of fish, you have to be patient until you get the chance to attack."

No other country threatened China's path to the team gold, but Zhang said the singles event - where the loser of every match is eliminated - would be a challenge.

"The team competition was only a good beginning," she said. "This singles competition will be very tough. We'll definitely face some difficulties. So we can only take it one match at a time."

Zhang faces No. 12 Ai Fukuhara of Japan in the Round of 16 on Thursday. Fukuhara advanced by beating Hu Melek of Turkey 11-6, 11-8, 11-7, 9-11, 11-5.

"I have known her since I was a kid," Fukuhara said of Hu, adding they trained together on the Liaoning provincial team in China. "We are actually good friends."

The Netherlands' Li Jie and Singapore's Feng Tianwei also advanced and will face off Thursday.