BEIJING (AP) Singapore advanced to the gold medal match of the women's table tennis team event on Friday, outlasting South Korea 3-2 in a tense semifinal highlighting their opposite styles of play.
The aggressive Singaporeans tried repeatedly 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.
Singapore, ranked No. 2 in the team event, will face the winner of the China-Hong Kong contest to be played later Friday. The finals are Sunday.
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. Liu, the older brother of China coach Liu Guoliang, later bent his head down and kissed the table.
The win guarantees at least a silver medal for the tiny city-state of 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."
The closest match in the afternoon contest featured the best players on the two 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, 5-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9. She raised both fists after scoring the last point, then crumpled to the ground in relief.
The final match, which determined who would battle for gold and who would end up with bronze at best, pitted Park against attacking player Feng Tianwei.
The Korean made spectacular saves but was ultimately unable to contain Feng, whose expertly placed shots had Park chasing slams that bounced 10 feet past the table then scurrying forward as the next return dribbled just over the net. Feng won 7-11, 10-12, 11-3, 9-11.
No. 4 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. Japan was also in the running after beating Austria 3-0 and will play the loser of China-Hong Kong.
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 the China-South Korea. Austria defeated Croatia and will play the loser of Japan-Germany.