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China's table tennis team faces tough draw

(Xinhua)

11:00, July 27, 2012

LONDON, July 25 (Xinhua) -- China's table tennis team will face strong resistance in its gold quest in London as Wednesday's draws showed that Chinese paddlers may come up early against strong rivals.

China's top seeded player Zhang Jike will have to take Belarus' veteran player Vladimir Samsonov in the fourth round before meeting either Hong Kong's Jiang Tianyi or South Korea's Joo Saehyuk in the quarter-finals.

His likely opponent in semifinals is Japan's Jun Mizutani. Mizutani is No. 3 seed and, after winning Pro Tour events this year in Kuwait and Japan, has risen to career high of No. 5 in the world rankings, the only non-Chinese among the top five. Young and aggressive, Mizutani is a strong contender for the gold medal.

In another half of the draw of men's singles, China's No. 2 seed, twice Olympic silver medallist Wang Hao, will have to take Germany's Timo Boll, in order to make into the finals. An Olympic veteran, Boll is seen as the biggest threat to China's dominance in the sport in London.

In the women's singles, likely opponents for China's top seed Ding Ning include Japan's star player Ai Fukuhara, Singpore's Feng Tianwei and South Korea's Kim Kyungah. The player most likely to challenge Ding is Kim, whose textbook defensive skills and mental fortitude made her a serious contender for the Olympic gold.

Commenting on the draws, head coach of China's men's team Liu Guoliang said there are no such things as good or bad draws to the Chinese team. "We are not afraid of any team. As long as we play well, the draws won't have much impact on us."

Liu said after the draws, trainings will be more targeted and players will have their first sniff of competition.

He said he expects fierce battles for Chinese players in the Games as they were the targets of all teams. "We are now focusing on our first match. The first match is the most difficult. The most important thing to us is to keep our pace and get well-tuned for the competition."

In the Olympic Games, singles events will follow a knockout format. Players ranked 1-16 will qualify directly to the third round, those ranked 17-32 to the second round, and those ranked 33 to the total number of participants will qualify to the first or preliminary rounds.

Sixteen teams will compete in the team events. In the men's team events, China has to beat Germany in order to enter the finals. Runner-up in the Beijing 2008, the German team has been the biggest rival of the Chinese men's team over the years.

In the women's side, battles may not be as fierce in the early rounds for China. Major opponent, Beijing Olympic silver medalist Singapore, successfully avoided China. It will not encounter China until finals. China will open its campaign against Spain and its likely semifinals opponent is South Korea.

The team competition will also be played in a knockout format. The 16 participating teams were drawn into round one and progress to the finals. Therefore, to have a good draw is relatively more important.

Yao Zhenxu, technical delegate of the International Table Tennis Federation, said some teams have had an in-depth study of the competition format and successfully avoided meeting China in the early rounds.

Citing South Korea as an example, Yao said the country's men's team accumulated enough points to surpass Germany as No. 2 in world rankings by actively participating in Pro Tour events and thus successfully avoided China in semifinals.

China enters the table tennis competition in London as the defending champion in all four events. It won all eight possible medals in Beijing, sweeping the podium in men's and women's singles and winning both team events.

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