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China ready to repeat gold sweep in table tennis in London

(Xinhua)

09:58, August 07, 2012

LONDON, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- With two table tennis singles gold medals in hand, China is ready to get the remaining two as both its men's and women's team have marched into the finals of London Olympic Games.

China's men's and women's teams defeated Germany and South Korea respectively on Monday, marking a step closer to another gold sweep in table tennis at the Olympic Games.

The men's semifinal was perhaps the most thrilling match China has ever staged in London. The German trio dragged China into a 156-minute match, the longest one in London for the Chinese who usually steamrolled opponents.

"I felt very nervous. There was a flicking moment that I thought we might lose the match," Liu Guoliang, head coach of the men's team, said.

Liu's worry might partly come from the below-par performance of Zhang Jike, who won the gold medal of men's table tennis singles in London four days ago.

Zhang, appearing nervous and agitated, frequently missed the balls in his match against Germany's Timo Boll. Boll, on the contrary, seemed to have recovered from his bad start in the Olympic tournament, and was firm and aggressive. He beat Zhang 3-1, putting China and Germany at 1-1 after the first two singles.

China's Ma Long defeated Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov, London Olympic bronze medalist, 3-1 in the first singles match.

Zhang's performance improved in the following doubles with the push from teammate Wang Hao. They managed to win the middle match 3-1, putting China back on a lead position. Ma secured China's victory in the fourth match against Steger 3-0.

"After he lost the singles, I told him to wash his face in the bathroom to sober up. He needs to forget the singles and adjust himself to fight for the doubles," Liu said.

Wang, who has won three Olympic single silver medals in a row from Athens 2004 to London 2012, played a key role in the doubles. He kept pushing and talking to Zhang during the match.

"I tried to give him (Zhang) as much encouragement and know-how as possible during the game. I've played in so many team competitions so I can really help the younger players in these situations," Wang said.

German coach Jorg Rosskopf said it was a pity that they had the draw to play China in the semifinals.

"There were some small chances, and we fought for it. But the Chinese team is very strong. There is long long way to go before we can beat them," he said.

China will face South Korea in the men's team final on Wednesday. South Korea beat Hong Kong, China 3-0 in the semifinals. Germany will compete with Hong Kong for the bronze medal.

In contrast to the intensity in the men's team semifinals, China's women players cruised into the final after a clean sweep in the semifinals against South Korea.

China fielded its strongest formation with newly crowned London Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia and London silver medalist Ding Ning playing the first two singles, and Guo Yue/Li playing the doubles.

The Chinese player kept an upper hand in the semifinals and won all three matches 3-0. The South Korea players didn't get the chance to win even one single game.

China will compete with Japan for the women's team gold on Tuesday.

Shi Zhihao, head coach of China's women's team, said the Japanese have made a lot of progress in the past year, especially Ai Fukuhara and Ksumi Ishikawa.

"They beat Singapore (in the semifinals) by an overall score of 3-0, and Singapore won just one game in the tie. If China played Singapore, I'm not sure we could win and lose only one game," Shi said.

"I think we need to see Japan in a new light. We are really going to have to fight hard for the gold medal," Shi said.

South Korea will compete with Singapore for the women's team bronze medal on Tuesday.

China has won 22 of 26 gold medals available since table tennis was introduced into the Olympics in 1988. Four years ago in Beijing, it took away all six medals in the men's and women's singles, plus gold in both team events.

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