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September 24, 2000
Waldner reaches TT final in last Olympics
Veteran Swede Jan-Ove Waldner kept alive his hopes of regaining the Olympic table tennis men's singles title with an emotional semifinal victory on Sunday.
In the eagerly-anticipated showdown between the 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions, Waldner beat China's defending champion Liu Guoliang 21-19, 21-16, 21-19.
The gold medallist in Barcelona in 1992 produced an inspired performance against the victor in Atlanta in 1996 to win in 39 minutes.
It brought immediate congratulations from King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, who had cheered on every point Waldner had gained at the State Sports Centre.
The win set up another Sweden-China confrontation in the final between Waldner and Kong Linghui, who had overcome Jorgen Persson in the first semifinal.
But for Liu it was an immense disappointment following on from the loss the previous day with Kong of their Olympic men's doubles title.
Although Waldner triumphed over the third-seeded Liu in straight games, every one was tight until the Swede edged ahead late on.
The victory was particularly merited after the exhausting nature of the 34-year-old Waldner's epic quarter-final comeback a day earlier.
The number five seed recovered from two games down against Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus to eliminate the second seed in five games.
"These two days have been very special for me" said Waldner afterwards. "I thought I was out of the competition and now I am in the final.
"The support of the crowd and the Swedish royal family was very important to me. But my goal is to win this tournament.
"I believed before the tournament that I had a chance to win it, and now it is a real possibility.
"The big tournament finals are always 50-50, always open. Both players who reach the final have to be very good to have got there.
"You must be very motivated to win. I have won all the big titles but I still have a great desire to win the Olympics again."
However, Waldner, who has confirmed that this will be his last Olympics, admitted that he is nursing a rib injury from the Samsonov encounter.
And Kong, the top seed in Sydney, will be difficult to beat if he maintains the form he showed in defeating Persson.
The 1995 world champion beat the 1991 world champion 21-12, 13-21, 21-16, 21-13 as he justified his position as pre-event favourite for the Sydney gold medal.
"I am happy to be in the final and confident of winning the gold medal" commented Kong. "But I would have preferred to be facing my team-mate Liu.
"That would have guaranteed our nation the Olympic title. But still if I win China will have all four table tennis gold medals, so that is an extra motivation."
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