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Chinese paddlers set to rule again

Robert Woodward | August 04, 2004 14:41 IST

China won every table tennis gold medal in Sydney and Atlanta plus a clutch of silvers, and there is no reason to believe this domination will end in Athens.

However, after winning the world title last year, Austrian Werner Schlager could cause an upset in the men's singles where European players can match, if not beat, the best from Asia.

Schlager beat Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea in the world final after downing 2000 Olympic champion Kong Linghui of China in the semi-finals, in the process depriving Kong of automatic qualification for Athens.

China underlined their strength by providing the finalists in every other men's and women's event at the 2003 worlds.

Each nation is allowed only three entries and China, with so many to choose from, left out Kong from the squad for the Asian zone qualifiers. Ma Lin and Wang Liqin qualified directly for the Games in the men's singles and Wang Hao came through the qualifying competition.

Kong has qualified in the doubles alongside Wang Hao and Ma will also play, with Chen Qi. Kong won a doubles silver in Sydney, the fourth Olympics since table tennis was included.

In the women's singles it is difficult to see anything but a Chinese win. Top seed Zhang Yining and double Olympic gold medallist Wang Nan qualified directly while Niu Jianfeng won her place through the qualifiers.

Wang Nan won the singles in Sydney and the doubles gold with Li Ju. China won the women's world team title 3-0 over Hong Kong in March with Zhang Yining, Wang Nan and Guo Yue who will play doubles with Niu in Athens.

NEW RULES

Under new rules in Athens, each country's two doubles pairings must play in the same half of the draw, thus ruling out the all-Chinese finals seen in both the men's and women's doubles in the 1996 and 2000 Games.

Korea, the only other country to win a women's Olympic gold, and Hong Kong are likely to pose the greatest threat to China.

Schlager was injured late last year before returning to reach the final of the Egypt Pro Tour event in May when he was beaten by Korean Ryu Seung Min, seeded third in Athens.

Germany's Tim Boll, the European champion in singles and doubles in 2002, could also pose a threat.

Table tennis has undergone many changes since the last Olympics. Games are now won with 11 points rather than 21, and matches are best of seven games rather than best of five.

Service changes after every two points instead of five. The size of the ball has also increased to 40 millimetres from 38, slowing down its speed and spin.

Another innovation is a rule which makes the serve an open affair. The server must have the ball resting on the palm of his hand and it can then only be thrown vertically without spin, before being hit.

In the past, players serving tried to hide the ball as much as possible so that the spin could not be read by the receiver.

The ball and service rule changes were introduced to encourage rallies and all three innovations are intended to make the game more exciting for spectators.


Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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