Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 20 News List

China expecting to clean up again

AFP , PARIS

Taiwanese pair Lu Yun-feng, back left, and Wu Chih-chi, back right, play against Korean pair Suk Eun-mi, front right, and Ryu Seung-min in a qualifying round of the mixed doubles at the Table Tennis World Championships at Bercy Hall in Paris on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

The waiting was over at Bercy arena yesterday as the stars that had been patiently practising in the wings were to take center stage on day three of the Table Tennis World Championships.

With two days of qualifying over, the real business was to begin with the sport's superpower, China, issuing a stark warning to those seeking to end their domination of this event.

China walked away with a clean sweep of gold medals at the last two world championships in Osaka and Eindhoven, and were only prevented from a similar feat at Manchester in 1997 by Swede Jan-Ove Waldner.

Hen Hua, one of the managers masterminding the Chinese assault on this year's tournament, said: "Winning everything again is certainly possible, we're very well prepared.

"We've spent the last two months at a special training camp back home, and all our players are in good shape. Everything's gone well in France."

Three of the main bricks in the Chinese wall among the men are reigning champion Wang Liqin, Olympic gold medalist Kong Linghui, and world number two Ma Lin.

Hua did not hesitate when asked to name the biggest obstacles between China and gold in the men's singles.

"Boll and Samsonov," he said, referring to number one seed Timmo Boll from Germany who stunned the Chinese by taking the World Cup from under their noses last November, and Belarus' recently crowned European champion Vladamir Samsonov, the world No 3.

Hua however did offer a few crumbs of comfort to China's adversaries: "With sets now reduced to 11 points it means players who don't get off to a quick start could find themselves in trouble. It could also count against a player if they're just having an off day."

The Chinese women are expected to lift gold in the singles -- no European has managed to break Asia's dominance in this division since Romanian Angelica Rozeanu brought up her six-timer in 1955.

Reigning champion Wang Nan should barely need to get out of first gear to overcome Portugal's Vania Carvalho, 357 rungs below her on the rating's ladder as she embarks on a journey that she hopes will result in a hat trick of singles' medals at the world championships.

World number one Zhang Yining has an equally soft match-up against Chilean qualifier, Silvia Morel, while China's third best player (and by definition third best in the world) Niu Jianfeng, may be given slightly more to do by Croatia's Sandra Paovic.

Guo Yue, who turns 15 in July, is the child prodigy of the Chinese contingent, her victory at the Austrian Open last year making her the youngest player ever to win a professional title.

The exciting left hander is seeded ninth and takes up arms for the first time in a world championships against the 232-ranked Slovenian, Martina Safran.

Tuesday's second day of final qualifying was marred by the intrusion of an unwanted guest as politics entered the fray with the boycotting of an Israeli player by Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Hani Al-Hammadi from Yemen and Saudi player Nabeel Al-Maghahwi refused to play against Israel's Gay Elensky, sparking a strongly worded protest to the event's organizers from the head of the Israeli delegation.

Al-Hammadi and Al-Maghahwi had to explain their action before the championship's disciplinary committee yesterday.

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