Following their doubles wins Monday evening, the Chinese female paddlers kept their winning streak Tuesday in the singles competition of the table tennis tournament at the 2004 Athens Olympiad, with all three players entering the last 16.
However, Sydney Olympic double champion Wang Nan and world cup singles winner Niu Jianfeng, ranked 2nd and 3rd in the world respectively, were given some real big scares by their much-lower-ranked rivals from the DPR Korea and Germany.
The highly-seeded Niu, who played her first singles match Tuesday evening though the competition had entered its third round,was unexpectedly pushed to the edge of precipice by 46th-ranked Elke Wosik as she lost the first two games by the same score of 12-14 and trailed 1-3 behind the German in the first four games.
Fortunately, the German seemed to have lost her control of the match all of a sudden, and allowed Niu to stage a miraculous comeback and win 4-3.
"It was a very difficult match for me. It's all blank in my head and please don't ask me anything," said a pale-faced Niu after the match.
"Niu has played too soft in the opening games and that gave theGerman a great chance," commented Lu Yuansheng, coach of the Chinese women 's team.
Wosik, who wept after the match probably for having missed a great opportunity to produce the biggest upset so far in the tournament, said that she lost the last three games because her physical strength could no longer afford such an intense match.
"But I think I have proved that I can play equal with the world's top paddlers," she said.
In her encounter with 51st-ranked Kim Yun Mi of the DPR Korea, Wang Nan found it hard to get into her best form quickly and also seemed to be troubled by her opponent's perfect defense and powerful counterattacks. It was not until the fourth game, when she was already 1-2 down, that Wang came to her real self and took the next three games in a row to win 4-2.
Wang's career reached its lowest ebb in 2002 after she lost two crucial matches to the DPR Koreans in the team final at the Busan Asiad. However, she managed to restore her past glory by taking three titles in women's singles, women's doubles and mixed doublesat the Paris world championships the next year.
In another third round match played on Tuesday morning, China'sworld No.1 Zhang Yining, who had been drawn to the different half,crushed New Zealand veteran player Li Chunli 4-0 with little difficulty.
"I played much better today than in yesterday's doubles match. I had been nervous in my first match in the tournament, but today I feel much more relaxed," said Zhang.
The 42-year-old Li, the eldest female player in the Olympic tournament who had played for China in the prime time of her career, attracted much media attention after she claimed Monday that she would turn out to be the winner in the match with Zhang.
After Tuesday's matches, Asian players have assumed an overwhelming dominance in the last 16 of women's singles, with three seats each for China and Japan, two each for Chinese Hong Kong, Singapore and the DPR Korea, and one for South Korea.
The Europeans only have three representatives in the next round,namely Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarussia, Tamara Boros of Croatia and Adriana Zamfir of Romania.
(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2004)