Chinese paddlers Wang Nan and ZhangYining beat their teammates Guo Yue/Niu Jianfeng 4-2 to enter the women's doubles final of the table tennis tournament of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games here Thursday morning.
In a rather close match that lasted about 40 minutes in the Galatsi Olympic Hall in northwest Athens, Wang and Zhang, ranked 2nd and 1st respectively in singles in the world, defeated the world-3rd and 4th-ranked Niu and Guo 11-7, 13-11, 9-11, 13-11, 6-11 and 13-11.
They are set to meet a pair of South Koreans, who had turned the other semifinal match into their domestic affair. The second semifinal match was still in progress by press time.
"We are quite familiar with each other after training together in the team for a long time. For some period we had lost more, but we have taken more victories in recent training matches," said Wang, Sydney Olympics double gold medalist who bagged the golds for both singles and doubles.
The loss also shattered the dream of Niu, winner of singles title in last year's pro tour finals, and her young partner Guo, who had hoped to bring "at least one Olympic gold" home.
Niu, who also played singles in this tournament, was eliminated by DPR Korean Kim Hyang Mi Wednesday evening in a singles last 16 playoff.
"I played in a quite relaxed manner today," said Niu after losing the doubles match. "There is nothing to regret as I have tried my best."
"We lost this match mainly because a serious lack of experience," said the 16-year-old Guo, who is the second youngest player in this Olympic tournament only months elder than Japan's Fukuhara Ai.
"I will learn from them (Wang and Zhang) and train even harder to prepare myself for the next Olympics," claimed Guo.
Guo became the youngest women's world champion after playing the team event in the 2004 Doha world championships. She is widely regarded as a star of hope and the would-be anchor of the Chinese women's team at the 2008 Beijing Olympiad.
The Chinese, who had repeatedly turned Olympic doubles finals into all-Chinese affairs, were denied the opportunity to do it again as the new Olympic draw rules stipulate two pairs from the same association be drawn to the same half.
"We knew the rule changes quite some time ago, and we have been well prepared for it," said Wang.
"Both pairs of the South Koreans are very strong, and it's gonna be a really tough match no matter which pair we meet in the final," said Zhang. "But we still have the confidence to win."
Both Wang and Zhang, then paired up with different teammates, had suffered a bitter defeat to South Koreans Lee Eun Sil/Seok EunMi at the 2002 Busan Asian Games, and the South Korean duo finally took away the doubles gold.
By press time, the Lee/Seok pair was leading their teammates Kim Bok Rae/Kim Kyung Ah 2-0.
It is very important for the Chinese, who had come to Athens in pursuit of another clean sweep of all table tennis golds as they did at the previous two Games, to win the women's doubles, which offers the first gold of the tournament.
(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2004)