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Table Tennis: Men's Defending Champion Crashes Out
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South Korean defending champion Kim Taek-soo suffered a surprise 3-4 upset against energetic Chinese Taipei player Chuang Chih Yuan and crashed out of the last four of the men's singles in the 14th Asian Games table tennis tournament here Tuesday evening.

The 30-year-old veteran star, who led 3-2 in the first five games, seemed to have been worn out by the intense and prolonged match and conceded the following two games easily by 5-11 and 6-11.

"Kim was too tired as a result of the previous matches and he was also haunted by some old injuries to his shoulder," said South Korean head coach Yoo Nam-kyu following Kim's defeat.

Actually, Kim, who was in very poor shape in a series of international competitions prior to the Asian Games, had failed to give any impressive performance in almost all of his Asiad matches but for a men's doubles semifinal on Monday, in which he and young gun Oh Sang-eun stunned China's world champions Wang Liqin and Yan Sen by a quick and straight 4-0 win.

While the victory had secured the first Asiad gold for the host team, Kim and Oh lost 3-4 to their teammates Lee Chul-seung and Ryu Seung-min in Tuesday's final.

Kim, the South Korean hero who denied China a title sweep in the previous Asian Games in Bangkok, conceded the crucial first point in the team final encounter against the Chinese on Saturday.

Kim and Chuang had met once in their teams' semifinal where Kim also turned out to be the loser.

In the men's singles semifinals on Wednesday, China's world No. 1 Wang Liqin will clash with the host player Oh, who beat Chinese Taipei's Chiang Peng Lung 4-1 on Tuesday, and Chuang will play against veteran Chinese star Kong Linghui.

Wang and Kong had knocked out Chinese Hong Kong players Ko Lai Chak and Cheung Yuk respectively on Tuesday, and both matches ended 4-0 in less than half an hour.

South Korean head coach Yoo predicted after the quarterfinals that Wang and Oh were top favorites for the singles title, with Wang standing a better chance. Chinese team sources said that Wang had never lost to Oh in their past encounters. Wang also came back from one game down to beat Oh 3-2 in the men's team final.

Kong, a grand slam winner of World Cup, Olympic and world champions, was also likely to be crowned on Wednesday, Yoo added. Kong was shut out of the singles final of the previous Asiad by Kim Taek-soo.

On the women's side, Chinese team ace Wang Nan, taking some recovery from a series of heavy blows in the past few days, crushed DPR Korean Kim Hyon-hui 4-0 Tuesday afternoon to book a place in the singles semifinals.

The women's world No.1 spent about half an hour to score the straight victory against Kim, who had given Wang a humiliating 3-1 defeat in their earlier encounter in the women's team final Friday evening.

Wang, the most crowned athlete in the previous Bangkok Asian Games with 4 golds from the team, singles, doubles and mixed doubles, had conceded three of her defending titles in the past four days.

She lost two points in the team final, in which the Chinese lost 1-3 to the DPR Koreans, and was also blocked out of the finals of mixed and women's doubles events.

Wang, who had appeared totally out of form on Monday, seemed to have gained some confidence and played more resolutely in both attacking and defense.

Chinese head coach Cai Zhenhua in these days had personally served as Wang's match overseer, giving her timely advice and encouragement.

Wang will face another tough challenger, Singapore's top player and world No.10 Li Jia Wei, in Wednesday's semifinals. Li, who took out her strong rival from Chinese Hong Kong, world 11th and also mixed doubles champion at this Asiad Tie Yana 4-3 on Tuesday, had almost beaten Wang in their singles encounter in the Sydney Olympics.

The other Chinese player, World Cup holder and world No. 2 Zhang Yining, got a big scare from Japan's world 23rd Umemura Aya as the latter had taken a three-game lead shortly after their quarterfinal match started.

Fortunately, Zhang, who and her teammate Li Nan had let the women's doubles gold slip out of their hands earlier on Tuesday by conceding a 3-1 lead and finally losing 3-4 to a South Korean pair, had successfully staged a great comeback of her own and taken back four games in a row.

Zhang will face the host player Ryu Ji-hae, ranked 7th in the world, in the semifinal stage.

Despite the early exit of Kim, Tuesday still turned out to be the most celebrated day for the host players, who had made history by bagging the Asiad golds from both the men's and women's doubles events.

Their triumph assumed greater significance as they had seized both titles from China, the world's top table tennis powerhouse and a long-time arch rival of South Korea.

Meanwhile, the all-star Chinese team had suffered the worst since their participation in the Asian Games in the 1970s.

In the five already finished events, China only managed to defend its men's team title, with the other golds going to South Korea, DPR Korea and Chinese Hong Kong.

Even if the Chinese paddlers could clinch both singles crowns on Wednesday, they would still fail to attain their preset goal of going home with 4 to 5 Asiad golds.

China had never collected fewer than four table tennis golds in all previous Asian Games.

For the Chinese women's squad, which boasts an extravagant lineup with four players ranked in the world's top five, Wednesday will be their last chance to prove themselves. If they fail again to win the singles gold, they will have to leave Busan empty- handed and go home with nothing but shame and regret.

(Xinhua News Agency October 9, 2002)

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