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Chinese Pair Enter Men's Doubles Semifinals
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Chinese pair Ma Lin and Chen Qi came back from one game down to beat their Polish rivals 4-1 and secure a place for China in men's doubles last 4 in the table tennis tournament of the 2004 Olympic Games here Thursday afternoon.

Ma and Chen, who conceded their opening game 8-11 despite a 6-1lead, displayed an adorable fighting spirit to crush Polish duo Lucjan Blaszczyk/Tomasz Krzeszewski in the following four games 11-6, 11-6, 12-10 and 11-7.

"After losing the first game, I felt great pressure," admitted Ma Lin, who had suffered a major upset from Swedish veteran Jan-Ove Waldner, who shut Ma out of the quarterfinals of men's singles with a 4-1 victory Wednesday evening.

"Fortunately we calmed down quickly and displayed our true capabilities in the following games," said Ma, ranked world No.2 in singles and a top favorite for singles gold before his Wednesday loss.

"It was crucial that we came back from 7-10 down in the fourth game and win 12-10. This had hit hard on our opponent's self-confidence," he added.

Chinese head coach Liu Guoliang looked much relieved when he walked out of the competition venue, the Galatsi Olympic Hall in northwest Athens. Coaching the Chinese men's team for just less than two years, the 28-year-old Liu, a "grand slam" winner of singles titles at world championships, world cup tournament and the Olympic Games, also came under much pressure as three of his best players crashed out of the Olympic tournament in one single day.

Waldner and his old pal Jorgen Persson successfully stopped their long-time rival, Chinese veteran Kong Linghui and his young partner Wang Hao from going further in men's doubles with a 4-1 win Wednesday afternoon. The Swedish table tennis legend dealt a second blow on the powerful Chinese in the evening by disqualifying Ma in the singles.

"I'm glad that Ma could shake off the shadow of yesterday's defeat so quickly and play very well in today's doubles match," commented Liu.

"I think he will concentrate on the doubles now and fight for the best result," he added.

However, the Chinese coach also conceded that with only one pair of players left in the last four, it had become "very difficult" for the Chinese, who played an all-Chinese doubles final in Sydney 2000, to defend their title.

Liu also praised the 20-year-old Chen for his excellent performance at his first Olympic Games.

"I think he wasn't bothered by the tense atmosphere and loud noises on the court at all, and he was always bold and resolute in attacks," said Liu. "This is really good for a young player like him."

The Chinese pair will play Michael Maze/Finn Tugwell of Denmarkin a semifinal match scheduled for Friday morning.

With a 4-1 win, the young Danish pair had prevented Waldner and Persson, 39 and 38 years old respectively, from fulfilling their wish to take one medal in the doubles event.

Despite a large crowd of European supporters cheering him on with much enthusiasm, Waldner, who might have used up his good luck in his Wednesday matches against China, played a bit tensely and even failed to convert a 10-6 lead into a winning game in the fifth and last game of the match.

With a disappointed look, the Swede left the court with a stern face and didn't answer any questions from the press.

The Swede still had a chance for medal in the singles, but he needs to beat European champion Timo Boll in the quarterfinals first.

Both the Chinese players and their coach Liu said they were unfamiliar with their next rivals from Denmark.

"Ma and Chen never played them before," said Liu."But we will stick to our game plan and tactics and give full play to our own advantages."

In the other two quarterfinal matches, South Korea's medal favorites Lee Chul Seung and Ryu Seung Min suffered a 4-1 upset from Russians Dimitrij Mazunov and Alexei Smirnov. However, Chinese Hong Kong's Li Ching and Ko Lai Chak overwhelmed Slobodan Grujic/Aleksandra Karakasevic of Serbia and Montenegro 4-1 to set up another Asian-European clash in the semifinals.
(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2004)

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