Defending Olympic singles champion Ryu Seung-min might have let his fans down after failing to lead South Korea into the men's table tennis team final of the Beijing Olympic Games.
Ryu, the hero in the minds of South Koreans, said Saturday that he was under great pressure to play well in the team event but did not succeed in bringing out his best.
"I am in a better form at the tournament goes on. But the pressure to do well has affected my performance," Ryu said.
After days of intensive battle on the table tennis court at Peking University Gymnasium, only China and Germany remain for the final.
Ryu, in his rematch with Wang Hao on the Olympic court, appeared more on a defensive side and could not withstand Wang's skillful serves and returns, losing 7-11, 11-6, 9-11, 6-11.
Four years ago in Athens, Ryu beat the then rising star Wang in the final to clinch the most coveted singles title, a defeat that China smarted over time and again.
Since table tennis was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1988, Chinese paddlers have raked in 16 out of 20 gold medals on offer.
But Ryu, known for his fast footwork and explosive forehand loops, has rarely beaten Wang Hao in their numerous encounters since the Athens Olympics.
"I have maintained a fairly stable form since the pre-Olympic training started one month ago, " Wang Hao said in July. "I used to have myself injuried in the trainning, but not this time".
Ryu, who turned 26 on Aug. 5, failed to live up to his top billing in clashes with several lower-ranked players in Beijing tournament.
He had a hard time against veteran Li Ching when South Korea fought Hong Kong, China for a berth for the bronze medal play-off on Sunday. Being tied 2-all on set, Ryu did not hold off a supercharged Li Ching and dropped the tie-breaker before losing 2-3.
South Korean coach Yoo Nam-kyu said Ryu was physically exhausted after Saturday evening's fight against Wang Hao.
"He was uneasy about his loss but still encouraged his teammates," Yoo said.
It was not the first time Ryu had a taste of defeat in the prolonged team competition. While confronting 10th-ranked Chuan Chih-yuan of Chinese Taipei in group stage, Ryu trailed trailed all the way to lose the match 1-3 despite his 1-0 lead in the opening.
A fired-up South Korea revenged Ryu's defeat by wining the following two games before Ryu returned to the table to overpower Chang Yen-Shu 3-2 and sealed the whole match 3-1.
Ryu, who usually has steadfast mindset, especially in international tournaments, admitted that it was a tough match for him. "I did not play the first game well due to some early jitters. During the fourth game, I dropped two sets very quickly but managed to come back after two 'time-out' called by the coach," he said.
"Ryu was so nervous in the opening tie that he even forgot his tactics," coach Yoo said.
The defending champion was also handed a blow after being whitewashed by 67-ranked Brazilan Thiago Monteiro in the opening day's table tennis preliminaries.
"I accept the result, and hope can play better later," Ryu said on Saturday.
(Xinhua News Agency August 17, 2008)