Four-time World Cup champion Ma Lin edged fourth-ranked veteran Wang Liqin to set up a clash with Wang Hao in the men's singles table tennis final of the Beijing Olympic Games on Saturday.
Ma outplayed triple world champion Wang in six sets, wining 11-5, 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, 3-11, 11-8.
A slow Wang dropped the first three sets, but rallied to take the fourth and the fifth. Ma reacted quickly to fend off the tireless Wang in decider for his victory.
Both Ma and Wang won half of their 32 clashes to date. Wang used to be the one in advantage in big matches.
"I've made improvement through practises," Ma said.
Ma was outperformed in the final of the 2005 table tennis worlds by Wang, who captured gold medal in front of fervent home fans in Shanghai. In 2007, Ma was thumped again by Wang and missed his chance to claim the title in Zagreb.
"The key issue in the match was short balls. I made some mistakes and did not handle short balls well," Wang said.
Ma said that he and Wang Hao are the same par in skills. "The one who brings out himselef better will win the gold medal," said the 28-year-old.
Earlier on Satursday, Swedish veteran Jorgen Persson failed to hold back an all-Chinese final despite a spirited challenge to world No. 1 Wang Hao.
Both Wang and Liu Guoliang appeard very emontional after the game. The two hugged each other and a teary Liu stayed long on the court, slapping his hands to the tempo of the music.
"The belief in myself enables me to control my severs in curcial moments. I've grown up and got maturer through years of hard work and practices," Wang choked up.
China has won 19 out of the 23 gold medals on offer since table tennis was introduced to the Olympics Games in 1988.
Wang Liqin will take on Swedish veteran Jorgen Persson in the bronze playoff and Ma Lin will play Wang Liqin for the gold medal Saturday evening.
(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2008)