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Most titled table tennis player fights for Olympic berth
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As a three-time world singles champion and the most titled table tennis player on the Chinese men's team, Wang Liqin isn't good enough for an automatic ticket to the 2008 Olympic Games.

The 2001, 2005 and 2007 world singles champion will first prove his worth in the world team championships which opens in Guangzhou on Saturday and then fight in an Asian Olympic qualifier in Hong Kong in early March.

"My top priority is to help the Chinese team defend the world team title," said Wang after a training session on Wednesday, declining to comment on his Olympic dilemma.

Wang Hao, a losing finalist to South Koran Ryu Seung Min in the 2004 Olympics, and Ma Lin, twice world runner-up to Wang Liqin, have secured China's automatic berths in the Beijing Games. The two currently rank top two in the world with Wang Liqin in the third place.

Chinese men's head coach Liu Guoliang admits the law of jungle applies to his team, saying "only the fittest goes to the Olympic Games."

"Wang Hao and Ma Lin have been in better form than Wang Liqin and they are ranked higher too," said Liu.

Wang Liqin saw his form drop after beating Ma Lin in the 2007 world championship final in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, losing his world top ranking and registering a poor record against his teammates in the second half of 2007.

The Chinese coach has denied media insinuation that Wang Liqin has been ordered to go easy on his teammates in international events to ensure Wang Hao and Ma Lin to automatically qualify for the Olympics.

"Wang Liqin is a perfectionist," said Liu. "He is trying to be perfect in every aspect - serve, forehand, backhand, connection and rally. He tends to give himself too much pressure. While feeling he is not as perfect as he thinks, Wang seems to lose confidence."

After a string of setbacks which includes five straight losses to Wang Hao in 2007, Wang Liqin has waken up to the fact that in the Chinese team world singles champion doesn't necessarily mean the best.

"Wang Liqin has now realized he isn't superior to his teammates despite the billing as a world singles champion," said Liu. "I believe he will rebound in this world championships."

The Chinese men's and women's teams are set to dominate the week-long world championships. China has never lost the women's team crown since 1991, while the last defeat of the Chinese men came in 2000.

Wang Liqin's career has been filled with bumps. Hailed as the most advanced player on the Chinese team, the 21-year-old Wang lost to Japanese Koji Matsushita in the 1999 World Cup in Guangzhou, enraging then Chinese head coach Cai Zhenhua, who called him "retarded" in front of media.

That loss was costly.

Wang missed the 2000 Olympic singles competition despite his world No. 1 ranking. Instead, Wang took part in the doubles event and won his first Olympic title with Yan Sen.

As defending world and Olympic doubles champion, Wang Liqin missed the doubles action in the 2004 Olympics in Athens after Yan broke an arm in a car accident. His singles campaign ended in the hands of Wang Hao, who later suffered a meltdown in the championship final against South Korean Ryu Seung Min.

(Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2008)

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