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Year-ending event hints on table tennis roster for Olympics
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A rough scene of Team China's table tennis part on the court of next year's Beijing Olympic Games has been emerged after the leading Chinese paddlers made a clean sweep at the sport's year-ending event concluded in Beijing on Sunday.



Ma Lin and Li Xiaoxia both added weights to their chances of representing China at the 29th Olympic Games on home soil after each crowned in the men's and women's singles events at the just-concluded ITTF ProTour Finals in the Beijing University Gymnasium, the venue to hold the Olympic table tennis competitions next year.


Former Olympians Wang Liqin and Wang Nan, however, will face even more heated challenges from teammates with elimination ahead of the final dash in singles events.


Rumors have been around that Chen Qi from China's Jiangsu Province stands the third male paddler favored by the Chinese ruling body of the sport, and veteran Wang Nan might be given her last shot in 2008 with the plenty of her experience, since the Olympic table tennis competitions will play team events instead of the doubles in Beijing.


The results of the Finals, however, give the talks another blow.


On the men's part, world number two Ma Lin defeated Japan's top paddler Yang Zi, the reigning leader of Europe Timo Boll from Germany, Chinese upstart Ma Long in a row before winning over top-ranked compatriot Wang Hao in the singles final on Sunday evening.


World No. 3 Wang Liqin, the twice world champion and Olympic bronze medalist in Athens, suffered a semifinal exit after losing 4-1 to the second seed Wang Hao in a surprisingly easy way.


All the three of Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin have reached the men's doubles final with the pair of Wang Liqin and Chen Qi coming out the eventual winners against Wang Hao and Ma Lin, while good records are seen for all of them in history.


In the women's singles, Li Xiaoxia came another Chinese winning the ITTF year-ending glory as the silver medalist at last May's world championships in Zagreb, now trailing Zhang Yining, Guo Yue and Wang Nan in the world rankings, denied "Grand Slam " winner Zhang Yining and reigning world champ Guo Yue to lift the trophy.


Li, just 19 years old, also took the women's doubles trophy after partnering Guo Yue to beat South Korea's defensive pair Kim Kyung Ah and Park Mi Young in full sets, while Wang Nan, 29, was ousted in as early as the second round by teammate Guo Yan, a former World Cup winner after beating the well-recognized prodigy Zhang Yining in the final.


According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the top-20-ranked paddlers in January, 2008 will earn direct berths to the Beijing Olympics with no more than two players from a same association.



But with seven men paddlers within the top-20 standings of the latest released world rankings by the world governing body, China will have a full range of selection to make up the Olympic squad.


Results of the Finals have an immediate impact on the first edition world rankings of year 2008, meaning that Wang Hao and Ma Lin keep their advantage over Wang Liqin and Li Xiaoxia's chance against Wang Nan has been further boosted after the year-ending event.


Ma, a Chinese Olympian who took the men's doubles gold medal with then teenager Chen Qi four years ago in Athens, has never played a single match of men's singles in the Olympic Games and it might be his last chance to make up the pity next year on home soil before retiring from the star-packed Chinese national team.



"I'd hoped to find my rhythm at the Olympic venue and gotten in touch with feelings of playing an Olympic game. And I make it here," said the 27-year-old Ma after beating Boll in the quarters.


"Of course I desperately want to play for China in the Olympic Games as it's definitely the most honorable moment for an athlete to play the OG representing his country on the home turf," he added. "But what I can do now is just to do my best during the match and prepare myself well for future competitions."


He was echoed by Wang Liqin, although the latter may have to play Asian zone qualifications for the 2008 Olympics with his sluggish performance recently.


"Even if I had to play the Asian zone qualifications for a place in China's Olympic squad of table tennis, I will reckon it as a good thing since every pre-tournament match is a chance for me to get better sense of the game and very good opportunity for me to review my performance," said the 29-year-old.


Wang Liqin, with his long standing as the best player of the world, was crowned at the 2003 and 2007 worlds, but lost to the 25-year-old Wang Hao in the Olympic semifinals three years ago in Athens and repeatedly came out the defeated one in the two's encounters recently.






(Xinhua News Agency December 17, 2007)

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