China will rule Olympic table tennis, says world champ

Gold medal favourite Zhang Jike scotched suggestions that new regulations would challenge China's dominance of the Olympic table tennis tournament on Monday with an emphatic opening win.

The world champion from Qingdao outplayed a former Chinese compatriot, Bora Vang, now the world number 71 from Turkey, before dismissing the notion that China will be under more pressure in London.

A rule change restricting each nation to only two players in the singles events means China will be unable to repeat their medal monopoly from Beijing when they swept the board.

But Zhang laughed off the idea that the change could open the door to non-Chinese paddlers.

"I don't think there is more pressure," said Zhang, after his 11-8, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7 win. "I am confident that the winner will still be Chinese."

"I don't think the tournament will be lessened because there are only two Chinese players," he added.

Zhang started well against Vang, scoring well with tight little highly spun short serves, and neatly accurate backhand flicks to follow up.

Vang gambled on ambitious attacks and held Zhang to 7-7 in the first game and 6-6 in the second, but he could not stop the favourite getting away from him when it mattered.

In the third game Zhang mixed it up more, occasionally using half distance containing loops, and then switching to fierce forehand attacking topspins behind his serves.

In the fourth game he attacked consistently with beautifully rhythmic forehand loops.

"I think I played well," said Vang. "But I couldn't do more. Everyone knows the Chinese players are very strong."

Zhang may now get a tough fourth round test, as he plays Vladimir Samsonov, the 36-year-old still-effective former world number one from Belarus, with the great reach and adaptable all-round game.

Zhang's team mate, Wang Hao, twice a former Olympic medallist, had to fight hard to reach the last 16, overcoming Werner Schlager, the former world champion from Austria, 11-3, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-9.

Michael Maze, the former European champion from Denmark, also reached the fourth round, and offered a very different prognosis from that of Zhang.

"I think there is a good chance we will see one of the Chinese players lose before the final," Maze said after winning 12-10, 11-6, 11-8, 8-11, 11-3 against Greek veteran Kalinikos Kreanga.

"They play under great pressure anyway. But here on European soil and with only two players in the competition there is much more pressure on them."

Maze, who had an English father and has a Danish mother who was watching, was also cheered enthusiastically by Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark.

His progress and his opinions were later matched by those of his fellow left-hander, Timo Boll, the former world number one from Germany who is one of the few players capable of halting the Chinese.

Boll came through in Wang Hao's half by winning 11-8, 11-5, 12-10, 12-10 against Noshad Alamiyan, the world number 77 from Iran.

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