Table tennis veteran in semi-final loss

Table tennis veteran in semi-final loss
Swedish table-tennis veteran Jörgen Persson met his match in China's world number one Wang Hao in the men's table tennis semi-finals on Saturday. The host nation is guaranteed the gold after Wang Hao beat Persson 4-1.

Wang overcame a courageous Persson, who at 42 has played in all six Olympics since table tennis was included, and was the last man standing against the Chinese Wall, for a 11-9, 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9 victory.

Wang was in tears after the match, hugging his coach, and relieved at having the chance to win his first gold in the event and avenge his shock upset in the final in Athens four years ago.

“We lost the men’s singles title four years ago, and to have regained it in 2008, we are very excited. Table tennis is our national sport. We have shown this to the crowd today,” said head coach Liu Guoliang.

Wang, 24, faces a showdown for gold with world number two Ma Lin after he survived a thriller against team mate Wang Liqin in their semi-final. Ma won the first three sets before Wang Liqin came storming back to win the next two, and he held off a ferocious charge from his team mate in the sixth game to eventually win 11-5, 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, 3-11, 11-8.

Guoliang hailed Hao’s win but paid homage to the Swede, describing him as one of the sport’s greatest players.

The loss was a huge disappointment for Persson, playing at probably his last Olympics, and still hunting for his first Olympic medal.

Persson, the 1991 world champion, who is unseeded here, must now steel himself for a showdown with world number four and three-time world champion Wang Liqin for bronze.

“It’s a hard (Chinese) wall to break, but it’s possible,” Persson said.

“Unfortunately I lost two close sets today and I had been winning a lot (of close sets) during the tournament. But today he was the stronger in the end.”

The Swedish champion has powered on in Beijing while Europe’s biggest, and younger, stars have fallen early from this tournament.

Wang edged out Persson in the first two sets, before the Swede nudged ahead in the third – Wang apparently rattled by an umpiring decision on whether the ball hit the table surface or edge during a point.

But Wang steadied in the fourth, winning some lengthy and spectacular rallies between the pair. Persson hung on in the fifth, levelling at 9-9, bringing roars from the Swedish supporters, before Wang edged him out.