London: The Chinese table tennis team will face strong resistance in its gold quest at the London Olympics.
Wednesday's draws showed that Chinese paddlers may come up early against strong rivals, Xinhua reports.
China's top-seeded player Zhang Jike will have to take Belarus's veteran player Vladimir Samsonov in the men's singles fourth round before meeting either Hong Kong's Jiang Tianyi or South Korea's Joo Saehyuk in the quarter-finals.
Zhang's likely opponent in the semifinals is Japanese Jun Mizutani. Mizutani is No. 3 seed and, after winning Pro Tour events this year in Kuwait and Japan, has risen to career high of No. 5 in the rankings, the only non-Chinese among the top five. Young and aggressive, Mizutani is a strong contender for the gold medal.
In the other half of the draw, China's No.2 seed, twice Olympic silver medallist Wang Hao, will take on Germany's Timo Boll, in the semis. An Olympic veteran, Boll is seen as the biggest threat to China's dominance in the sport.
In the women's singles, likely opponents for China's top seed Ding Ning include Japan's star player Ai Fukuhara, Singapore's Feng Tianwei and South Korea's Kim Kyungah. The player most likely to challenge Ding is Kim, whose textbook defensive skills and mental fortitude made her a serious contender for the Olympic gold.
Commenting on the draw, head coach of Chinese men's team Liu Guoliang said: "We are not afraid of any team. As long as we play well, the draws won't have much impact on us."
He said he expects fierce battles for Chinese players in the Games as they were the targets of all teams. "We are now focusing on our first match. The first match is the most difficult. The most important thing to us is to keep our pace and get well-tuned for the competition."
The singles events will follow a knockout format. Players ranked 1-16 will qualify directly to the third round, those ranked 17-32 to the second round, and those ranked 33 to the total number of participants will qualify to the first or preliminary rounds.
Sixteen teams will compete in the team events. In the men's team, China have to beat Germany in order to enter the finals. Runner-up at Beijing 2008, the German team has been the biggest rival of the Chinese.
In the women's side, battles may not be as fierce in the early rounds. China's major opponent, Beijing Olympic silver medallist Singapore, will not meet each other until finals. China will open their campaign against Spain and likely semifinal opponents are South Korea.
The team competition will also be played in a knockout format. The 16 participating teams were drawn into round one and progress to the finals.
China enter the table tennis competition in London as the defending champion in all four events.