Sat, 15 May 2004

China's women look set for Uber Cup

Novan Iman Santosa and Zakki P. Hakim, Jakarta

The 2004 Uber Cup final could see a lopsided match between top seed and defending champion China against underachiever South Korea at the Bung Karno Indoor Stadium here on Saturday night.

If so, the game will be a repeat of the last Uber Cup final in Guangzhou, China, where the host ousted Korea 3-1.

In all, China has met Korea in the final four times -- in 1988, 1990, 1992 and 2002 -- soundly beating them each time.

Aware of the odds, the Korean team was pessimistic about its chances, even of winning a single point.

Admitting the champion would likely be too strong to beat, team manager Kim Jung-soo hoped being the underdog would provide his players a boost.

"We will play without burden," he said, adding that advancing to the semifinals had already been an achievement for the team.

Assessing his players' personal strengths, Kim said Jun Jae- yun was his best hope to steal a point from the Chinese.

In five earlier meetings with World No. 1 Gong Ruina, Jun has never won.

The pairs in the other two singles matches won't give Korea much hope either. While China boasts world No. 2 Zhang Ning, No. 3 Zhou Mi and No. 6 Xie Xingfang, Korea has only world No. 27 Seo Yon-hee and No. 180 Lee Yun-hwa.

The doubles lineup also sees discouraging prospects for the Koreans, with China's world No. 1 pairing of Yang Wei and Zhang Jiewen, and No. 2 Gao Ling and Huang Sui poised to continue their dominating runs.

China still has in reserve No. 4 Wei Yili and Zhao Tingting if Gao's reported injury should prevent her from playing.

South Korea earlier had world doubles No. 3 of Ra Kyung-min and Lee Kyung-won but Ra was forced to sit out games through injury, leaving Lee to turn to Lee Yun-hwa.

Ra's absence has promoted the world No. 6 pair of Hwang Yu-mi and Lee Hyo-jung to South Korea's top doubles team, followed by Kyung-won and Yun-hwa as the second pairing.

Yang and Zhang, meanwhile, have an outstanding record, winning all six encounters against Hwang and Lee, their last win being in the semifinals of the Korean Open in April.

Although the odds are with China, team manager Li Yongbo warned his players against underestimating their opponents.

"Our key to winning is to always respect our opponents and keep identifying their weak points," he said.