Croatian Open: Third title for Wang Hao

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Another close match

Zagreb, Croatia, 26 January 2003. LEE Eun Sil (KO) and NIU Jianfeng (CHN) have played very close matches before and they did it again in the semi final of the Women's Singles in Zagreb.

At the Grand Finals 2001, played 1 year ago in Tianjin, China, NIU Jianfeng took the victory home after a real cliffhanger, finishing 13-11 in the 7th game.

On Sunday NIU and LEE once more gave the spectators a match they won't forget soon – however this time NIU only needed 6 games to overcome the Korean.

LEE was stressing NIU Jianfeng with her fast game and her tricky services - especially in the first two games the Chinese had great difficulties with returning the services from LEE.

Being down 2-3 LEE actually had the lead 8-5 in the 6th but she couldn't take the last points to level the match and instead NIU took home the victory.

In the final NIU Jianfeng will meet the World's nr. 1, compatriot ZHANG Yining. In the other semi final ZHANG beat another Chinese, GUO Yan 4-2.

GUO started out with a lot of ambitions and she took the 1st game, but she could not resist the power and speed from ZHANG.

Karlsson in the zone

Zagreb, Croatia, 26 January 2003. Peter KARLSSON seems to be in a zone where nobody can tough him – on Saturday he beat the World Champion WANG Liqin and on Sunday he advanced to the final in Men’s Singles by ousting the winner of the Grand Finals, CHUAN Chih Yuan (TPE).

KARLSSON took the lead 2-1. With excellent blocking he sent back CHUAN’s attack even faster than it came. However in the 4th KARLSSON started to miss easy points and CHUAN levelled to 2-2.

CHUAN even had the chance to take the lead when he had 10-6 in the 5th. KARLSSON came to 9-10 and CHUAN took a time out. However that couldn’t stop the Swede who took the game 13-11.

KARLSSON started out very well in the 6th and he took the lead 6-2. CHUAN never recovered from that and the Swede could take home the victory.

In the final KARLSSON will face the upcoming Chinese WANG Hao who beat top Korean OH Sang Eun 4-1. WANG Hao won two Pro Tour titles last year, but KARLSSON also have a Pro Tour title in his back – he won the Italian Open last year - so in that sense they are quite even.

The final will be played later on Sunday.

Spectacular Men’s Doubles Final

Zagreb, Croatia, 26 January 2003. Six out of seven games were decided with the difference of only two points when KO Lai Chak and LI Ching (HKG) won the Croatian title in Men’s Doubles. They beat KIM Taek Soo and OH Sang Eun (KOR) 4-3 with 12-10 in the 7th.

However, here is something else to be noticed: The new Croatian Champions lost the 6th game 0-11!!!

The final was very spectacular and after the match the Croatian crowd was honouring both pairs with standing ovations.

The Hong Kong pair started out best and they took the first two games, both with 11-9. The Koreans came back taking the 3rd with the same score. Then KO and LI went to 3-1 winning 12-10, and the match seemed to go their way.

However, KIM and OH have a lot of experience and when they find their game they are dangerous to anyone. They won the 5th 13-11 – and that seemed to cause the total break down for the Hong Kong pair. They lost the 6th game 0-11 – the match was at par again.

However the two Hong Kong players in some way got over the humiliation and the 7th game went right to 10-10. The match could really have gone either way, but KO and LI decided the match and took the title.

After 4 month’s break from the international scene World Champion WANG Nan (CHN) had as disappointing come back in Women’s Singles when she fell out already in the early rounds, but in Women’s Doubles she took the title together with ZHANG Yining. They beat compatriots BAI Yang/JIANG Huajun 4-0.

Nobody above Zhang

Zagreb, Croatia, 26 January 2003. ZHANG Yining herself claims that World Champion WANG Nan is still the best player in the World – but right now it is quite difficult to see. After winning the Croatian Open Women’s Singles on Sunday ZHANG has now won each and every tournament she played during the last 5 months, and she sits solidly on the top position on the World Ranking.

However, ZHANG had to show her best in order to win the Croatian title. Compatriot NIU Jianfeng forced her to go all the way to a very close 7th game.

ZHANG had the lead 2-0 and 3-2 but NIU kept dragging herself out of the mud and for once she really had the chance of winning against ZHANG. However at 10-10 ZHANG showed what champions are made of, and she took the last two points to win the title and 10.000 US Dollars. NIU had to settle with 5.000.

Already after the victory at the Grand Finals in December ZHANG took over the 1st position on the World Ranking from WANG and after the Croatian title it will be difficult for WANG to catch her for a while – WANG fell out already in the second round in Zagreb.

Third title for Wang Hao

Zagreb, Croatia, 26 January 2003. After beating the World Champion (WANG Liqin) and the winner of the Grand Finals (CHUAN Chih-Yuan), Swede Peter KARLSSON finally ran into the Chinese wall. On Sunday he lost the Men’s Singles final to the young upcoming WANG Hao.

However KARLSSON has nothing to be ashamed of - first of all because he has played an excellent tournament, second because several World top players have already tried to get steamrolled by the young WANG Hao.

19 year old WANG Hao came out of nowhere to win the Egypt Open last year and at that occasion he gave a lesson to both Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR) and Jean-Michel SAIVE (BEL). WANG also won the Dutch Open, so the Croatian title is his third Pro Tour title – and still only a teenager.

In the final KARLSSON never really got into the match. WANG took the first two games, and though the Swede had a bit to say in the third which he won 11-4 he never really looked like a winner.

“I didn’t play bad in the final but WANG was just better than me today. He is young but a very good player – but I’m looking forward to our next match and my win of course”, said KARLSSON with a smile.

With the victory WANG Hao surely will advance on the World Ranking. Who knows, good results at the Qatar Open in March and at the World Championships in Paris might make him one of the two Chinese who will qualify directly for the Athens Olympics.

The issue could be the same with KARLSSON. Both Jorgen PERSSON, Jan-Ove WALDNER and Peter KARLSSON have a position on the World Ranking which would send them to Athens – but only two players from each federation can qualify directly. After the Croatian Open KARLSSON will be one step ahead.

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