BEIJING (AP) South Korea used solid defense to stifle the Japanese attack, winning 3-0 on Sunday to take the bronze medal in women's team table tennis at the Beijing Olympics.
South Korea's Kim Kyung-ah and Park Mi-young are the top defensive players in the world and their strategy is to let opponents make mistakes. The pair returned most shots with a slow chop, which gave the ball a tricky backspin as it floated back over the net.
The fifth-ranked Japanese responded by hitting the ball out of bounds or into the net, though they challenged the fourth-ranked Koreans with some searing shots.
After the last point, Kim, the bronze medalist in singles at the Athens Games, fell to her knees on the court and buried her face in her towel.
"We thought that playing Japan would be very difficult but we had a lot of confidence and we made good preparations, particularly for the doubles match," Kim said through a translator.
"It was such a disappointment to lose to Singapore," she said about the tense 3 1/2-hour face-off on Friday that sent the tiny city-state into the gold medal match against China. "So we put all our efforts into preparing for this contest, and I'm really satisfied with the result."
The bronze medal contest Sunday was a repeat of a first stage group match, which the Koreans also won 3-0.
"I think we gave our best effort so there's no regrets," Japan's Ai Fukuhara told reporters in a near whisper, pausing to wipe tears from her eyes. But she added, "It's the last Olympics for our head coach. Japan has never won a medal in table tennis so we really wanted it."
Fukuhara matched up with Korea's sole attacking player, Dang Ye-seo, and the two had some fast rallies that drew "Oohs" from the crowd. But Fukuhara, a crowd favorite in part because of her porcelain doll looks, was hampered by her short stature and scrambled to get her paddle on Dang's well-placed drives.
In the men's team event, South Korea rallied to beat Hong Kong and Austria defeated a young Japanese team Sunday to advance to the bronze medal match.
The Koreans came into the matchup after a loss to China the night before. But they were able to pull out a 3-1 win against Hong Kong despite falling behind in the first part of the last two matches.
Defending gold medalist Ryu Seung-min continued to struggle in the tournament, losing 3-2 to Li Ching. But Ryu came back in the doubles match with Yoon Jae-young to help South Korea take an overall 2-1 lead with a 3-2 win over Li and Ko Lai Chak.
Japan's Yo Kan won the first match over 2003 singles world champion Werner Schlager, but Austria responded with wins on the next three matches. The Japanese team, which includes 19-year-old Jun Mizutani and 21-year-old Seiya Kishikawa, could not keep up with the more experienced Austrian side.
"I think that after losing yesterday (to Germany), the damage was done. Our players are still young and relatively inexperienced, so they could not readjust quickly," Japan coach Yoshihito Miyazaki said.