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Women's flops hurt China's London hope

QINGDAO, Shandong province - The defending champion China team, as expected, advanced to the semifinals of the Sudiman Cup World Badminton Mixed Team Championships on its home court.

However, two women's singles losses in the tournament have cast doubts about the country's chances of winning the Olympic crown for a fourth straight time next year at the London Games.

In its opener against Germany on Sunday, China's world No 1, Wang Shixian, was upset by Juliane Schenk in straight sets. China replaced Wang with world No 3 Wang Xin.

However, Wang Xin disappointed the local fans when she was defeated by India's Saina Nehwal in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

"Who suffered most from the losses? The team is OK; we won the match. But Zhang Ning, (the women's coach) must be very depressed and I am even more," Li Yongbo, the head coach of Chinese team, said after the India match.

"In big tournaments, when you push them a little bit, they easily get anxious and lose their tempo on the court. It is not an easy job to find a true leader and these setbacks are normal. It is through the ups and downs that they grow stronger and stronger."

After successfully defending her Olympic title at the Beijing Games, the then 33-year-old Zhang chose to retire and become the coach of the national women's singles players. Her compatriot and runner-up in Beijing, and also a two-time world champion, Xie Xingfang, also quit the national team.

Since then, China has been struggling to find outstanding female talent to mirror that of men's singles player, Lin Dan, the reigning Olympic and world champion.

A stellar group of youngsters was expected to fill the stars' shoes and continue to rule the sport, but none of them has delivered consistently.

Wang Yihan, 23, appeared to take the lead after a winning streak in the Opens and Super Series in 2009. However, she faded after an early exit at the ensuing World Championships; followed by a loss in the final of last year's Uber Cup, at which China was defeated by South Korea, 3-1.

Wang Lin, one year younger than Wang Yihan, won at the 2009 Worlds, but was struck by injury and she is now rehabilitating.

Wang Xin and Wang Shixian were hot candidates to lead the women's charge but the Sudiman Cup failures have shaken the coach's faith.

"Of course, for the team, it is a problem. In the past, women's singles is always in the bag, but now we have to perform even better in other events to ensure victory," said Li.

"What is good is that all the players feel full of hope and try their best to become the best one. If one is dominant, the others would feel frustrated," said Li.

"Also, these are precious lessons as we prepare for the London Olympics because we can find and correct problems after losses."

As for the line-up for Saturday's semifinal against South Korea, Li said it would come down to the players' desire.

"It will really be a hard choice since both of them have suffered failure here. I want to get their opinions and I will choose the one that is desperate to play."

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