Li and Ko to go separate ways in New Year
Hong Kong's celebrated doubles pairing of Li Ching and Ko Lai-chak will split up in the New Year, but officials denied it was the end of their highly successful partnership.
The Asian Games doubles champions will not play together for at least the first three months of 2007 in response to new International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rules for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the men's team event replaces the men's doubles competition. The doubles will be played only in the team event, along with four singles in a best-of-five format.
Li will partner Cheung Yuk - the 2002 Asian Games mixed doubles gold medallist with Tie Yana - while Ko will team up with Leung Chu-yan for at least four international tournaments, starting on January 16 with the Croatian Open in Zagreb.The Hong Kong Table Tennis Association (HKTTA) said it was time for a change to the Li-Ko partnership, which has been going strong for at least seven years. The association wants to inject new life into their men's teams by experimenting with different combinations.
'The players need a new challenge because everybody knows how to play Li and Ko - they have been together for so long,' said Hong Kong coach Chan Kong-wah.
'We need to surprise our opponents, instead of them figuring us out. All of the other national teams, including China, are already beginning to do this.'
Chan said there was a strong possibility Li and Ko, the Athens Olympics silver medallists, would join forces again.
The ITTF will announce the format for the men's team event for Beijing in May, after deciding whether to adopt a round-robin or knockout format.
'We can name a maximum of three players for the team event, but we don't know who will play. That's why we want to experiment with different doubles combinations to give ourselves more options. We have less than two years to prepare for it,' said Chan.
'It doesn't mean Li and Ko won't play together again It's all about tactics. We don't want to let our opponents know who we will be fielding in doubles until the last moment.'
Li supported the change. 'Ko and I have been playing for a long time and everybody knows our game. China are already making changes,' Li said.
'Look at the new team of Hao Shuai and Ma Long who won the doubles at the Pro Tour Grand Finals at the weekend. They surprised everybody by winning because they are a new pair.'