World champion humbled by former mainland star, now playing for the US It wasn't supposed to happen. No way. A 25-year-old world and Olympic champion at the peak of her powers taking on a 'retired' player one month short of her 35th birthday - and losing. It was supposed to have been a cakewalk for Wang Nan, but it turned out to be an embarrassment yesterday as China's top gold medal prospect at next year's Olympics was given a lesson she would rather forget on opening day action of the Volkswagen Women's World Cup at Queen Elizabeth Stadium. It might have been a mismatch on paper, but it was former mainland player Gao Jun who made it a mismatch, handing out a demoralising 4-2 defeat to the world number two in one of the upsets of the year. Wang couldn't have got off to a worse possible start in the 16-player round-robin tournament against Gao, a long forgotten one-time member of China's victorious women's team at the 1993 World Championships. Gao, who now represents the United States, plays for 'fun' these days and only competes once or twice a year on the international circuit, making yesterday's huge upset all the more unbelievable. You have to go back more than 10 years to dig up Gao's most notable exploits in the past. Gao had retired from the professional game, although she still commands a world ranking of 23 thanks to her surprising performance at this year's World Championships in Paris where she reached the quarter-finals. Aside from helping China win the women's team title at the 1993 World Championships, she also won gold in doubles, partnering Chen Zihe at the 1991 World Championships and bronze in singles in the same competition two years later. But yesterday's result against the best player since the great Deng Yaping was a total surprise. For Gao, it was glory days all over again. 'This is a great result for me, just great,' said Gao, who was working as a legal assistant in Maryland before moving to Shanghai in 2000 to study economics. 'This is the first time I have ever beaten the world champion. I really haven't played that much since I retired in 1993 and moved to the United States. The US Table Tennis [Association] rarely sends players overseas, so playing here is a bonus,' she said. Wang offered no excuses for her stunning defeat, simply saying that her target was next year's Olympics in Athens. 'I have always said I was concentrating on doing well in Athens. I am a bit tired,' said the world number two. Wang's usual pinpoint precision deserted her and Gao took full advantage, winning the match after Wang's return struck the net for an 8-11, 11-7, 17-15, 8-11, 11-8, 11-9 victory. 'She didn't play well and her body condition isn't good at all,' said Gao, whose only claim to fame since representing the US was winning the Pan-American Games this year and in 1999. 'She might have played in too many competitions and she is beginning to show wear and tear. She might need more rest. But it is great to beat her. Wang is definitely the toughest player in my group.' Wang made amends in her next round-robin Group B match last night, defeating Tamara Boros of Croatia 4-0 (11-4, 11-5, 11-8, 11-8). A place in tonight's quarter-finals will hinge on the outcome of her remaining round-robin match against Canada's Chris Xu to be played this afternoon. Gao is almost certain of reaching the last eight after defeating North American champion Chris Xu of Canada 4-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-2, 11-2). While Wang suffered the ignominy of defeat against an amateur player, compatriot Zhang Yining issued a warning to her rivals by winning her opening match against European champion Otilia Badescu in a quick-fire 11-3, 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 (4-0) triumph. Zhang impressed with her searing forehands as she gave no chance to the 33-year-old Otilia. 'She [Zhang] was always in command of the match,' admitted Romanian Badescu, who won the singles title at this year's European Championships in Courmayer, Italy. 'She's simply the best player out there and that's the reason why I lost.' Zhang was pleased to have started her World Cup defence on a winning note, saying she was relaxed. 'It was a normal match for me and it was nothing special. It was good to get the first match out of the way and I feel confident I will go far. I played Otilia three years ago in the French Open and won that 3-1 so I was confident of winning,' said the 21-year-old world number one. Hong Kong's best hope, Tie Yana, also made a winning start, defeating Romania's Mihaela Steff 4-2 (11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 11-8). Tie maintained her good form later in the day by defeating Singapore's Li Jiawei 4-0 (11-5, 11-7, 11-6, 11-5) .