By Steve Slater
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top table tennis players were lifted to first-round wins by the most raucous crowd seen for the sport in this country.
"People tell you what to expect, but never in a million years did I think it would be like that," said Joanna Parker after her 4-0 win over Brazil's Caroline Kumahara in the women's singles.
"Walking around at the end, I just raised my hand to wave and everyone went nuts. It was fun. I can't stop smiling,"
Parker, 24, is ranked 119 in the world and was greeted like a rock star before and after her match, bringing her close to tears.
"With table tennis you don't normally get that many people watching. I am speechless," she said.
Parker then joined the crowd to cheer on her partner, Paul Drinkhall, Britain's top men's player and ranked 107 in the world, who defeated Kuwait's Ibrahem Alhasen, 4-0.
Three of his sets were close, prompting cries of "Come on Paul" on key points, usually only seen at Wimbledon.
"To get the chance to play in an Olympic Games is amazing, but to have you own crowd there as well it was incredible. I loved it," Drinkhall said. "They've probably never seen me before, but as soon as they see a GB shirt coming out they start screaming."
Both chose to skip Friday night's opening ceremony to focus on their first round games, although Drinkhall saw Queen Elizabeth when she visited Team GB on Saturday in the Olympic Village. "I was just there snapping away," he laughed.
Drinkhall and Parker have been in a relationship for six years after meeting through table tennis. They have said they had a rule not to talk about the sport at home, but they have had to break that as excitement built ahead of London 2012.
They are Britain's only players in the singles competition, which run until August 1-2. They play in the team event after.
Both face tougher challenges in round two on Sunday. Drinkhall plays Singapore's Zi Yang, ranked 54, and Parker meets Germany's Kristin Silbereisen, ranked 47.
Both are involved in a drive to boost table tennis across the country in recent years, through an initiative called Ping that places tables in parks, railways stations and other public places in cities across the country. Some 700 tables have been put up in the last three years in London.
(Editing by Alison Williams)