By Ian Ransom
Reio de Janeiro: Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan held firm in a furious men’s doubles final on Friday to win the title for China after their Malaysian opponents froze twice when within reach of grabbing their nation’s first ever Olympic gold medal.
Malaysia’s Goh V. Shem and Tan Wee Kiong had two match points in a nail-biting finish to the 16-21 21-11 23-21 thriller but agonisingly, for hundreds of their shrieking fans at the Riocentro, they blew both of them by duffing serves into the net.
Fu and Zhang could hardly believe their luck and closed out the decider abruptly on their first match point when Tan netted in a brief front-court exchange.
After China swept all titles in London four years ago, the Asian superpower had been frustrated in Rio, with the women’s doubles, singles, and mixed doubles titles going to rivals.
But finally, in terraces draped with the nation’s red flag, Chinese fans belted out the national anthem in chorus with the steely nerved men’s pair.
Fu, a 32-year-old survivor in his nation’s cut-throat badminton programme, celebrated his second Olympic gold after winning the doubles title with Cai Yun in London.
It was another helping of Olympic gold for Zhang, too, who won the mixed doubles championship with Zhao Yunlei in London but had to be content with bronze in the event here.
“I think we were under a lot of pressure playing this match,” Fu told reporters.
“The Chinese mixed doubles team, women’s singles team, and women doubles teams all lost.
“We won the first gold medal for the Chinese badminton team at this Olympic Games so we are excited.
“It was not an easy game.”
Britain’s Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge were thrilled to edge China’s second-ranked men’s pair for the bronze on Thursday.
But Malaysia’s second silver of the tournament was of no compensation for Goh and Tan, who admitted they had wilted when the heat was strongest.
The 12th-ranked pair fought back gamely from 10-6 down in the decider, pulling ahead with some fierce volleying and grabbing match points at 20-19 and 21-20.
But with a hush falling over the arena, Tan’s serve fell short for the first match-point and his partner committed the same blunder on the second.
The shuttlecock fell harmlessly, the crowd gasped and Malaysian fans slapped their foreheads and groaned.
“I think we were rushed to get the point. We wanted to win it and it never worked,” said 27-year-old Tan.
“So we made a mistake.
“It’s quite disappointing. Whoever enters the final, they want to win it, the first goal for the country.
“Unfortunately we cannot end with a good result.”
(Editing by Neil Robinson and Bill Rigby)