by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
A five match format in London, Feng Panfeng had beaten both Thomas Brüchle (11-6, 11-1, 11-9) and Thomas Shmidberger (9-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-9); Zhao Ping had lost to Tomas Schmidberger (11-9, 11-4, 8-11, 11-5) and Thomas Brüchle (11-9, 14-12, 8-11, 11-8).
The decision in London was determined in the doubles Feng Panfeng and Zhao Ping combined to record a four games win (9-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8).
At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, with the three match format in vogue; Feng Panfeng and Zhao Ping experienced a doubles defeat; they were beaten by Thomas Brüchle and Thomas Shmidberger in three straight games (11-9, 11-8, 11-6).
Just as in London, Feng Panfeng proved the German nemesis; he accounted for Thomas Schmidberger (11-5, 11-9, 11-4) to level matters.
Enter into the arena Zhai Xiang, on debut in the Paralympic Games; he emerged China’s hero. He recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Thomas Brüchle (9-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-5).
It was for Thomas Schmidberger and especially Thomas Brüchle, who had held a three point lead in the fourth game against Zhai Xiang, despondency, desolation and despair.
The Germany duo conducted themselves perfectly at the medal ceremony but you just had to look at their faces, you only had to look closely into their eyes and you could see they were experiencing excruciating agony.
It was the opposite emotion for the 23 year old born in Baoji.
“I lost the first two games because I was too eager to win each point, I tried to smash the ball and be aggressive”, said Zhai Xiang, “However, that’s not my strength and I ended up making mistakes.”
Problems, to his great credit he recovered in what was the biggest match of his life.
“In the third game, my coach told me to stay calm and use my strong points”, explained Zhai Xiang. “I am good in rallies, so I tried to engage in long rallies and play more passively, waiting for him to make errors; that worked and I started to come back point by point and eventually take the match.”
A dramatic end to the contest; Feng Panfeng well aware of the contribution made ny the debutant.
“We played them in the final at London as well, but this time round we had an additional member on our team, Zhai Xiang, so our team was stronger as compared to four years ago”, said Feng Panfeng. “The doubles was crucial, we won the doubles in London, but we lost today.”
Deal with pressure
Defeat in the doubles but with Feng Panfeng in the team, they have not only experience but in Men’s Class 3 arguably the best player in the world.
“The German team has a better overall world ranking; in our team we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves, we were in final and there’s no point over stressing ourselves”, concluded Feng Panfeng. “It’s more stressful in the singles event, in the team event, we have our teammates to support each other and share the pressure.”
Bronze for Thailand
Gold for China, silver for Germany, it was bronze for Thailand.
Yuttajak Glinbancheun and Anurak Laowong beat the Brazilian partnership of Welder Knaf and David Andrade de Freitas by two matches to nil.
A tense full distance doubles success by Yuttajak Glinbancheun and Anurak Laowong set the Thai duo en route to victory (5-11, 11-5, 11-3, 7-11, 11-8), before in a most impressive manner Yuttajak Glinbancheun overcame Welder Knaf (11-2, 11-2, 11-7) to seal a place on the podium.
Play in the table tennis events at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games concludes on Saturday 17rh September.