by Ian Marshall
The contest which brought the day to end was one of tension and high drama, a classic that ebbed and flowed.
Zhai Xiang proved the hero of the hour for China as he recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Thomas Schmidberger (7-11, 10-12, 11-4, 11-4, 11-4) to secure the title.
Presently on the men’s class 3 World rankings Thomas Schmidberger is listed at no.2, Zhai Xiang at no.6; it was a win against the odds.
A tense contest to conclude matters, it was the very same in the engagement which commenced the final.
Thomas Brüchle and Thomas Schmidberger recorded a five games win by the narrowest of margins (11-8, 15-13, 4-11, 7-11, 11-9) to give Germany the lead.
Feng Panfeng who earlier in the proceedings has secured the men’s singles class 3 title beating Thomas Schmidberger in the final (11-9, 11-4, 8-11, 4-11, 11-9), accounted for Thomas Brüchle (11-13, 11-3, 11-8, 11-9) to set the stage for a grandstand finale.
Zhai Xiang responded.
Thus, for the third consecutive Paralympic Games it was gold for Feng Panfeng and Zhai Xiang, silver for Thomas Brüchle and Thomas Schmidberger; also, for the third time in a full distance contest.
In London (2012) under a different system (four singles followed by doubles if needed) it had been a 3-2 success, in Rio de Janeiro under the present formula, a 2-1 outcome.
Peng Weinan and Zhao Shuai
Success for Feng Panfeng and Zhai Xiang came after colleagues Peng Weinan and Zhao Shuai had secured the men’s team class 8 title.
They recorded a 2-0 win against Ukraine’s Viktor Didukh and Maksym Nikolenko, gold medallists in Rio de Janeiro.
Peng Weinan and Zhao Shuai secured the doubles in comprehensive fashion, the fact that Peng Weinan is left handed and Zhao Shuai right handed was a major asset; they were able to use their favoured forehand top spin strokes to seize the advantage.
The more mobile pair, a straight games success was the outcome (11-7, 11-8, 11-8).
Advantage China, a repeat performance followed; in the men’s singles class 8 final Zhao Shuai had beaten Viktor Didukh in four games (17-15, 11-7, 6-11, 12-10), in the team final it was same again (11-13, 14-12, 11-5, 11-11-5), Viktor Didukh rather missing an opportunity when leading 10-8 in the second game.
“We prepared very well for the doubles. I cried when we won. It is my first time participating after all, so I got a bit emotional. Zhao really held the fort in his singles match. It’s not for the faint-hearted. I’ve learnt a lot from my first Paralympics, especially on the importance of being adaptable and being as determined as Zhao when competing, fighting hard for every point.” Peng Weinan
Undoubtedly, Zhao Shuai was the team leader, the captain.
“I told myself to hold the fort and make sure we didn’t have to play the third match. I got a little impatient towards the end of the first game and ended up losing. To prepare for the Games, I was training at Hebei Zhengding Table Tennis Training Base for more than 400 days.” Zhao Shuai
Notably all four added to their medal collection in Tokyo; in men’s singles class 8, Peng Weinan and Maksym Nikolenko had been bronze medallists