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Zhang Zhizhen fights back to win Asian Games tennis gold

Zhang Zhizhen defeated Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) in the Hangzhou final. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANGZHOU – Zhang Zhizhen fought back to become the first Chinese men’s singles tennis champion at the Asian Games since 1994, following his victory over Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki in Hangzhou on Saturday.

It caps a strong few months for Zhang, who was the first man from China to beat a top-five player in August when he defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud to reach the last 32 at the US Open.

The 26-year-old from Shanghai also reached the same stage at this season’s French Open and the Grand Slam experience proved to be a big help, as he carried on that form to defeat Watanuki 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) in the Hangzhou final.

“In the first set I told myself to calm down because I was rushing too much,” he said.

“And in the second set, to be patient, keep going, keep going all the time and try to find some chances.”

In front of a roaring home crowd, the 60th-ranked Zhang made a slow start and fell 4-1 behind in the opening set after being broken twice by his 77th-ranked opponent.

But he won the next five games to go 1-0 up, then held his serve for 4-3 in a pivotal seventh game in the second set.

The pair continued to slug it out into a tiebreak, before Zhang converted his third match point and hurled away his racket in celebration.

He then walked around the court draped in the red flag of China as home fans erupted.

It was China’s first gold medal in the men’s event since Pan Bing won back-to-back titles in 1990-94.

“It’s been a very, very tough week, not just this match, but very tough for the whole week actually, from the first match onwards,” said Zhang, who was also the first Chinese man to break into the top 100 in the world rankings.

“But I’m super happy that from the beginning of the first match, step by step, I’ve played better and better tennis.”

The women’s singles title was also won by China, when Zheng Qinwen beat compatriot Zhu Lin 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.

Also on Saturday, India’s Rohan Bopanna, a former Grand Slam mixed doubles champion, added to his collection of titles at the age of 43.

Along with Rutuja Bhosale, they defeated Chinese Taipei’s Liang En-shuo and Huang Tsung-hao after a super-tiebreak, 2-6, 6-3, 10-4, for mixed doubles gold.

Chan Hao-ching and Chang Yung-jan won gold in the women’s doubles by beating fellow Chinese Taipei pair Lee Ya-hsuan and Liang 6-4, 6-3. AFP, REUTERS