Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei have stamped their authority on Mixed Doubles badminton, adding the Olympic gold medal to their coveted World Championships and All England titles.
This afternoon at Wembley Arena, the world No. 1 pair (featured image) took the crown by defeating fellow Chinese, Xu Chen and Ma Jin, to cement their place in history. It appeared inevitable from early that Zhang/Zhao would steamroll their opponents, given familiarity with their teammates’ style of play.
Expertly moving Xu and Ma around the court during rallies, the top duo was able to capitalize by killing the shuttle in open areas. Another tactic was isolating and relentlessly smashing down either rival, with Xu Chen and Ma Jin equally targeted.
The best point of the match, however, belonged to Ma Jin. The score was 9-16 in the second game when Zhao Yunlei tried to speed up proceedings by going after Ma but the latter’s cross-court smash returns were too astute and unplayable.
The final illustrated the tightness of the Zhang/Zhao partnership compared to Xu/Ma. It seemed only a matter of time as Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei inched closer to glory and they duly wrapped up the title in 45 minutes, 21-11 21-17.
“I was so happy to win my first Olympic gold medal. I immediately called my parents to thank them for their support and for not disturbing me this entire week so I could focus on my matches,” said 25-year-old Zhao.
In the bronze play-off, the Danish pair of Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen thwarted an all-Asian sweep of the medals. They beat Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir for the last step on the podium. The world No. 4 pair executed their attack purposefully and, with the Indonesians unable to gain the ascendancy at any time, they took the match in straight games, surrendering 12 points in either.
“I promised Joachim, myself, and my coach that I’d do everything I could possibly do to win today’s match,” disclosed Pedersen afterwards.
For Fischer, winning an Olympic medal capped a successful return following two sports-related surgeries and spending six months recovering and not playing.
Meanwhile, Natsir confirmed that she and Ahmad will continue playing together until year-end and thereafter their coach will decide what happens.