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The world No.1 secured the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men’s singles table tennis gold medal with a 4-0 triumph (14-12, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4) and in the process joined an elite group who have achieved a career grand slam of world championship, World Cup and Olympic Games titles.
A closely fought first game had spectators anticipating an epic along the lines of the all-Chinese women's final won by Ding Ning of China on 10 August, but after Ma edged in front he never looked back, putting on a masterclass against an uncharacteristically passive Zhang.
Ma won it with one final blistering crosscourt loop to finish off his compatriot, and said his victory was the culmination of years of hard work.
“I’m very glad not only to complete the grand slam, but becoming become Olympic champion alone makes me very happy. After so many years of playing table tennis it was my dream to win this gold medal so I’m delighted that I’ve achieved it,” he said.
Ma had missed out on a place in the London 2012 singles draw following a series of qualifying losses despite being the world number one. Instead, he won gold in the London team event but it was individual glory he craved.
The 27-year-old has held the number one spot since March 2015 and won every major table tennis title. He has the most ITTF World Tour singles titles and is one of two players to sweep all four medals at the Asian Championship. By adding Olympic gold to his array of honours, he joins Zhang, Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner, 2000 gold medallist Kong Linghui and Chinese national team’s coach Liu Guoliang in achieving the grand slam.
Zhang was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “You can’t win everything, that’s the charm of sport. Ma put on a good performance today, especially in the first game. I give him my sincere congratulations for winning the grand slam.”
Ma also had kind words for his beaten opponent, adding: “Jike and I grew up together. Yes, we are competitors, but we are also brothers. In the past few years he was the best on the Chinese team. Today he fought very well and that helped me to get the gold.”
In the bronze medal match 40-year-old Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) faced world No.6 Jun Mizutani (JPN), with the Japanese player running out a 4-1 winner (11-4, 11-9, 6-11, 14-12, 11-8).
The Belarusian used all his experience to try to coax errors out of his 27-year-old opponent, but the match was summed up by a 48-shot rally in the second game in which Mizutani relentlessly attacked as Samsonov could do little more than swat the ball back into play before eventually losing the point.