For the first time in the match, there was a real celebration from Hsu Yu-hsiou and Jason Jung. The Chinese Taipei men’s doubles team had just earned break point opportunities (15-40) on Saketh Myneni’s serve. Apart from the usual fist bumps, Jung looked at the crowded stands around the centre court of the Hangzhou Sports Centre, and waved, asking for more noise.
Two points later, when the duo converted, there was the first big celebration, as Jung crouched on one knee, pointed to his temple and roared. Minutes later, as Myneni’s backhand sailed long, came what is the now traditional celebration in men’s doubles tennis – the chest bump. The pair from Chinese Taipei had beaten Ramkumar Ramanathan and Saketh Myneni 6-4, 6-4 to win the men’s doubles final and gold medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
The Indians were arguably the favourites. They were the second seeds that had beaten the home favourites Yibing Wu and Zhizhen Zhang (who has reached the men’s singles final) in the quarter-final 6-1, 7-6 (8). On Thursday, they got past South Korea’s Hong Seongchan and Kwon Soonwoo 6-1, 6-7 (6), 10-0 in a feisty semi-final.
But in the final, the Indians were a step slower.
“Throughout the tournament, they were playing night matches except for the final, where the conditions were different,” said the Indian team coach and captain Zeeshan Ali to Scroll.
“The bigger problem was that they were playing the late semi-final on Thursday. They got done and got back to the Games village after 10 pm. And then they had to leave at 7 am today to get to the stadium for the final. They didn’t get enough time to rest and recover.”
By playing night matches throughout the Asian Games, the Indian duo had gotten used to the slower conditions that come with playing under the lights. In the heat of the day, courts are faster, and players have to play under direct sunlight.
As the Indians struggled, Hsu and Jung, just like their celebrations, knew when to make the right moves. Myneni and Ramkumar both boast big serves. But the players from Chinese Taipei picked their moment to break Ramkumar’s serve, to go up 3-1 and then claim the first set.
In fact, the Indians had lost just five points on their serve in the first set – crucially four came on Ramkumar’s serve in the fifth game.
Hsu and Jung were aggressive on returns – playing in deep and heavy forehands. Jung, at the net, was near flawless with his volleying.
Ali asserted that on any other day, after a proper amount of time to recover, the Myneni-Ramkumar duo could have been a different challenge altogether. But it wasn’t to be on Friday.
For Myneni, this will be his third overall Asian Games medal. He had won the mixed doubles gold with Sania Mirza at Incheon 2014, where he and Sanam Singh lost the men’s doubles final. For Ramkumar, this was a first medal at the Asiad.
The duo had hoped to become the fifth different pair from India to win the men’s doubles gold at the Asian Games. But, battling fatigue, conditions, and a Chinese Taipei pair that was better on the day, they came up short.
Mixed doubles final
There is still a gold medal in the offing for India.
Rohan Bopanna, the 43-year-old veteran, and partner Rutuja Bhosale are in the final of the mixed doubles event. They beat the Chinese Taipei pair of Hsu and Chan Hao-ching 6-1, 3-6, 10-4 in the semi-final on Friday.
Now they have a chance of becoming the third Indian team after Leander Paes and Mirza (2006) and Myneni and Mirza (2014) to win the mixed doubles gold at the Asian Games.