Photo: Paul ZimmerAkvile Parazinskaite (LIT), Xu Shilin (CHN) and Iryna Shymanovich (BLR)
Xu Shilin completed a dream week at the Olympic Tennis Event on Sunday, beating Iryna Shymanovich 63 61 to claim the girls’ singles gold medal to the delight of a partisan Chinese crowd in Nanjing.
While the final was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes due to a violent thunderstorm and a torrential downpour, 16-year-old Xu shrugged off the overdue start with a confident, focussed performance that belied her tender years.
"I’m really excited to win the gold medal," she said afterwards. "I’m going to put it on the wall at home. The rain didn’t affect me a lot. At the beginning of the game, I was really nervous, but the support from all the spectators helped me to relax."
Xu was particularly delighted to overcome her nerves, and the weight of expectation from the Chinese fans in attendance, in the final of such a prestigious event.
"It’s totally different to play something like the Youth Olympic Games as everyone only has one chance, it’s great experience for me in my life," she said. "Besides, it’s always different to play for your country compared with other tournaments. I'm really proud of myself because I won a gold medal for my own country."
Xu's opponent, Shymanovich, made a stronger start to the final by drawing first blood in the third game. But, rather than prove to be the start of a period of dominance for the Belarusian, it marked the beginning of a shaky spell for both her and Xu on serve as they traded breaks for four games in a row.
Xu stopped the rot in game seven, focussing on simply batting back three-quarter-length replies to her opponent’s hard, flat groundstrokes and forcing the errors from the increasingly frustrated Belarusian to steal a 4-3 advantage.
Shymanovich, who won the gold medal in yesterday's girls' doubles final, appeared to be feeling the effects of her exploits throughout the week. She made regular hand movements toward her taped right hamstring, moved gingerly between points and never fully extended herself on balls that swung wide into the tramlines.
Not more so than at 15-40 in game eight, when Xu dragged her around the baseline like a puppet before creaming a long-armed winner down the line for the break. A game later, she wrapped up the opening set.
Xu promptly left the court for a toilet break, leaving Shymanovich to bury her face in her towel and stew on her first set display.
With IOC President Thomas Bach, Chinese IOC member Ms Lingwei and ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti watching on, not to mention the very vocal 1,200-capacity home crowd in full support of her, Xu went up another gear.
A quick break in the third game preceded a confident hold in the fourth, but it was Xu’s acquisition of the fifth game, a fierce contest featuring numerous deuces, that truly put the writing on the wall for the contest.
Shymanovich wouldn’t win another game, Xu breaking for the gold with a lucky net cord that plopped neatly over the net and summed up the Belarusian’s day.
“I pulled my leg in the semifinals and I couldn’t move so well today," admitted Shymanovich. "But she’s a great player and she deserves this win. I’m happy for her.
"I did great in this tournament and I’m so happy to bring home two medals," she continued. "Of course next time I’ll try to get two golds, but it's been really great and a lot of good experience."