Ma marches past subdued Zhang to Olympic table tennis glory

China’s top seed Ma Long made up for being excluded from the singles in 2012 by sweeping aside defending champion Zhang Jike to claim the Olympic men’s table tennis gold.

The lopsided 14-12, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4 triumph gave Ma the grand slam of Olympic, world championship, world cup and world tour titles.

And it left China’s table tennis team on course for a third consecutive cleansweep of gold medals at the Olympics after scooping up every title at Beijing and London.

The men’s final might have lacked the edge of the seat excitement of the previous night’s women’s final in which Ding Ning edged Li Xiaoxia after seven electric games.

But it was a spectacular masterclass nevertheless from Ma, who barely made a false move against a strangely subdued Zhang, the second seed.

Ma edged a spluttering opening game as the top two players on the planet sized each other up like stags waiting to lock horns.

The match ignited early in the second when Ma punched the air after his forehand smash put him 5-2 to the good.

He maintained his edge in that game to leave his teammate trailing and with work to do.

An exciting 13-stroke rally in the next set, with the ball seemingly glued to each other’s bat, fell to Ma who closed the door further on Zhang’s Rio dream to move one game away from the title.

With Ma leading 3-0 in the fourth game Zhang called a strategic time out to try to disrupt his compatriot’s rhythm.

The ploy didn’t work as a curiously error-strewn and off-key performance left him unable to mount any last ditch fightback.

China has now won 26 of 30 gold medals and they will be hot favourites to claim the remaining two team titles in Rio.

For Ma meanwhile he will forever remember the brief but intense 37 minutes it took him to complete the hurting missing space on his CV.