Zhang wins singles title in Olympic badminton

Aug. 16, 2008, 3:59 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Zhang Ning, 33 and plagued by injuries, wasn't sure she would take part in the Beijing Olympics. Now she's part of a potential sweep of badminton golds for China.

Defending champion Zhang defeated teammate Xie Xingfang in the final of women's singles Saturday to claim China's second gold in badminton.

The second-seeded Zhang defeated No. 1 Xie 21-12, 10-21, 21-18 to defend the title she won four years ago in Athens.

China won three out of five badminton gold medals in Athens and is looking to better that mark here. The host nation will go for a third gold medal later Saturday when second-seeded Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng take on No. 1 Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia in men's doubles.

On Friday, Du Jing and Yu Yang won gold in women's doubles.

Saturday's win was an emotional one for Zhang, who has fought through a right knee injury this year and at one point thought she would not recover in time.

"I wasn't even sure I would take part in this Olympics," said Zhang. "But because it was in Beijing I wanted to be here."

After winning the match with a drop shot that Xie returned into the net, Zhang dropped to her knees and thrust both arms in the air.

She said a lot of training and a tenacious desire were the keys to her win.

"I thought I was too old in Athens," said Zhang. "I haven't felt good physically but I persevered and did a lot of training to win this gold. Tenacity was the key."

Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia won the bronze medal, defeating Lu Lan of China 11-21, 21-13, 21-15.

Zhang took a 19-17 lead in the third game with a smash down the line that Xie couldn't reach. A drop shot at the net gave Zhang match point.

Xie wasn't herself in the first game but quickly recovered, taking a 5-0 lead in the second game. She looked poised for a comeback after winning the second game, but Zhang took an 11-6 lead at the break in the final game and held on.

Xie tied the game 16-all but that was as close as she would get.

China coach Li Yongbo took a risk selecting Zhang over 2007 world champion Zhu Lin.

Zhu is ranked No. 3 in the world, while Zhang is only ranked at No. 7 due to her absence from key tournaments this year because of injury.

Before the Olympics, Li said he wouldn't be surprised if Zhang won the gold and on Saturday she came through for her coach and for China.

"My knee has been swollen for 100 days," said Zhang. "But I recovered and when the coach said he thought I could win gold it inspired me to do my best."

Xie had to settle for the silver. Her boyfriend Lin Dan will meet Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei in the men's final on Sunday.

"I wasn't as fast as Zhang today," said Xie. "We both played well but I'm upset I didn't win the gold."

Yulianti prevented a China sweep of the podium defeating Lu for the bronze medal.

After dropping the first game, the unseeded Yulianti recovered for an 11-21, 21-13, 21-15 win over Lu to give Indonesia its first medal of the Olympic badminton tournament.

Leading 9-8, Yulianti went on a nine-point run in the third game to take an 18-8 lead. She won the match when Lu's cross-court return off a smash went out.

South Korea's Lee Jae-jin and Hwang Ji-man won the bronze medal in men's doubles, defeating Denmark's Lars Paaske and Jonas Rasmussen in three sets.