Japan's Yosuke Watanuki and China's Zhang Zhizhen acknowledge each other after Zhang's win in the men's tennis singles final at the Asian Games on Sept. 30, 2023. (Kyodo)

Japan's Yosuke Watanuki missed a chance to qualify for next year's Paris Olympics tennis tournament with a straight-sets loss to Chinese giant killer Zhang Zhizhen in the men's singles final at the Asian Games on Saturday.

Zhang, who upset then world No. 5 Casper Ruud of Norway in the second round of this year's U.S. Open, defeated Watanuki 6-4, 7-6(7) to earn his gold medal and Olympic berth.

The 25-year-old Watanuki now needs to turn his focus to raising his world ranking for an Olympic spot.

"It's a total disappointment," Watanuki said. "I blew a chance to take the first set. With my opponent beginning to serve harder, I could not engage in rallies. I made some unforced errors with my forehand, and I didn't serve well, either."

Watanuki broke Zhang's serve in the opening game of the match and again to lead 4-1.

With the entire crowd behind him at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center, Zhang managed to break back and started playing with more confidence. The hard-hitting Chinese went on to take the first set.

Asked to comment on the crowd's exuberant cheers for the rising tennis star for China, Watanuki said, "It was a great atmosphere. I don't care if I'm home or away while playing. I took it positively."

The second set remained on serve and went to a tie-break, in which Watanuki saved two match points but on the third hit a cross-court forehand return wide.

"In the first set, I told myself to calm down because I was rushing too much," Zhang said, "And in the second set, to be patient, keep going, keep going all the time and try to find some chances."

"It's been a very, very tough week, not just this match, but very tough for the whole week actually, from the first match onwards. But I'm super happy that from the beginning of the first match, step by step, I've played better and better tennis."

The match lasted 1 hour, 54 minutes under a closed roof.

In the day's other matches, Chan Hao-ching and Chan Yung-jan defeated Lee Ya-hsuan and Liang En-shuo 6-4, 6-3 in the women's doubles final featuring four players from Taiwan.

India's Rutuja Sampatrao Bhosale and Rohan Machanda Bopanna outlasted Taiwan's Liang En-shuo and Huang Tsung-hao in the mixed doubles gold medal match 2-6, 6-3, 10-4.

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