No tennis player, man or woman, has ever defended an Olympic gold. In Rio, there were two in line for such an honor. After London Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams made an early third-round exit, Andy Murray was still in the field. In the end, Murray successfully defended the men’s singles gold that he won in London. But the man, who lost to Murray actually cornered tennis glory at Rio. Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro belied his no.141 singles world ranking and opened his campaign by upsetting world no.1 Novak Djokovic. As far Andy Murray, the Briton didn’t play at his best but still emerged as champion. However, the real shock was provided by Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, who progressed impressively through the tournament and looked unstoppable. She was a picture of poise in the final against Germany’s Angelique Kerber, dishing out 54 clean winners to emerge women’s singles champion in three sets. Her amazing performance also brought the first ever gold medal for Puerto Rico. Men’s doubles gold was won by Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez; women’s doubles by Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova and Elina Vesnina and mixed doubles by USA’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock.
Tennis program at 2016 Rio Games is now over. On Sunday, Great Britain’s world no.2 Andy Murray played against Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, whose consistent game had been the talking point over the last 10 days. The Murray-del Potro match was a battle rarely seen on tennis courts. Murray won in four sets but it wasn’t a straightforward victory. The Argentine kept constant pressure on him and after losing the first set, he bounced back to take the second. After Murray took the 2-1 sets lead, Del Potro wouldn’t allow him to run away. Murray needed to work quite hard to take the 4-hour match in four sets 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. The drama was full of errors from both players with 15 breaks of serve and 102 combined unforced errors. Both players looked weighed down by burden of expectations before it all ended in Murray’s favor. After the match, both players hid their faces in towels and sobbed. Murray, because he had created tennis history and del Potro suffered because he almost reached the touchline.
As if to tell the world that next Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan’s Kei Nishikori won the men’s singles bronze. He defeated an awfully tired Rafael Nadal. Besides del Potro’s refreshing and majestic return to active tennis, the Nadal comeback was another big story at Rio. After he pulled out midway from this year’s French Open, Nadal made a huge restart by playing 11 matches in 9 days and ended up with a gold medal in men’s doubles. If he had more stamina against Nishikori, he could have earned another medal at Rio.
More creditable than Murray’s gold at Rio was the one taken by women’s singles champion Monica Puig of Puerto Rico. Puig’s arrival on Olympic tennis scene was dramatic. She has played in 80 WTA tournaments in her career for just a solitary title against her name. That was May 2014 in Strasbourg, where she had defeated Silvia Soler Espinosa of Spain. In Rio, Puig didn’t allow historical facts to interfere with her game and kept making smooth progress. She beat Slovenia’s Polona Hercog, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, Germany’s Laura Siegemund and Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova before running into Germany’s Angelique Kerber for the gold medal match. Puig rose to instant stardom with several variations in her game. She combined deception with power and dished out 54 winners against Kerber. After winning the first set, she didn’t look too bothered, when Kerber took the second. In the decider, Puig completely outplayed Kerber with her resolve and tremendous poise. Besides winning the final, Puig also became part of Puerto Rican history for bringing her nation its first gold medal in any sport. She also wrote her name as the only female Olympic medal winner in Puerto Rican history. Czech Petra Kvitova took women’s singles bronze by edging out USA’s Madison Keys in three sets. While the win was a confidence booster for Kvitova, the American also distinguished herself by showing breezy power and poise as she managed to win three matches that were decided in three sets.
Rafael Nadal won men’s doubles gold for Spain with Marc Lopez. His return to active tennis from wrist injury was highly welcome. He played singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles and looked good throughout. Because of Olympic tennis schedule going haywire due to rain, Nadal had to play three matches on a single day but the seasoned Spaniard held well. His reward was men’s doubles gold, when he and Lopez defeated Romania’s Florin Mergea/Horia Tecau 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. Men’s doubles bronze went to USA’s Stevie Johnson/Jack Sock, who defeated Canadians Daniel Nestor/Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 6-4. Women’s doubles gold was won by Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, who defeated Switzerland’s Martina Hingis/Timea Bacsinszky 6-4, 6-4 while the bronze medal was taken by Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova/Barbora Strycova, when they beat compatriots Lucie Hradecka/Andrea Hlavackova in straight sets.
USA’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Jack Sock won mixed doubles gold by beating compatriots Rajeev Ram / Venus Williams 6–7, 6–1, 10–7 in a hard-fought match. Venus almost won another Olympic gold when she and Ram led 6–3 in match tiebreak but Mattek-Sands/Sock bounced back to foil Venus’ ambitions. The Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka / Radek Stepanek took the mixed doubles bronze.