Murray Takes Second Gold; Nishikori Grabs Bronze In Rio
Scot achieves Olympic history in memorable final
With both players relying on their final reserves, Andy Murray persevered past a dogged Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in more than four hours to achieve Olympic history on Sunday in Rio. The Scot outlasted the Argentine to become the first man to win back-to-back singles gold medals at the Olympics.
“The fact that it hasn't been done before obviously shows that it's very hard,” Murray told the ITF. “I'm very proud to have been the first one to have done that."
The gold-medal match, which finished about an hour shy of setting a record, extends Murray's win streak to 18, a new career high. His perfect stretch dates back to his Aegon Championships title run in June, which was Murray's second ATP World Tour title of the season (ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Rome).
Altogether, the Brit has reached at least the final in his past six tournaments, which started with his runner-up showing at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Djokovic). Since May, Murray is 33-2.
Del Potro's week was almost more remarkable than Murray's. The Argentine went 5-1. Perspective: Before this week, del Potro, who has struggled with wrist injuries the past few years, had not won five consecutive matches since January 2014, when he won the Apia International Sydney and his first-round match at the Australian Open.
Del Potro knocked off World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the first round in Rio. The 6'6” right-hander took out World No. 5 Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals to guarantee himself another medal. (Del Potro beat Djokovic in 2012 for the bronze medal.)
“This will be for the rest of my life on my mind,” del Potro told the ITF. “I never thought something like that at the beginning of the tournament. It's even bigger, like a dream. Now I got a silver medal, which means [as much as] a gold for me. I cannot believe I will bring another medal back to my country.”
Despite spending more than three hours on the court against Nadal on Saturday, Del Potro was determined to find whatever he had left and use it against Murray on Sunday. But the 29 year old broke del Potro to take the first set 7-5. The Tandil native bounced back to take the second, and it looked like the match could go the distance as both men were relying on adrenaline and the crowd to keep them going.
Coming into the match, del Potro had spent 11 hours and 36 minutes on court this week; Murray, eight hours, 10 minutes. They both lumbered in between points. More than once they leaned on the net for extra support.
In the third, Murray snapped a cross-court winner to pull within a set of his second gold. And at 6-5 in the fourth, Murray attacked with a heavy topspin forehand and del Potro netted a backhand slice to give Murray his second gold.
“I know tonight's one of the hardest matches that I've had to play for a big, big title,” Murray told the ITF. “Emotionally it was tough... Physically, it was hard. There were so many ups and downs in the match. It was one of the toughest matches that I've played to win a big event.”
NISHIKORI SWIPES BRONZE AGAINST NADAL
Serving 5-3, 30/15 in the deciding set, Nishikori aced the Spaniard out wide and then delivered a body serve that Nadal had to crouch down to touch with his racquet. On his third attempt to serve for the match, Nishikori had finally put away the feisty left-hander to win the bronze medal in Rio 6-2, 6-7(1), 6-3.
The win gives Nishikori his first medal during his third Olympics. He also becomes the first Japanese player to win an Olympic tennis medal since Ichiya Kumagae won two silver medals in 1920.
“I'm very happy to win, to get a medal today, even though third place. It means a lot for me to especially beat Rafa today,” Nishikori told the ITF. “I knew before playing the Olympics that if I can play good tennis, good, solid tennis, I'd have a chance to get a medal.”
Nadal made Nishikori work for the history. The 30 year old, who had won nine of their 10 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, broke Nishikori when he served for the match at both 5-2 and 5-4 in the second set. At 5-5, Nadal erased a break point and held after four deuces to ensure at least a set tie-break.
In the third set, Nishikori again raced to a 5-2 lead but was not about to let another margin slip out of reach. Nadal still leaves Rio with a gold medal in doubles with Marc Lopez.
In the mixed doubles gold medal match, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock came back to win the all-American battle, prevailing against Rajeev Ram and Venus Williams 6-7(3), 6-1, 10-7. Williams was trying to become the first tennis player to win five gold medals. Sock takes home his second medal of the Rio Olympics, having won bronze in doubles with Steve Johnson.
“[I] had an incredible time, playing with a good friend in men's doubles with Stevie. We were able to play some great tennis at the end and get a medal,” Sock said. “To play with B. Mattek here and have an incredible time on the court, to have this gold medal around our necks, it's pretty special and pretty surreal. Definitely a moment we'll never forget and something we'll always share together.”
Mattek-Sands and Ram, both first-time Olympians, won their first medals. “Very happy and proud of what we were able to do,” Ram said.