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The five tennis competitions at Rio 2016 produced plenty of drama, with men’s and women’s world No1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams both failing to progress past the third round of the singles competitions. The 2016 French Open champion was ousted by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who embarked on a heroic run to the final, while the reigning women’s champion, who had just landed her seventh Wimbledon title, went down to a straight-sets defeat to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in the last 16.
Serena Williams fared no better in the women’s doubles, in which she and sister Venus were aiming for their fourth gold in the event and their third in a row. The American siblings tumbled out in the first round, beaten in straight sets by Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic. French No2 seeds Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic suffered the same fate against Misaki Doi and Eri Hozumi of Japan. And it was a similar tale in the men’s doubles, with top-ranked French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut and Great Britain’s No2-seeded siblings Andy and Jamie Murray also going out in the first round. The older of the two Murray boys had a singles tournament to remember, however, retaining his title.
A bronze-medallist at London 2012, Del Potro spent more time off the court than on it in the years that followed, due to a recurring left-wrist injury. The Argentinian put his frustrations behind him in Rio, however, enjoying a very productive campaign. After kicking off with a notable defeat of Djokovic, Del Potro battled his way through to the semi-finals, where he got the better of Nadal in a gripping match that went all the way to a third set tie-break. Meanwhile, Murray picked up where he left off in winning Wimbledon three weeks earlier, making serene progress to the semis, where he disposed of Japan’s Kei Nishikori in straight sets.
The reigning champion was pushed all the way in a marathon four-hour duel for gold. The battling Del Potro served for the fourth set at 5-4 only for his opponent to break back. Undeterred, the Argentinian secured two break points in Murray’s next service game, at which point the Scot found an extra gear, firing down a brace of aces to hold his serve and then converting his second match point in the following game to win 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. In following up his victory over Roger Federer in the London 2012 final, Murray became the first player to retain the Olympic men’s singles title.
“Emotionally, it was tough. Physically, it was hard,” said the British player. “There were so many ups and downs in the match. We both had our chances and it was one of the toughest matches that I’ve played to win a big event, for sure. I’m just happy I came out on top. I’ve had some tough defeats in these last couple of years, losing Grand Slam finals. Obviously, I’ve also managed to win a few big tournaments, which says a lot about my game.”
Paying a heartfelt tribute to his opponent, Murray added: “I can’t imagine how mentally tough it’s been for him over these last three years with his wrist. It’s pretty amazing how he’s managed to come back and play as well as he has, fight for major titles and take on the best players in the world.”
In the bronze medal match, world No7 Nishikori beat Nadal 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 to win Japan’s first Olympic tennis medal since Antwerp 1920, when Ichiya Kumagae won silvers in the men’s singles and doubles (with Seiichiro Kashio).
Puig sprang a major surprise to secure Puerto Rico’s maiden Olympic gold, defeating Germany’s world No2 Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the women’s singles final. “I made history and it’s brought me a gold medal,” said the 22-year-old Puig, whose only professional title to date came in Strasbourg in 2014. “I got better with every match,” she added, after defeating Kerber in two hours and nine minutes. “I played faster and stronger and my self-confidence grew. I’ve made one of my biggest dreams come true.”
Ranked 34th in the world, the Miami-based Puig was an outside bet for gold but punched above her weight from the outset. After defeating 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and No3 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain (the 2016 French Open winner), the Puerto Rican saw off two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.
Playing an expansive game in the final and hitting the lines with unerring regularity, Puig proved too strong for the 2016 Australian Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up, who had not dropped a set on her run to the final and beat rising American star Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5 in the semi-finals. In converting her fourth match point against Kerber, Puig became the first woman from the Caribbean nation to win an Olympic medal, and only its ninth medallist in all, an achievement that had her sinking to her knees in disbelief before tearfully accepting the applause of the crowd.
Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez beat Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea of Romania 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 to land the men’s doubles title, giving Nadal a second Olympic gold to go with the singles crown he won at Beijing 2008. Sidelined with a wrist injury for two months, the former world No1 regained fitness just in time for Rio 2016, where he carried the Spain flag at the Opening Ceremony. Nadal and Lopez were made to work hard for gold, with Tecau – a former doubles world No2 and a 2015 Wimbledon champion – and Mergea going a break up at 4-3 in the final set.
Scampering to great effect, the Spaniards broke back immediately, held serve and then earned two match points in the Romanians’ next service game. Tecau saved them both with mighty smashes, but when the Spanish forced a third, Mergea hit long to give the grateful Nadal and Lopez victory. Steve Johnson and Jack Sock of the USA took the bronze, defeating Canada’s Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in straight sets.
Two-time Grand Slam winners Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia beat Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky and Martina Hingis 6-4, 6-4 to secure the women’s doubles title. “We’ve won! Oh my God!” said a delighted Vesnina, who added an Olympic gold to the Montreal title she and Makarova claimed in Montreal just before the Games. The Russian duo also won the 2013 French Open and 2014 US Open titles.
Now 35, Hingis was making her first appearance at the Games since Atlanta 1996, with defeat in the final bringing an end to curious Rio 2016 campaign for her. Forced to abandon hopes of winning mixed doubles gold when her partner Federer pulled out with injury, the Swiss star also lost her original women’s doubles partner, as Belinda Bencic also withdrew with injury, to be replaced by Bacsinszky. In an all-Czech Republic tussle for the bronze medal, Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova beat Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in straight sets.
In an all-American mixed doubles final, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock outlasted Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, winning a third-set match tie-break 10-7 after the first two sets had been shared. Defeat deprived Venus of a record fifth Olympic title to go with the singles gold she won at Sydney 2000 and the three doubles titles she has collected with Serena. In walking away with the silver, however, she atoned for early exits in the women’s singles and doubles competitions and also equalled the record Olympic tennis medal tally of Great Britain’s Kathleen McKane, who climbed on to the podium five times between 1920 and 1924.