Reigning champion Andy Murray and world 141 Juan Martin del Potro reached the men’s singles final after superb wins in the semi-finals, whilst Monica Puig picked up Puerto Rico’s first ever gold medal with victory in the women’s singles.
Women’s Singles Final
Puig, 22, was up against world number two Angelique Kerber of Germany, and few gave her a chance going into the final, despite defeating two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals.
After Puig took the first set 6-4, the second set was a real battle of attrition with the Puerto Rican’s classy backhand matching up against Kerber’s booming leftie forehand, providing some enthralling rallies. Kerber picked up the decisive break to go 5-4 up with a perfectly placed backhand, and served out the set to level things up.
But the final set was a one way battle with Puig dominating the rallies, not giving her opponent a look-in. A backhand down the line set the tone for the world number 34, and raced to a 5-1 lead. Kerber had a break point in that final game, but Puig ran the German all around the court and saved the point with a superb cross court drop shot. On the match point, Kerber slapped her return back with another forehand, but Puig stayed in the rally and when she hit the ball deep, near the feet of the 28-year-old Kerber, she could only hit the return wide. Puig thoroughly deserved the 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory, and hopefully Olympic gold can be a platform for her, much like it was for Andy Murray four years ago.
Men’s Singles Semi-Finals
As for Murray, he had little trouble putting away world number six Kei Nishikori in the men’s singles semi-finals. The Briton raced through the first set taking it 6-1, but his Japanese opponent produced the point of the set with a delightful top-spin lob. Murray had to work much harder thereafter, looking to shorten the points and come into the net. He picked up the decisive break midway through the set, and brought up match-point with the rally of the match. The pair exchanged backhand after backhand, with Murray the aggressor. But the defending champ dropped his forehand a fraction short, allowing Nishikori the time to hit the ball deep and into the corner. Murray recovered twice with defensive slices on either wing, bringing his opponent to the net but the Scot produced a superbly touched backhand down the line to claim the point, falling onto his backside in the process. The two-time Wimbledon champion then served it out with ease, winning 6-4, 6-1 and securing a second successive Olympic medal, but he will want to make it a second gold in Sunday’s final.
He will face Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who has bounced back brilliantly from years of injuries. After winning the US Open in 2009, the 27-year-old has fallen to well outside the top 100, but has enjoyed a renaissance this year. He defeated double Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon six weeks ago, and continued his form by knocking out world number one Novak Djokovic in the first round out in Rio. On Saturday he faced 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal, who too is also back from injury. The contest was very evenly matched, and perhaps was the match of the Olympics so far, with both players possessing colossal forehands. Both players have Olympic medals to their names, with Nadal claiming gold in Beijing eight years ago, as well as adding a doubles gold on Thursday, whereas Del Potro claimed Bronze at London 2012. Nadal took the first set 7-5, but the 6’6” Argentine bounced back to take the second 6-4. The final set was to-ing and fro-ing between the pair, and Del Potro looked to have it in the bag when he broke the Spaniard’s serve to go 5-4 up. But Nadal showed his experience and broke straight back, as the final set went to a tie break. An early mini-break from Del Potro looked to have been enough to seal the victory, but Nadal once again denied his opponent, this time on match point to stay in the contest. But on the second match point, this time on Nadal’s serve, the left-hander put an absolute sitter of a forehand wide, to put Del Potro into Sunday’s final.
More Tennis Medal contests
Elsewhere, Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic claimed the Bronze medal in the women’s singles with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 victory over USA’s Madison Keys. In the women’s doubles bronze medal match, there was more joy for the Czechs as it was an all Czech Republic affair with Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova defeating Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-5, 6-1.
There has been some good news for Venus Williams after exiting early in both the singles and doubles, reaching the mixed doubles final. Alongside partner Rajeev Ram, they defeated Indian pairing Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna in a champion’s tie-break 2-6, 6-2, (10-3). They will meet fellow Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock in the final, who beat Czech pairing Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek 6-4, 7-6.