Many fans and pundits did not have high expectations for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but their fears were not confirmed, as Rio 2016 turned out to be tennis that was full of passion, national pride, and close matches in both singles and doubles.
Andy Murray of course took home the men’s singles gold, he added to what was an astounding day for Great Britain overall, and became the first player to win two Olympic singles gold medals. The world #2 had a few close matches this week, but his four set final win over Juan Martin Del Potro was well deserved as he earned clutch breaks to stave off a fifth set, and eventually take the match. Murray now has a Wimbledon title and an Olympic Gold this year, although he hasn’t gotten as much attention this season, he’s had a great one.
Pica Power and Del Potro Power, The Story of 2016 Rio Olympic Tennis
Del Potro and Rafael Nadal are still the stories of the Men’s side of the tournament though. Both veterans played like warriors this week, and overcame injury concerns to fight back and show a level of tennis they hadn’t showed in years. Del Potro, pumped up by a boisterous South American crowd in Rio, pummeled his forehand to a massive win over Novak Djokovic in two tiebreaks. Djokovic didn’t have the same kind of energy Del Potro showed in the match, and left the court heartbroken as he was denied a medal despite being the world #1.
Del Potro would not have an easy match all week, but when the going got tough and he looked down and out, the crowd rallied to his side, and JDMP found a way. Against Nadal in the semifinals, he managed to deal with Nadal’s incredible movement and returning, and although he blew chances to finish out the match, he eventually prevailed in a tight third set tiebreak.
Nadal was suffering from a wrist injury heading into Rio, but he managed to make the Bronze medal match in singles, and in an even bigger accomplishment, he won the doubles with his childhood friend Marc Lopez over the Romanian pairing of Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau. Kei Nishikori played well under the radar, except in his semifinal, and made Japan proud with a bronze in singles, he was able to stave off a Nadal comeback attempt in their Bronze medal match. While Jack Sock and Steve Johnson fought hard and earned a well deserved bronze in men’s doubles over the Canadian pairing of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil. Johnson was also a quarterfinalist in singles, while Sock won the mixed gold with veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands, over Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the Olympics until a few days prior.
The Women’s Side
On the women’s side of the tournament, Monica Puig made herself both a household name, and a national hero in her native Puerto Rico, when she shockingly won the gold over Angelique Kerber in three sets. Puig was a proud representative for the US Territory’s separate Olympic team and her victory transcended tennis, and even sports, as she was also the first representative of team Puerto Rico to win a gold medal in any Olympic sport. The world #34, who is just 22, made #picapower a trending hashtag on twitter as she notably beat Petra Kvitova in the semifinals as well, after rolling through her early matches without dropping more than three games in a set.
Kvitova went on to take Bronze over Madison Keys, while Kerber dominated all week until the final where she was stopped in her track. Still, the world #2 gets a Silver medal, and is pushing Serena Williams, who was ousted early in a shock upset to Elina Svitolina in the round of 16. This tournament was surprising in large part because both world #1’s were not competing in the medal round.
In the Women’s doubles Bronze medal match, it was an all Czech affair, as Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova beat Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova. In the Gold medal match Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina slid past Timea Bacsinszky and Martina Hingis. Hingis garnered criticism for her intentional shot at Hlavackova in their semifinal match that shattered a bone in the Czech’s face.
As the 2016 season continues, except to hear more from Puig and Del Potro, while Nadal and Murray will look to continue to compete at the highest level, and Kerber will go for #1.