The line up has been set for the semi finals in Rio as the surviving favourites for the title overcame strong resistance to give themselves a chance of winning a medal in singles. The 2012 Gold medal winner in London, Andy Murray of Great Britain, the 2008 gold medalist in Beijing, Rafael Nadal of Spain, Kei Nishikori of Japan and the London bronze medal winner Juan Martin Del Potro have made it to the last four to be played on Saturday.
Rafael Nadal scored a milestone 800 career singles win on a day he combined with compatriot Marc Lopez to clinch gold medal in men’s doubles, beating the Romanian pair of Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau in three sets. Nadal came from behind to beat the last remaining home hope Thomaz Bellucci 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Nadal is only the eighth player in Open Era to register 800 career singles wins. He joins the illustrious company of the Americans Jimmy Connors (1,256 wins), John McEnroe (877 wins) and Andre Agassi (870 wins), Swiss superstar Roger Federer (1,080 wins), Ivan Lendl of the Czech Republic (1,068 wins), Argentine Guillermo Vilas (929 wins) and Stefan Edberg of Sweden (801 wins).
The third seeded Spaniard next faces the giant killer Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina who beat Nadal’s compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 7-6(4). The tall Argentine who knocked out world number one Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the first round, hit 42 winners including 27 off his favoured forehand wing. Del Potro won the two hour eleven minute encounter breaking service three times in the first set but also failing to serve it out at 5-4. Nadal has a 8-4 edge in career meetings but the Argentine won their last meeting 6-2, 6-4 at the 2013 Rolex Masters in Shanghai.
The other semi final which will be played first on Saturday will feature the second seeded Andy Murray and fourth seed Kei Nishikori. Both required a third set tie-break and Nishikori saved three match points against the in form Gael Monfils of France. Murray bageled the last American hope Steve Johnson, but like he did the day before against the Italian Fabio Fognini lost his way in the second set before recovering to win 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(2). He went a break down in the third set to trail 3-4 and had to endure 31 winners from the much improved Johnson ranked 22nd in the world. The Wimbledon champion also took two hours and eleven minutes to advance.
Nishikori trailed 3-6 in the third set tie-break and then won the next five points to seal a 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) win over the sixth seeded Frenchman. Nishikori had 23 winners. Murray has a convincing 6-1 lead in their career meetings, including the last three and the most recent one being in the first round of Davis Cup in March 2016 when Nishikori overcame a two set deficit before Murray came through 6-3 in the decider.
The following is the line up for the last four with my pick mentioned first :-
Andy Murray (2) (44-6) v. Kei Nishikori (44-12); Murray leads 6-1
Juan Martin Del Potro (-) (17-8) v. Rafael Nadal (3) (33-8) ; Nadal leads 8-4.
There will be a first time winner of any medal in the ladies section as the Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber firmly established herself as the favourite for the gold medal as she beat the promising American teenager Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5. She faces the surprise finalist Monica Puig of Puerto Rico who upset the two time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in three sets, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
Petra Kvitova will now battle for the bronze medal match against Madison Keys on Saturday. Both are tied at 2 apiece in career meetings but Keys won their most recent match up at Rome in May this year. The American teenager has little to lose and could well upset Kvitova who has a history of disappointing results apart from her two Wimbledon titles.
Kerber has won both their career meeting including Cincinnati in August 2015, where she won in straight sets 6-2, 6-3. The second ranked German finished runner up to Serena Williams at Wimbledon last month but will be favoured to join Steffi Graf who won in Seoul, 1988 to complete the Golden slam winning all four majors and the Olympic gold.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]