Four years after his heart breaking loss at the hands of Roger Federer in London in the semi final of the 2012 Olympics, Juan Martin Del Potro was on the winning side of one of the most dramatic matches of the year and in the process assured himself of a medal and now faces Andy Murray in the gold medal match on Sunday.
The bronze medal winner in London who got the worst possible draw playing world number one Novak Djokovic in the first round, started with a bang breaking Nadal in the first game. The Spaniard who on Friday won the doubles final teaming up with countryman Marc Lopez broke back in the sixth game and then again in the twelveth game to go one set up.
The Argentine would get an early break of serve in the second set and this time did not falter and forced a decider. Del Potro only converted on 3 out of 9 break point chances in the entire match lasting over three hours. He broke in the seventh game but failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the decider as Nadal broke to love to level at 5-5.
The match was decided in a tie-break and Del Potro took an early lead which he did not relinquish. Nadal saved a match point at 4-6 on Del Potro’s serve but then hit a forehand wide to give Del Potro a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(5) win. The 2009 U.S. Open champion whose career has been ravaged by wrist injuries, hit 11 aces and 18 forehand winners in the entire match.
Del Potro had lost a four hour twenty six minute marathon at the London Olympics played on the grass courts of Wimbledon, losing 17-19 in the third set. Like he did this year he had gone on to beat Novak Djokovic of Serbia and settled for a bronze then.
Andy Murray will now try to become the only player to defend the singles gold after a crushing 6-1, 6-4 win over Kei Nishikori of Japan who looked to have run out of gas following his three set win over the Frenchman Gael Monfils on Friday where he saved three match points in the process.
For the third consecutive match Andy Murray took the first set decisively but looked almost on the verge of surrendering the advantage as Nishikori saved two match points in the tenth game. Murray, won 61 points to Nishikori’s 39. He can now go one better than Nadal who won the Beijing gold medal in 2008.
Murray has a 5-2 edge in career meetings against Del Potro, but the Argentine won the last meeting between the two at Indian Wells in March 2013, winning in three sets. Nadal will play for the bronze medal against Kei Nishikori against whom he has a 9-1 head to head record. It will be near impossible for both Del Potro and Nadal to recover in time but the stakes are too high hence both will hope to rise to the challenge.
Murray has the edge as it will be a best of five sets final and the Argentine has not played a five setter since his return to the circuit at Delray Beach in February this year. The bronze medal match will be best of three and Nadal who maybe playing his last Olympics would certainly give it all. Nishikori’s turn may come at Tokyo Olympics at home in 2020.
Prediction :- Murray in four sets and Nadal in three sets.
Little known Monica Puig of Puerto Rico gave her country her first ever gold medal as the 22 year old Florida based stunned the Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. In a dramatic seventh game of the decider Puig saved six break points before serving out the set on her fourth match point. She had 54 winners in the match.
The Carribean Island of Puerto Rico had won only 2 silver and 6 bronze medals previously of which six have come in boxing. Earlier in the day Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, a two time Wimbledon champion claimed the bronze against the American prodigy Madison Keys 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 in an error prone match in which the two had a combined 87 winners.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]