Andy Murray beats del Potro for 2nd consecutive singles gold
Brit becomes first player to win 2 Olympic singles titles
By Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press
Andy Murray is making a habit of accomplishing things that hadn't been done in a while.
Murray became the first tennis player in Olympic history with two singles gold medals, winning his second in a row by wearing down Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 at the Rio de Janeiro Games in a final that lasted a tad more than 4 hours Sunday.
Murray also extended his career-high win streak to 18 matches. His last loss came against Novak Djokovic in the final of the French Open.
"Anything could have happened," said Murray, who took the last four games after trailing 5-3 in the fourth set.
"Emotionally, it was tough. Physically, it was hard," he said. "So many ups and downs."
At the 2012 London Olympics, Murray won a singles gold and mixed doubles silver at the All England Club. That, of course, was also the site of his history-making Wimbledon championship in 2013, when he ended the hosts' 77-year wait for a British man to claim the trophy.
Murray won Wimbledon again last month, raising his Grand Slam title count to three.
The No. 2-seeded Murray stopped the resurgent run of the 141st-ranked del Potro, who knocked off No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round last weekend and No. 3 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals Saturday. No man ever has defeated the top three seeds on the way to a gold, but 2009 U.S. champion del Potro sure came close before winding up with a silver to go alongside his bronze from 2012.
Del Potro had the louder support, and one fan even yelled something as Murray was about to hit a shot while two points from victory. He put the ball in the net and glared in the direction the voice came from. Soon after, a fan wearing a shirt with Argentina's colours was escorted out.
The final provided quite a contrast in styles: Murray's terrific returns, impenetrable defence and track-down-every-ball court coverage against the 6-foot-6 del Potro's booming serves and furious forehands. Both men are excellent at doing what they do, and it led to prolonged points. Not all were pretty, though, as they combined for 102 unforced errors, and 85 winners.
They almost went to a fifth set, too, because del Potro served for the fourth at 5-4, but was broken there and again in the final game.
"Against Andy," del Potro said, "you never know if you're going to win your serve."
When he dumped a backhand into the net to end the match, Murray bowed his head and slumped his shoulders as he walked to the net, looking more relieved than thrilled. Del Potro trudged even more slowly forward, then pulled Murray in for a hug.
They were each on court for the fourth straight day, because rain washed out play Wednesday, leading organizers to eliminate the 24 hours of rest between the semifinals and final. Del Potro was the one who looked the worse for wear from the accumulated exertion.
He would have been the lowest-ranked man to be an Olympic tennis gold medallist and this would have been his first title at any tournament since January 2014. A couple of months later, he had the first of three operations on his left wrist that forced him to miss 2 1/2 years' worth of Grand Slam tournaments. His first major tournament back was in June at Wimbledon and he still is not completely able to rip two-handed backhands the way he used to, often relying on righty slices.
"He'd done amazing, really, to get back to playing and competing again at this level after all of the issues he had," Murray said.
By the 10th point of Sunday's match, a 26-stroke exchange that ended with Murray netting a forehand, del Potro already looked spent. He closed his eyes, rolled back his head, stuck out his tongue and sucked air. By the fourth game, del Potro was resting between points near the baseline, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, catching his breath. By the fourth set, he was leaning on his racket as if it were a cane.
Early on, del Potro ended a mesmerizing, 34-stroke point by pounding a forehand winner, then slowly strolled, chest heaving, and waved his racket to ask the fans for more noise, perhaps hoping to delay things a bit. His supporters responded dutifully, raising a ruckus with their song of "Ole, ole, ole, ole! Del-po! Del-po!"
At other times, they bounced in place and shouted in Spanish, "Whoever isn't jumping is English!" (Murray is Scottish, but you get the point.)
Murray's backers would reply with the slightly more mundane, "Let's go, Andy! Let's go!"
Both sides prompted repeated requests for silence from chair umpire Pascal Maria, who also warned del Potro for taking too much time between points.
Murray used drop shots often and, usually, effectively, adding to the strain on del Potro's body. At the start of the second set, he feathered one that bounced twice before del Potro could get to it. Del Potro caught the ball, then stepped to the net, rested his elbows on the white tape and put his head on his balled-up fists.
Still, a couple of points later, del Potro summoned the strength for a backhand passing winner that gave him a break for 1-0. In the very next game, Murray failed to convert three break points, and that was basically his last chance in that set.
But he turned things back around on his way to making history yet again.
Murray now has a 6-2 career against del Potro, and the two will meet again in September in the semifinals of the Davis Cup, in Murray's hometown of Glasgow.
Nishikori wins bronze
Kei Nishikori gave Japan its first Olympic tennis medal in 86 years, overcoming a mid-match lull to beat 2008 champion Nadal for the bronze in men's singles at the Rio Games.
Nishikori won the third-place match 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3 on Sunday after blowing a 5-2 lead in the second set. He came into Sunday's match with a 1-9 career record against Nadal.
In 1920, Japan won its only previous Olympic tennis medals, a pair of silvers.
Tennis was one of the original sports at the modern Olympics in 1896, remaining on the schedule until 1924. Then it was dropped, before returning in 1988.
How about this rally in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bronze?src=hash">#Bronze</a>-medal match between <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JPN?src=hash">#JPN</a> Kei Nishikori & <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ESP?src=hash">#ESP</a> Rafael Nadal? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rio2016?src=hash">#Rio2016</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ir4av8XdKG">https://t.co/Ir4av8XdKG</a>—@CBCOlympics
Nadal does leave Brazil with a gold medal from men's doubles for Spain.
Andy Murray of Britain and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina are currently playing for gold in the men's singles final.
Russians take doubles gold
The Russian tennis duo of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina claimed Olympic gold medals in women's doubles.
The seventh-seeded Russians beat fifth-seeded Timea Bacsinszky and Martina Hingis of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4 in the final Sunday.
Bacsinszky and Hingis took silver, and Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic had already won bronze.
Makarova and Vesnina have won two Grand Slam women's doubles titles together. It's the first Olympic medal for both.
Hingis won her first medal at age 35, two decades after her last Olympics.
Americans win mixed
Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock won the mixed doubles title, denying Venus Williams a record fifth gold medal.
Mattek-Sands and Sock beat Williams and Rajeev Ram 6-7 (3), 6-1, 10-7 (tiebreak) in an all-U.S. final Sunday.
It's the second medal of the Rio Games for Sock, who won bronze in men's doubles with Steve Johnson.
Mattek-Sands and Sock trailed 6-3 in the deciding super tiebreak then won six straight points. Mattek-Sands thought they had won on their first match point, throwing her racket in celebration, but Sock's return landed just long. They closed it out on the next point.
Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic clinched bronze earlier Sunday.