If the Olympic tennis tournament is merely a quadrennial sideshow many of the top pros would just as soon avoid, what were Fernando Gonzalez and Taylor Dent doing Saturday night at Center Court, taking 30 games and two hours to decide the third set in a bronze-medal match?
Waging the longest decisive set played in an Olympic medal match, Gonzalez finally defeated Dent, 6-4, 2-6, 16-14, in 3 hours 25 minutes. Gonzalez, of Chile, staved off two match points in the 28th game of the third set and broke Dent’s serve in the 29th to go ahead, 15-14. Gonzalez then served out the match, finally scoring the clinching point with a running forehand winner.
“I can’t believe I lost,” said Dent after a final set officially timed at 2 hours 1 minute. “It was the longest match I’ve played, in terms of a set.”
It went on for so long, it was tough to remember details.
“It was a good match,” Dent said. “It was a shame that I lost, but it was fun to be a part of.”
Oddly, the third set began with back-to-back service breaks, and three breaks in the first five games. But after Gonzalez broke back to tie the set at 5-5, neither player lost serve for the next 18 games.
Dent had two match points with Gonzalez serving at 13-14, but was unable to capitalize.
“I played my game,” Dent said of the match-point attempts. “Both times I tried to chip and charge and just missed them.”
How tightly contested was the match? Gonzalez edged Dent in total points won, 165-164. Both committed the same number of unforced errors, 78.
“It was a really tough match,” said Gonzalez, the 16th-seeded player in the field. “I am very happy to win for my country, Chile. I thank all the people who supported me on the court.”
Though disappointed, Dent said his Olympic experience had been “great” and he wished he could have won for the U.S. fans.
“But it didn’t happen that way,” he said. “It’s a shame. But you know, hopefully in four years, I’ll have another chance.”
Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu of Chile won the doubles gold medal, beating Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4.
Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia won the bronze, beating Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes of India, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 16-14.
Associated Press contributed to this report.