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Andy Murray makes tennis history in a flag-raising tennis final

Britain's Andy Murray shows off his gold medal after defeating Juan Martin del Potro on Sunday.
(Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Andy Murray started his Olympic journey in Rio by carrying the British flag in the opening ceremony. He ended it Sunday by watching that same flag raised over the Olympic Tennis Centre.

The first act was an honor. But the second was historic because by outlasting Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, to climb to the top of the medal podium, Murray became the first man to win two Olympic singles titles.

“The fact that it’s not been done before means that it’s a very difficult thing to do,” Murray said. “It hasn’t, obviously, been easy because a lot can happen in four years. Especially for a tennis player.”

A lot can happen in a match, too, and Sunday’s was a four-hour-long roller-coaster ride, with Murray grabbing the early momentum, then giving it back, only to regain it again. In the decisive fourth set, Murray lost serve three times.

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The match was also a contrast in styles, with Del Potro’s booming serves and crushing forehands matched against Murray’s creativity, court smarts and terrific returns. It wasn’t always pretty, though, with 102 unforced errors and 15 service breaks, seven in the fourth set alone.

And there was almost a fifth set, with Del Potro serving for the set at 5-4 only to be broken there and in the final game.

“Tonight was one of the hardest matches that I had to play for a big title,” Murray said. “Emotionally it was hard. It was tough. There were so many ups and downs.”

So when Del Potro sent a backhand into the net to end the match, Murray dropped his head, more relieved than thrilled. Del Potro, who had played more than seven hours of tennis in about 28 hours, stumbled forward to embrace his opponent in a hug.

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Del Potro, a bronze medalist in London, has struggled with injuries since winning his only Grand Slam title in 2009. But in Rio he beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic in straight sets to start his tournament, beat Rafael Nadal in a three-set semifinal to reach the gold-medal match and fought his way out of an Olympic Village elevator after being trapped for more than half an hour. But there would be no final escape.

“When I saw the draw and saw my first opponent was Djokovic, I said ‘OK, it’s going to be a short tournament for me,’ ” Del Potro said. Instead he made it to the final, playing before a raucous pro-Argentine crowd that treated the match more like a soccer game, chanting, screaming and repeatedly forcing the chair umpire to plead for them to behave.

“It was like a dream,” Del Potro said. “I’ve never seen something like that.

“This will be for the rest of my life in my mind. Now I got a silver medal, which means a gold for me.”

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It was an emotional final for Murray, too, who has had back surgery and seen his world ranking go into a free fall for a time since winning his first gold medal. This year is shaping up to be his best ever, however, with wins at Wimbledon and the Olympics to go with runner-up finishes at both the French and Australian Opens.

He may have surpassed all of that in the last 10 days, though.

“Getting the chance to carry the flag for the opening ceremony was an amazing experience,” Murray said. “To finish it with a match like that as well, I was very emotional at the end.”

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As for which experience was better, Murray will have to get back to you on that.

“It’s difficult to say to be honest right now,” he said. “I’m just so tired.”

Earlier Sunday, Venus Williams was denied her chance at Olympic history when she and partner Rajeev Ram were upset by fellow Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock in a mixed-doubles final decided in a 10-point tiebreak, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 10-7.

Williams was bidding to become the first player to win gold medals in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. A victory would also have made her the first five-time champion in Olympic history, breaking a tie with her sister Serena, who also has four gold medals.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11


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