It’s a fantastic final four at the 2016 Rio Olympics men’s tennis singles event. Top seed Novak Djokovic is absent, yes, but look who takes his spot in the men’s semifinals? His conqueror Juan Martin del Potro! So that works for me!
And Delpo meets Rafael Nadal while in the other semifinal it’s defending gold medalist Andy Murray against Kei Nishikori.
Incredibly today, all four players had to battle to make the semifinals. This is once-every-four-years kind of stuff.
In what looked to be the biggest mismatch turned out to be quite the contest as American Steve Johnson actually was up a break on a scratchy Murray in the third 4-3 before the Brit came back to win it in a tight one 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(2) saving more break chances late in that final set.
That’s two comebacks for Murray after Fognini also had him by a break in the third. But winners win, right?
Del Potro, who’s been really finding his mark this week, edged the tricky Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 7-6(4). The Argentine was once against blasting away from the forehand with 27 winners to lead him to victory. Lost a break n the second but hung on.
“I cannot believe the moment, the crowd makes me cry in every match,” Del Potro said. “I don’t want to think about Rafa yet, he is the next opponent and he is the favourite to get to the final and get the medal, but I am so glad with my success and I will try to be 100%.”
And while that was going on, Nadal had dropped the first set to Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci before course-correcting for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory and his 800th overall career match win.
“Rafa is a great player and he deserves to be in the semis but for me it was very special, maybe one of the most special matches in my life,” said Bellucci who has now lost 15 straight to Top 5 players.
“In the beginning for me was so difficult to be in rhythm,” said Nadal. “The atmosphere was tough too, but at the same time I enjoyed it. I think I managed well to come back at the beginning of the second set from some tough situations and then in the third I think I played well.”
The best match of the day on paper turned out to be just that as Nishikori fought off a match point to beat Gael Monfils 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) to reach the semifinals.
“I think I played a little more aggressive and thought I had nothing to lose at 6-3 down,” Nishikori said of saving the matchpoint. “My concentration wasn’t there at the beginning of the tiebreak so I tried to play a little more aggressive. I close my eyes and tried to come in two points in a row.”
See, closing your eyes does work in tennis!
Luckily, all four will have a day off before the gold medal match. But, oh wait, they won’t because the washout Wednesday has eliminated that off day which was to come Saturday.
So tired, and battered the four enter the semifinals…
Kei Nishikori v Andy Murray
Of the foursome, I have to peg Murray as the freshest. And he’s got the gold, he’s in form, the slow courts should suit him. And head-to-head in this one it’s been all Murray leading 6-1. But their most recent meeting was a tough 5-setter in Davis Cup earlier this year.
However, after the Monfils match and with all the tennis he played in Toronto, I just don’t see Nishikori being at 100%. And we know he’s not the toughest guy out there anyway.
“You know, I was a little bit lucky at the end of the games, and I am very happy to win today, but I think the tournament is starting now,” Nishikori said today. “For the medal I think I have to play well against Andy – someone I haven’t beat for long time. I have to play much better tennis for sure to beat him.”
Then again, Murray wasn’t great today, but I expect him to do just enough to get through. As the head-to-head indicates, he’s just the better player and he’s done this before.
“It feels special because we don’t get this opportunity all of the time, competing trying to win medals for your country add to the pressure obviously,” Murray said. “For me it has nothing to do with having won the gold in London. It’s trying to win more medals for your country and your team and I give my best shot to do that.”
The Pick: Murray in 3
Juan Martin Del Potro v Rafael Nadal
Dream semifinal? Maybe not for the tennis world as a whole but in South America it probably is.
The left wrist bowl? You bet!
Nadal leads this one 8-4 and they haven’t played in almost three years (it’s 4-4 on hardcourts). After all the tennis and after winning the gold in doubles, I just have to think Nadal is spent and content with his result. And Del Potro, playing in front of what should be many of his fans, has the motivation and the game to damage Nadal. We know that, we’ve seen it before.
“Being at the semifinals is something that a few days ago I wouldn’t even imagine,” Nadal said. “I don’t even know how things are going so well, because I didn’t do any preparation for the tournament, but I’m playing with a great attitude, fighting hard for each point, fighting to the end.”
And Rafa is playing with that great attitude, but if he drops balls short like he did today against Bellucci, Del Potro will punish him just like Bellucci did. Except Del Potro won’t fold.
Rafa got his gold, now it’s Del Potro’s turn. And I know Rafa’s never lost in the Olympics, but gosh, that Delpo forehand when it’s on…and it’s on.
The Pick: Del Potro in 2
Could the opposite happen? Absolutely. As I said, Murray wasn’t great and you can never, ever count out Rafa. But based on form and time spent on court, I have to think that catches up and it’s Murray and Delpo for the gold.
And don’t forget, there’s a bronze match as well on Sunday, so Rafa still has two more matches! But with Delpo and Rafa, you can see the emotional toll the Olympics take.
Bravo will have live coverage starting at 11am ET with Nishikori-Murray followed by Delpo-Nadal.
SATURDAY RIO OLYMPICS SCHEDULE
Centre Court starting at 12:00
(4) NISHIKORI Kei (JPN) vs (2) MURRAY Andy (GBR)
DEL POTRO Juan Martin (ARG) vs (3) NADAL Rafael (ESP)
not before 15:00
PUIG Monica (PUR) vs (2) KERBER Angelique (GER)
You Might Like:
Andy Murray v Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro v Stan Wawrinka; US Open Wed. Pick And Pans
Djokovic v. Tsonga, Federer v. Isner; London Olympics QF Picks And Pans
Novak Djokovic v Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka v Kei Nishikori; US Open SF Picks And Pans
Rio Olympics Men’s Draw: Djokovic-Del Potro First Round, Murray Tries To Make History
Nadal v Del Potro, Djokovic v Nishikori; US Open SFs Picks And Pans