Bencic Continues Swiss Olympic Tennis Greatness, Wins Tokyo Singles Gold Medal

Belinda Bencic (photo: @ITFTennis/Twitter)

TOKYO/WASHINGTON, July 31, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Belinda Bencic became the first Swiss woman to win an Olympic tennis singles gold medal Saturday evening in Tokyo, something even Hall of Famer Martina Hingis never accomplished.

The No. 9 seed Bencic overcame unseeded, 22-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic to win 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 on Centre Court at Ariake Park. She joined 1992 gold medalist Marc Rosset, and 2008 doubles champions Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka as the fourth tennis player from Switzerland to win an Olympic gold medal. Additionally, Federer won a silver medal in singles in 2012 and Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky won a silver in doubles in 2016.

The two-and-a-half hour gold medal match had plenty of momentum swings – thanks to 12 breaks of serve between the two competitors – but in the end it was Bencic, who came from a break down in the deciding set, that came away with the biggest victory of her career.

In serving for the gold medal, Bencic saved three break points during the 12-point final game. On her second match point, the World No. 12 Bencic sealed gold with a service winner. Completely overcome with emotion, she immediately fell to her back and began to celebrate the thrill of her victory.

Soon after, during an on-court interview with the Olympic Channel, Bencic was still beaming a big smile. She was asked to describe how it felt to be the first Swiss woman to win an Olympic tennis gold medal. “I don’t know what to say. It’s amazing. I really cannot believe it right now. I don’t get it right now.”

En route to winning Olympic gold, Bencic defeated Jessica Pegula of the United States, Misaki Doi of Japan, Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of the ROC, Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and Vondrousova. Her last four wins all went three sets.

Next, the 24-year-old Bencic, born in Flawil, Switzerland, will go for double gold on Sunday when she and fellow Swiss Viktorija Golubic face Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in the women’s doubles gold medal match. Between singles and doubles, Bencic is 10-0 in her Olympic debut.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I mean, I didn’t think it was possible. I’m glad it worked out,” Bencic said. “I’m playing like it’s the last match of my career. It’s the freaking Olympic Games! For me, this is the biggest thing ever for an athlete. I cannot believe that I have two medals and one of them is already gold.”

Carreño Busta wins men’s singles bronze medal

Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta earned his first-career triumph against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a completed match – and no better time than at the Olympic Games in which to do it.

The sixth-seeded Spaniard, who let slip a match point at 6-5 in a second-set tie break, won 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 in two hours and 47 minutes to earn the men’s singles bronze medal. With an arsenal of blistering ground strokes as his ally, he hit 32 winners. Upon securing victory, the  30-year-old Carreño Busta let his emotions show by dropping to the court while fighting back tears.

By winning bronze, the Spanish men have medaled in seven of the nine Olympic Games since tennis was reinstated as an Olympic sport in 1988.

“This is even more incredible than winning a tournament,” Carreno Busta exclaimed. “I won Davis Cup, and I’ve gone far in other tournaments, but winning an Olympic medal is indescribable.

“I’ve felt the support from Spain, my family and people around me, and have received fond messages from those who saw me lose yesterday. I want to share this medal with all of them.”

After losing semifinal matches in both singles and mixed doubles on Friday, Djokovic appeared worn down, both physically and emotionally. At times, he let his frustration show, tossing his racquet high into the stands after the opening game of the third set. Djokovic avoided a point penalty for his outburst, but he wasn’t finished.

Later, Djokovic smashed his racquet near the umpire’s chair after falling behind 3-0. A week that started so promisingly – making a run at a Golden Slam – went in the wrong direction within 24 hours. Now, for the third consecutive Olympic Games, Djokovic is without a medal for his effort. His lone medal remains a bronze won at Beijing in 2008.

“I’ve had some heart-breaking losses at the Olympic Games and some big tournaments in my career. I know that those losses have usually made me stronger in every aspect. I know that I will bounce back,” Djokovic said after his defeat, quoted by the ITF website.

“I will try to keep going for the Paris Olympic Games. I will fight for my country to win medals. I’m sorry that I disappointed a lot of sports fans in my country, but that’s sport. I gave it [my] all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much, I left it out on the court.”

Djokovic, whose bid for a Golden Slam was derailed in the semifinals by Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Friday, still can achieve a calendar year Grand Slam by garnering the US Open, which he’s won four times. It starts in a month.

Later, Djokovic told Tennis Majors‘ Sasa Ozmo, “I am dealing with injuries. Not one, more than one. I hope that it won’t stop me from going to the US Open, which is my next big goal.

“I do not regret coming or giving my all; how can I have regrets, it is normal when you are at the Olympic Games representing your country. Unfortunately, for the third time at the Olympics, I am losing in the semifinals. I won the medal only once. I mean, ‘only,’ a medal is a medal, but for my standards and expectations and wishes, not an ideal outcome.”

Svitolina earns Ukraine’s first Olympic tennis medal

World No. 6 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine won her country’s first Olympic tennis medal with a come-from-behind 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over No. 15 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. The fourth-seeded Svitolina came from 1-4 down in the final set to pull out the victory.

The two-hour and 24-minute bronze medal singles contest wasn’t decided until the seventh match point, after Rybakina saved six match points earlier. On the seventh, Svitolina put away a forehand winner on the fifth shot of the final rally, then crouched down and covered her mouth, overcome by the moment of triumph. She shed tears of joy and beamed a big smile toward her team.

“Coming here, for sure my goal was to win a gold medal, and it was extremely tough to lose in the semifinals and then try to regroup and come again against a top player who is playing really good,” Svitolina, 26, said, quoted by the ITF website. “To win such a big battle for the bronze medal definitely means the world to me. Everyone in Ukraine is watching – we don’t win so many medals, you know – so for sure, it’s very special for me and for Ukraine.”

Historic first Olympic tennis medal for Brazil

Brazil’s Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani won their country’s first Olympic tennis medal with after saving four match points in their 4-6, 6-4, 11-9 victory over Elena Vesnina and Veronika Kudermetova of the ROC.

Pigossi and Stefani, who were a last-minute entry into the women’s doubles draw, rallied from 9-5 down in the match tie break, winning the final seven points of the match. It gave the Brazilians a satisfying conclusion to their Olympic experience after losing their semifinal match on Thursday to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic.

“Words can’t express what this medal means,” Pigossi said. “It’s a dream. I always wanted this medal, I always wanted this. I’m over the moon and speechless. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve given up to get here, I always thought it was worth it, but now I have a medal to prove it. And we know that everyone in Brazil was behind us.”

Stefani echoed her teammate’s enthusiasm. “The feeling is incredible. I don’t think we understand where we are – the important thing is being in the present, enjoying the feeling right now.

“We knew that we had given everything, and now we have all this emotion. From 0-0 to 9-5, we believed we could make it. This feeling of confidence and to play properly, this is what is wonderful.”

Australia wins mixed doubles bronze medal

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty and John Peers won their country’s first medal in mixed doubles. It came via walkover from Novak Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic of Serbia after Djokovic withdrew from the match with a left shoulder injury following his singles bronze medal loss to Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta.

“Obviously it seemed incredibly tough to Team Serbia to not be able to get on the court tonight, but for John and I it’s a dream come true,” Barty said, quoted by the ITF website.

“We came here to fight, we came here to win a medal for our nation, and now to be able to take a bronze medal back home and add to the Australian tally is incredible.” 

Djokovic told Serbian reporters in Tokyo, “I apologize to all the fans in Serbia who I have disappointed. I know everyone expected a medal, I did too. I feel bad for Nina because we did not fight for a medal in mixed, but my body said ‘enough’: I have played under medications and abnormal pain and exhaustion. But again, my heart is in the right place, because I know that I gave my all. I love to play for my country. Unfortunately, I did not get the result I wanted, but that is sport, we move on.”

The medal won by Barty and Peers represents Australia’s sixth in Olympic tennis and it was the Aussie’s first since Alicia Molik won a bronze medal in women’s singles at Athens in 2004.

“Ash and I both had the Olympics on the schedule this year, it was one of our goals to walk away with a medal for Australia,” Peers said. “To be able to say we did, it’s something really special and amazing. 

“If you actually just watch all the matches and [see the] raw emotions that came out the Olympics, is so special.”

Saturday’s Olympic tennis results

Sunday’s Olympic tennis order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“There is nothing more important that representing Brazil. And this is important for tennis in Brazil – it’s a brilliant achievement. Maybe this will bring us more players in Brazil and motivate more girls to play tennis. This is what is wonderful in sport – I want to see Brazilian sport grow, for us to become more important in the sports world, especially for girls.”

Luisa Stefani of Brazil’s bronze medal-winning women’s doubles team, after winning her country’s first Olympic tennis medal.

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