Bencic, Vondrousova To Play For Olympic Gold

Belinda Bencic (photo: @ITFTennis/Twitter)

TOKYO/WASHINGTON, July 30, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Belinda Bencic has positioned herself to do something that Swiss greats Roger Federer and Martina Hingis could never achieve: win an Olympic gold medal.

On Thursday at Tokyo’s Ariake Park, the World No. 12 from Switzerland endured an emotional two-hour and 44-minute semifinal against No. 15 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, winning 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-3, to reach Saturday’s Gold Medal Match.

It was the 24-year-old Bencic’s third straight three-set win after previously beating French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the semifinal round. Her opponent will be unseeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who proved her upset of World No. 2 and second seed Naomi Osaka of Japan earlier in the Olympic Tennis Event was no fluke – and now will the first Czech to play for an Olympic gold medal on Saturday.

The 42nd-ranked Vondrousova kept No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine off balance by effectively utilizing a variety of drop shots to beat the World No. 6 with ease, 6-3, 6-1, in 64 minutes. The 22-year-old Vondrousova hit 14 winners and took advantage of Svitolina’s 29 unforced errors. She outpointed Svitolina 58-40.

“I was thinking that [to win] two or three matches would have been great, and then I beat Naomi so then I thought that I was playing well and that maybe I could even do better,” Vondrousova said, quoted by the ITF website. “I’m now just happy to be in the final. It’s an amazing feeling.

“I can’t believe it. Maybe it’ll sink in later. This is amazing, even if it’s silver or gold, it’s amazing and I’m just very proud.”

After Bencic secured match point against Rybakina, she immediately sunk to her knees in tearful joy. “My emotions right now … it’s too high,” she said, quoted by the ITF website. “To have a medal, it’s the greatest thing. Even to be here as an athlete, in the Olympics, it’s amazing.

“To have a medal, it’s something I dreamed of, and I didn’t think it would become reality. I’m beyond relieve and happy.”

Bencic’s semifinal victory ensures that Switzerland will medal in a fourth straight Olympic Games. The list of Swiss tennis medalists is an impressive one: Federer won singles silver at London in 2012 and doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka at Beijing in 2008; Timea Bacsinszky and Hingis won doubles silver at Rio in 2016, and Marc Rosset won singles gold at Barcelona in 1992.

Adding to Bencic’s accomplishments in singles, she and Viktorija Golubic will play for the doubles gold medal, too. They defeated Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani of Brazil, 7-5, 6-3, to advance against the No. 1 seeds Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who beat Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina of the ROC, 6-3, 3-6, 10-6.

“This is for sure the best day [of my career], of course,” Bencic said. “This is the biggest result I have reached so far – and the biggest result in doubles. To do it both in the same day, it’s for sure the best result.

“I don’t really want this dream to stop – we were talking about maybe we wake up tomorrow and none of this happened and we’re going to be sad! But it’s reality. We’re super-happy.”

Djokovic reaches semifinals, Medvedev falls

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia moved a round closer to winning his first Olympic singles gold medal after beating Japan’s 69th-ranked Kei Nishikori, 6-2, 6-0, in 70 minutes. The victory tied him with Roger Federer for most Olympic singles wins with 13 and advanced him to Friday’s semifinal round against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who eliminated No. 68 Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-4, 6-1, in 67 minutes. In his Olympic debut, Zverev has not dropped any sets.

The other semifinal will pair No. 6 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who ousted No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of the ROC, 6-2, 7-6 (5), in an hour and 43 minutes, against No. 12 seed Karen Khachanov. The ROC’s Khachanov beat No. 14 seed Ugo Humbert of France, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3. The recent Hamburg champion Carreño Busta hit 11 winners during his victory over the World No. 2 Medvedev, while Khachanov fired 10 aces in beating Humbert.

Djokovic’s quest to become the first man to win all four major titles plus an Olympic gold medal in the same year continued its course as he hit eight winners, won 85 percent (17 of 20) first-serve points and converted five of 10 break-point opportunities while not being broken by Nishikori. Djokovic also became the first Olympic tennis player – man or woman – to reach three singles semifinals.

“Matches are not getting easier, but my level of tennis is getting better and better,” Djokovic said, quoted by the ITF website. “I know that I’m [the] kind of player that the further the tournament goes, the better I’m feeling on the court. That’s the case here. [It was] my best performance of the tournament tonight against a very good opponent.

“I know Kei’s game very well. Him playing in Japan, this court where he had lots of success. I knew that he was going to play very quick, and he was not going to give me a lot of time. So, I had to be very alert. I feel I had an answer for everything he had.”

Men’s doubles final will be all-Croatian affair

With both Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic as well as Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig reaching the men’s doubles final, it has guaranteed that Croatia will win its first gold and silver medals in Olympic tennis.

On Thursday, Mektic and Pavic defeated Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren of the United States, 6-4, 6-4, while Cilic and Dodig advanced with a 6-2, 6-2, 75-minute victory over New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus.

The last time Croatia medaled in tennis was back in 2004 at Athens when Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic won doubles bronze.

“It’s a big deal for the whole of Croatia,” said Pavic, who is part of the top-seeded team with Mektic and together have won three Grand Slams in men’s doubles. “It’s such a small country. We had that tradition in doubles always in the last few years, but this is exceptional. We are super happy to be in the final.

“It’s a historical day for Croatian tennis. … Nobody expected this at the beginning of the tournament.

“But we are here now, we’re happy for [Cilic and Dodig]. They also played a great couple of matches and tomorrow, it’s going to be a big day for all of us. We’re here to enjoy it.”

Cilic was ecstatic after winning his semifinal match with Dodig. “We have won everything in tennis, from Futures level up to Grand Slams,” he said. “We had difficult times coming up through youth tennis, both me and him coming from a small place of Medjugorje with a population of only 4,000.

“We started tennis together, and to reach this lat thing, to win a medal for our country, for ourselves together, is just unreal. .We are incredibly proud of ourselves and we played an unbelievable tournament here – the best tournament we ever had together. We showed our strength and how good we are as a team.”

Around Ariake Park

Thursday’s Olympic tennis results

Friday’s Olympic tennis order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“I felt well physically, I felt well mentally. I came here to fight for medals and I’m playing good tennis so far. I’m happy that I’m managing to find solutions to the problems as they appear – this is tennis. I’m enjoying [it] so far, and I want to keep going like that.”

Karen Khachanov of the ROC, following his quarterfinal victory against Ugo Humbert.

“It’s an amazing feeling to represent my country in the bronze medal match but I’m really disappointed. I tried my best but I expected to go further. Unfortunately there are other players who are playing well. It’s extremely tough and it didn’t happen today. Marketa played really well, a very solid performance and I couldn’t find my best tennis today and everything came together for her.”

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, after being eliminated from gold medal contention by Marketa Vondrousova.

What they’re sharing on social media

Karen Khachanov / Just do it!

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova/ We are in final!