The world number two and his opponent struggled to hold back the tears as they embraced at the net after a gruelling, see-sawing, four-hour contest played out in front of a vociferous crowd at the Olympic Tennis Centre. Murray’s consistency proved decisive in the end. Preying on Del Potro’s backhand, the London 2012 gold medallist frequently drew the fatigued Argentine into the net with deftly placed drop shots as the contest wore on.
Del Potro served for the fourth set at 5-4 only for the No2 seed to break the Argentine in consecutive games to close out a hard-fought 7-5 4-6 6-2 7-5 win. It was Murray’s 18th straight victory following his second Wimbledon title in July.
“It was probably one of the hardest matches I have had to play to win a big final,” said the British star, who added Rio 2016 gold to his growing collection of titles, which also includes the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon crowns. “This was tough emotionally and physically, there were lots of ups and downs. This was much harder to win than London four years ago. The final then was more straightforward. Tonight anything could have happened.”
Murray said he was proud of his achievement especially as it was sealed in a match that featured 15 breaks of serve and ended with both men all but out on their feet: “It’s very hard to win two golds, I am proud to be the first but it hasn’t been easy. Lots can happen in four years.”
Great Britain’s flag-bearer at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony, the Scot had been a hot favourite to retain his title but he was pushed all the way by an impressive Del Potro, who was roared on by hundreds of passionate Argentinian fans.
Del Potro had blown open the tournament by beating top seed Novak Djokovic in the first round, and then edged Rafael Nadal in a punishing three-hour semi-final contest. His stirring exploits left him exhausted, however. “I left the last of my toenails on the court,” commented the Argentinian. “I was tremendously tired. It was the crowd that made me keep running. Silver is like a gold for me. I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
In climbing the podium, 2009 U.S. Open champion Del Potro claimed his second Olympic medal after a bronze at the London 2012. His blistering forehand produced several winners but said he had no complaints about the final result, crediting Murray for playing “smarter” tennis at crucial moments.
Equally unstinting in his praise for his opponent, Murray said: “He should be very proud of his efforts.” The Scot said he may yet chase a third title at the Tokyo Games in 2020, but acknowledged that his best playing days could well be behind him by then. Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who will still be in his prime at his home Olympics, beat Nadal 6-2 6-7(1) 6-3 earlier in the day to claim the bronze.