Andy Murray is one win away from becoming the first defending Gold Medalist to defend his title at the Olympics. Murray faces tennis’ best story this week in Rio in Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine is seeking his first title of any sort since January 2014.
(2) Andy Murray vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Murray finally got an easier match after nearly tasting defeat in the last two rounds. In Saturday’s semifinal, he controlled most of the match against 4th seed Kei Nishikori en route to a 6-1, 6-4 win. Murray did not face a single break point as his serve was stout, winning 38 of 50 points. Nishikori could not match that effort as he won just 56 perent of his service points. Murray would break Nishikori each of the three times he had a chance. The 2nd seed was precise with 15 winners and just 15 unforced errors compared to 23 unforced errors for Nishikori.
Nishikori simply could not match Murray’s aggressiveness in the semis and Murray looked hit and ready for more. That was a stark contrast to the efforts of Murray in the quarterfinals, where he needed a third set tiebreak to beat Steve Johnson. Or round three, when he found himself down 0-3 in the final set to Fabio Fognini, before winning six straight games to close out the match. Arguably, Murray could not have asked for a better set-up to chasing a second Gold medal.
Del Potro meanwhile was embroiled in one of the matches of the tournament, a three hour-plus thrill ride against 3rd seed Rafael Nadal. Del Potro would emerge victorious 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (5). Del Potro’s forehand was again a huge key to victory. Delpo naild 18 of his 30 winners from the forehand side to offset 29 unforced errors. His first serve wasn’t quite the weapon it has been, but credit Nadal’s return game for some of that. It left Delpo winning just 69 percent of his first serve points. He did score eleven aces, another helpful aid to winning the semifinal against Rafa. The Spaniard did his best to work Del Potro all over the court, but the Argentine answered the bell well enough with gliding movement along the baseline.
This will be the 8th all-time meeting between Murray and Del Potro, but the first since Del Potro beat Murray in three sets at Indian Wells in 2013. This will be just their second meeting since 2009 when both were different players. This week, Murray has arguably shown that in the present moment, he may be the best player on tour with Novak Djokovic’s injury issues. Murray’s play hasn’t always been perfect, but his ability to stay in matches mentally and his always outstanding fitness have proved tough to break down.
For Del Potro, it has been a week of resurgence and perhaps the week that will redefine an injury derailed career. Having missed nearly two years with wrist issues, his wins over Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal this week have been immense to his confidence. For the first time since he returned this season, Del Potro appears to have confidence in his body and his game. That had been the biggest hindrance to the 27-year-old’s quest to return to prominence. This week in Rio, his consistency has been better and so far, his body has held up to the stress of some pressue packed matches.
The big question heading into Sunday’s final for me will be the fitness of Del Potro. Del Potro did prove fit enough to do the quick turnaround from beating Djokovic at night to outlasting Joao Sousa in round two the next day. The issue Sunday will be much different. He goes from grueling physicality against Nadal to even more grueling physicality against Murray. All due respect to Sousa, there is no comparison in this back-to-back situation. Del Potro’s legs are mind are going to be tested hugely by Murray. You would expect the Scot to punish Del Potro by engaging him in long baseline exchanges, as well as employing some drop shots to make Delpo show what he has left in the tank. Keep in mind this final is also a best of five sets, a huge negative in my opinion for Del Potro coming off the marathon with Nadal.
Del Potro will need his serve first and foremost. Without it providing some ability to control the action, he has little chance against Murray. Delpo will see a wicked return game on the other side of the net, even better than Nadal. Murray has broken his opponents 22 times on 40 chances this week in Rio. Del Potro’s best service match came against Djokovic, but at this stage, I would not expect a repeat where he faced zero break points against the premier returner on tour. Murray will craft chances in this Gold Medal match. It will be up to Del Potro to fend them off, if he wants to take home the top prize.
There is no doubt that as far as the ground exchanges go, Del Potro wants to hit that forehand as much as possible. It is a massive weapon. His backhand has held up well enough this week, but it does not provide the danger of the forehand. Expect Murray to try to pepper the ball to his backhand when possible, but he also should not fear the forehand. That seemed a detriment to an extent for Djokovic as that match went on. If you fear a weapon, that weapon becomes more of a weapon. Murray may show frustration at-times, but he has confidence in himself to wear down his opponent and make their weapons less effective over time.
Murray’s performance on Saturday could have been a warning shot to whomever survived the grueling Nadal-Del Potro clash – he is going to be difficult to beat if you’re less than 100 percent. Nishikori came into the semifinals off a lengthy match against Gael Monfils and could not answer the bell. Del Poro faces a similar task. I don’t think the result will be as lopsided as Murray-NIshikori, but at the end of the day, Murray makes history and Del Potro should feel very good about the silver with a fantastic and perhaps career resurrecting tournament.
Murray wins in straight sets