Andy Murray became the first player to win two Olympic tennis singles gold medals yesterday when he defeated Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in an epic final.
The final will go down as one of the best in the Olympics, lasting over four hours and ending with both men embracing at the net. He ended with 10 aces and 46 crunching winners, while del Potro smashed 39 winners but was undone by 57 unforced errors.
Played out against a background of deafening noise generated by a legion of passionate, screaming Argentine fans, Murray admitted the final had pushed him to the limit.
"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 gold to his 2012 London Olympic title and Grand Slam collection of the 2012 US Open and 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon crowns. It also stretched the 29-year-old's current winning streak to 18.
"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," he said. "I am very tired. We played four hours on a slow court which meant a lot of running. It was very humid and I served badly. All of that made the match tougher than it was already. But I managed to get the breaks of serve and then served well at the right moments."
Murray said he was proud of his achievement, especially as it was sealed in a final which featured 15 breaks of serve and ended with both men exhausted and exchanging a lengthy embrace at the net.
"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. I have had back surgery since I won in London, I had tough times on court."
With two golds in the bag, Murray refused to entertain thoughts of a third gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. "I will be 33 in four years time, I don't know if I will still be playing at the same level then. I am happy to still be here and still playing."
Del Potro, a bronze medallist in London four years ago, was inconsolable at the end, weeping as he sat courtside. The Argentine has fought his way back to the top after undergoing three surgeries.
"What he's had to go through over the last three years or so with his wrists, I can't imagine how mentally difficult that would have been, how frustrating that would have been for him," added Murray. "To get himself back to playing at this level, fighting for the biggest events and competing against the greatest players in the world is an amazing credit to him. He should be very proud of his efforts."
Brink of retirement
Murray took a 5-2 career advantage over 2012 bronze medallist del Potro into the final and he was quickly in the ascendancy, breaking for a 2-0 lead.
Del Potro, who was pushed to the brink of retirement last year after undergoing the wrist surgeries, was slow out of the blocks. That was hardly a surprise for a player who had defeated two of the top three seeds to make the final, starting with Novak Djokovic in the first round and then winning a three-hour epic to beat Rafael Nadal in Saturday's semi-finals. But he soon found his range, breaking in the third game before handing the advantage straight back, allowing Murray to stretch out to a 4-1 lead.
Backed by vociferous Argentine support, all proudly sporting the sky blue and white shirts of their national football team, the 1.98m (6 foot 6 inch) giant clawed his back in the seventh game. But Murray was the more assertive in the closing stages, claiming the opener in the 12th game on a second set point with a pinpoint, down-the-line backhand after 74 minutes on court.
Murray saved a break point in the first game of the second set with a sweet drop shot which del Potro was unable to reach despite a desperate scramble from the back of the court.
The 2009 US Open champion slumped, head down on the net for a few moments to catch his breath. It did the trick as he soon unleashed a monster backhand to secure the break at the second opportunity.
The final was all level in the 10th game as del Potro converted on a fourth set point, shrugging off a time violation from umpire Pascal Maria. The big Argentine was looking increasingly weary and he lost serve in the sixth game of the third set, allowing the British world number three to move ahead again, sealing the set with a cross-court forehand.
Del Potro fought valiantly on, breaking for 2-1 in the fourth set, courtesy of a close combat exchange at the net but lacking the stamina to back it up and Murray was soon on level terms at 2-2.
In a dramatic passage of play, the South American was another break to the good but faltered when he served for the set in the 10th game. Murray saved two break points for a 6-5 lead. In the dramatic conclusion, two Argentine fans were escorted out of the arena before Murray took victory on a second match point when del Potro netted a backhand.