The Olympic tennis competition has certainly not been lacking for surprises, with the top seeds and dominant performers in both the men’s and women’s bracket already having gone by the wayside. As the competition enters its final stages, the prospect of taking home a medal is now tantalizingly close.
That is particularly true in the women’s event, which has already reached the semifinal stage. Serena Williams’ shock third-round exit to Ukraine’s Elenia Svitolina means there will be a first-time gold medalist in Rio, with Williams having added to her three doubles golds by claiming victory in singles in London four years ago.
In Williams’ absence, Angelique Kerber has now assumed the favorite tag. The German world No. 2, who beat Williams in the final of the Australian Open before coming up short to the American in the final of Wimbledon last month, has eased through the draw at the Olympic Tennis Centre without dropping a set. She now takes on another American, Madison Keys, in the semifinal.
The big-hitting 21-year-old has been tipped for the top even before her run to the semifinals of the Australian Open last year. And, while her recent Grand Slam results have been something of a disappointment, she now has the chance to garner a prize that has become increasingly prestigious since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988.
The first women’s semifinal on Friday features another experienced Grand Slam champion against an up-and-comer looking to achieve the standout result of her career to date. In this instance, it is two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova against 22-year-old Monica Puig.
For Puig the incentive is particularly powerful. She is now just two wins away from doing something no other Puerto Rican has ever managed: winning a gold medal.
“When I’m playing in the WTA, it’s more like I’m playing for myself — my job, let’s say,” Puig told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “Here, it’s not really my job. It’s for my country, and I think nothing in the world can compare to that. It’s the most special feeling when you put on your colors of your country and you’re walking around the Olympic Village and everybody looks to see your country on the back of your shirt.”
Due to rain earlier in the week, the men’s event is still at the quarterfinal stage. The draw was hit by several withdrawals due to injury before the event and the biggest name of all was ousted in just the first round when Novak Djokovic was taken out by a sensational performance form Juan Martin Del Potro.
The former U.S. Open champion, who has hardly played in the past two years due to three separate surgeries on his left wrist, has backed up that emotional win and will take on Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the last eight.
Rafael Nadal, another player who has had his recent problems with injury, will also be in quarterfinal action on Friday. The 14-time Grand Slam champion, who had not played since withdrawing from the French Open because of a wrist problem, will take on home favorite Thomaz Bellucci as he seeks to add to his 2008 gold.
Nadal has been a busy man in Rio, having also entered the men’s doubles and the mixed doubles. Indeed he was scheduled to play in all three events on Thursday. But, after reaching the singles quarterfinals and the men’s doubles final with Marc Lopez, he made the decision to withdraw from the mixed. Still, he will have double duty again on Friday, with his doubles final with Lopez against Romanian’s Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau the final match of the day on Centre Court.
Before that world No. 2 Andy Murray will look to keep his hopes alive of taking back-to-back golds when taking on American Steve Johnson. In the remaining men’s quarterfinal, former U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori will take on Frenchman Gael Monfils.
Friday’s Olympic Tennis Schedule (Play on all courts starts at 11 a.m. EDT)
Women’s singles semifinal: Petra Kvitova vs. Monica Puig
Men’s singles quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Women’s singles semifinal: Madison Keys vs. Angelique Kerber
Men’s doubles gold medal match: Florin Mergea/Horia Tecau vs. Marc Lopez/Rafael Nadal
Men’s singles quarterfinal: Steve Johnson vs. Andy Murray
Men’s singles quarterfinal: Gael Monfils vs. Andy Murray
Men’s doubles bronze medal match: Steve Johnson/Jack Sock vs. Daniel Nestor/Vasek Pospisil
Mixed doubles quarterfinal: Venus Williams/Rajeev Ram vs. Roberta Vinci/Fabio Fognini
Mixed doubles quarterfinal: Teliana Pereira/ Marcelo Melo vs. Jack Sock/Bethanie MAttek-Sands
Women’s doubles semifinal: Lucie Safarova/Barbora Strycova vs. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina
Men’s singles quarterfinal: Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Roberto Bautista Agut
Mixed doubles quarterfinal: Heather Watson/Andy Murray vs. Sania Mirza/Rohan Bopanna
Women’s doubles semifinal: Timea Bacinszky/Martina Hingis vs. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka