Rio de Janeiro: Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Argentine Juan Martin del Potro continue to overcome injury concerns and defy expectations in their men’s singles quarter-final match here at the ongoing Rio Olympics.
Both the tennis stars, set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with victories over their opponents here at Olympic Tennis Centre on Friday, reports Efe.
The third-seeded Nadal, who typically has plenty of support in Latin America, faced a totally different scenario against Local Hope Thomaz Bellucci and a raucous crowd trying to will their man to a first-ever Olympic tennis medal for the South American country.
Inspired by the fans, Bellucci stormed out of the gates to take the first set and then rallied from a second-set deficit to get back on a serve and put a scare into the Spanish great.
But the 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal leveraged his big-match experience to break Bellucci’s serve to win the second set and then seize full control of the contest in the decider to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
With victory secured, the 30-year-old Spanish covered his face and looked to the heavens. A wrist injury that had forced him earlier this year to withdraw mid-tournament from his beloved Roland Garros had cast doubts on his tennis future, but Rio has given his career new life.
Standing in the Spaniard’s way to the finals on Saturday will be a player whose comeback story handily trumps his own.
The 27-year-old unseeded Del Potro of Argentina, whose promising career has been derailed by wrist injuries and who has competed in just one of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments, has been on a magical run in Rio.
After kicking off the singles tournament with a massive upset of Serbian World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round, the 141st ranked Del Potro has defeated Portugal’s Joao Sousa, Japan’s Taro Daniel and Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, the No. 10 seed to reach the semi-finals of the event.
Both sets in Friday’s quarterfinal unfolded in similar fashion, with Del Potro racing out to early leads only to see Spanish Bautista Agut rally and get back on serve.
The Argentine got a critical late service break en route to taking the first set, but the second set came down to a tie-breaker that Del Potro won to wrap up the contest in straight sets 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) and avoid the further wear-and-tear on his body that a third set would have entailed.
The crowd was jubilant, while the 2009 U.S. Open champion sat down on his chair and for several minutes cried tears of gratitude, relishing a moment in the sun that seemed light-years away when his wrist surgeries were piling up faster than meaningful tennis matches.
Meanwhile, the bottom half of the draw was somewhat less emotional but more tightly contested.
British defending Olympic men’s singles champion Andy Murray, the No. 2 seed, blitzed through the first set but then had to battle tooth-and-nail to defeat the American Steve Johnson 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2).
His semi-final opponent on Saturday will be Japanese No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori, who scraped past Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (8-6).
In women’s semi-final action here on Friday, Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig pulled off a historic victory over Czech Petra Kvitova, a win that assures she will become the first-ever female athlete from the U.S. commonwealth to win an Olympic medal.
Puig will now try to become the first Puerto Rican to ever win a gold medal when she takes on German world No. 2 Angelique Kerbera , 6-3, 7-5 winner over Madison Keys of America in Saturday’s final.