Pro Tennis Internet Network

August 2008: Olympic Glory

Beijing, China

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal

Second seed Rafael Nadal won Spain’s first singles Olympic Games gold medal after defeating silver medalist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 in Beijing on Sunday.

Mallorca native Nadal, who has been ranked World No. 2 for 160 weeks, will end Roger Federer’s 237 week reign at the top of the South African Airways ATP Rankings on Monday courtesy of an outstanding season that has seen him now win eight titles.

The 22-year-old Spaniard captured titles at Masters Series Monte-Carlo (d. Federer) and Barcelona (d. Ferrer), before embarking on a 32-match winning streak that included Masters Series titles at Hamburg (d. Federer) and Toronto (d. Kiefer), his first grass court title at Queen’s Club (d. Djokovic), his fourth successive Roland Garros title (d. Federer) and a remarkable five-set victory at Wimbledon over Federer.

Making his Olympic Games singles debut, Nadal becomes the highest-ranked player to win an Olympic men’s singles titles, taking over from Andre Agassi who was ranked No. 6 when he won in Atlanta 1996.

The left-hander was largely in control throughout the gold medal match and stamped his authority early on, breaking the 28-year-old Gonzalez in his opening service game to establish a 3-0 lead. The Chilean saved a set point when serving at 2-5, but Nadal quickly closed out the set on serve with a forehand winner 6-3.

World No. 15 Gonzalez came close to leveling the match at one-set all, but squandered two set points with Nadal serving at 5-6, 15-40 and the Spaniard capitalized on Gonzalez’s disappointment to seal the tie-break with a convincing 7-2 score line, as Gonzalez’s explosive forehand landed wide on set point.

La Reina resident Gonzalez survived early break points in the third set, but Nadal earned a breakthrough in the fourth game with a pin-point accurate backhand pass to lead 3-1. Gonzalez continued to fight and had chances to break the Nadal serve at 5-2, before also saving three match points serving at 3-5. However, the right-hander’s resistance could not continue and Nadal showed no nerves in serving out the gold medal match, finishing with a flourish as a big forehand forced a reply into the net from Gonzalez.

No. 12 seed Gonzalez’s campaign, which has seen him defeat Sun Peng, Marin Cilic, Paul-Henri Mathieu and James Blake (saved three match points), earns him the silver medal.

The two-time titlist in 2008 also won bronze in the singles at Athens 2004 and gold in the doubles with Nicolas Massu. He becomes only the second man after South African Charles Winslow to win two men’s singles medals at an Olympic Games.

Third seed Novak Djokovic won Serbia’s second medal overall of the Beijing Olympic Games with a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over American No. 8 seed James Blake at the Olympic Green Tennis Center on Saturday.

World No. 3 Djokovic broke in the fourth game to lead 3-1 in the first set before closing it out 6-3 after 26 minutes. Neither player was able to get a breakthrough in the second set and it was Djokovic who prevailed in the tie-break, earning a mini-break to lead 5-4 before closing it out on serve. In an error-strewn match Djokovic committed 36 unforced errors to Blake’s 35 and 10 winners to the American’s nine.

The Belgrade native Djokovic began the year in fine form, claiming his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in Melbourne with victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. The right-hander has since added two more titles to his collection with victories at the ATP Masters Series events in Indian Wells (d. Fish) and Rome (d. Wawrinka).

World No. 7 Blake was looking to win the USA’s 10th medal in men’s singles action and its 19th in singles overall. The Tampa resident has finished runner-up at two events this season, falling to Kei Nishikori at Delray Beach and Marcel Granollers at Houston.

First-time Olympians Djokovic and Blake were contesting the bronze medal match after suffering losses in their respective semifinals. The 21-year-old Djokovic fell to Rafael Nadal, having defeated the Spaniard two weeks ago in the semifinals at Masters Series Cincinnati. Meanwhile the 28-year-old Blake held three match points in his match against Fernando Gonzalez, before falling to the Chilean 11-9 in the third set.

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