GettyImages-1234351058

Given what was at stake, it was no surprise to see so many ups and downs in this Olympic gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova. There was also a wide variety of skills on display. Each is an exceptional sharpshooter, sharing an ability to see the ball early and rob opponents of time, space and comfort; be it Vondrousova with a clever lefty mix of angles and spins, or Bencic with her keen court sense and crisp drives.

But in the end, nerves and fitness told the story of Bencic’s 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 victory. The third set went in seesaw-like fashion. Vondrousova served at 1-0, 30-love. Bencic rallied to break back and level the set. Vondrousova looked weary. Serving at 1-2, she twice double-faulted and netted two facile backhands.

Then it was Bencic’s turn to get tight. Up 3-1, she surrendered her serve at 15 and soon it was 3-all. Here, though, Bencic proved just steely enough, fighting off a break point. By this stage, the clever drop shots and angles Vondrousova had struck all match long vanished, the Czech badly spraying groundstrokes and losing the 3-4 game at love.

It was a shame to have no fans in the stands. Surely, at this point there would have been the tremendous cheers that accompany a championship—even more so at a tennis event as rare as the Olympics.

Vondrousova was the first Czech woman ever to reach a gold medal match in singles.

Vondrousova was the first Czech woman ever to reach a gold medal match in singles.

Advertising

With little coming easy in this match, it was hard to imagine Bencic handily closing out the 5-3 game. Sure enough, she went down 15-40. A backhand winner through the middle of the court fought off the first break point. The second was a microcosm of the match. Vondrousova carved her trademark backhand drop shot down the line. When this shot was working, it landed so low that Bencic could only angle it crosscourt. Well aware of this, Vondrousova would move to her left and handily roll a forehand for a winner. But on this point, in the late moments of the match, Vondrousova’s drop shot was high and easily readable, making it simple for Bencic to lace an untouchable backhand down the line.

Though Vondrousova was able to fight off one gold medal point and even earn a break point, she lined a backhand into the net and netted another backhand at deuce. On her second chance to close it out, Bencic aimed a serve down the middle. Long went the backhand return, ending the match in two hours and 30 minutes.

Bencic has had her share of collaborations with Swiss genius. She’s played Hopman Cup with Roger Federer, Billie Jean King Cup alongside her mentor, Martina Hingis. Here in Tokyo had come a moment all her own.