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.