Olympics: Bencic lands double gold shootout

 - Alex Sharp

It was a historic day on court for Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova at Tokyo 2020, whilst the men’s singles semi-finals were also set in stone.

Belinda Bencic / JO Tokyo 2020©Kopatsch/Sato/Sidorjak

The guarantee of an Olympic medal, significant history on the line, it was another memorable sequence of play at Tokyo 2020.

Ecstasy and elation were etched across several faces on Thursday. Here is the tale of the tape from the Ariake Tennis Park with potential podium places on the line.

Dream becomes a reality for Bencic

The tennis landscape on the women’s side continues to be fascinatingly unpredictable, such is the depth and quality in every key draw.

This is emphasised that in the last four Grand Slams and Tokyo 2020, 20 different women have made up the singles semi-finals line-up.

So many players have stepped up, have broken clear to seize their chance at glory.

In Japan it’s Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova making their mark on the courts stencilled with the Olympic rings.

Vondrousova, having swatted aside Naomi Osaka earlier this week, produced another flawless display 6-3, 6-1 against No.4 seed Elina Svitolina to become the first Czech woman to reach an Olympic singles final.

For Bencic, it’s a day the 24-year-old will never forget.

First up the No.9 seed saved six set points in the opener and rallied from a break down in the decider to outlast Elena Rybakina 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-3 to earn a singles gold medal match.

“My emotions right now, it's too high,” stated a beaming Bencic, ensuring Switzerland of a tennis medal of any colour in a fourth successive Olympics.

“Even to be here as an athlete, in the Olympics, it's amazing. To have a medal, it’s the greatest, it's something I dreamed of, and I didn't think it would become reality. I'm beyond relieved and happy.”

Following in the footsteps of Marc Rosset, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky, Bencic is set emulate her compatriots or even go one step better.

The 24-year-old is just the fifth player since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 to reach the singles and doubles final.

Bencic and Viktorija Golubic will duel with the Roland-Garros champions Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova.

“This is big - it’s not just tennis or athletics, it’s kind go the meaning of life,” added an elated Golubic, having navigated past Brazil’s Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani 7-5, 6-3. “This is why to even be here, to be an Olympian is huge… Now we are actually medalists, this is amazing.”

Djokovic headlines final four

Can anyone deny world No.1 Novak Djokovic a maiden men’s calendar Golden Slam?

The Serbian steamrolled Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-0 in 70 minutes to become the first ever played, male or female, to reach three singles semi-finals in Olympics play.

The Beijing 2008 bronze medallist will be chasing an elusive gold medal up against world No.5 Alexander Zverev.

“If you’re winning then you know youre in the zone. I thought I played my best match of the tournament against my toughest opponent,” declared Djokovic, owning a 6-2 record with Zverev.

“I just felt every shot was working, anything he tried I felt I had a solution and answer for his game. I’m trying to be as efficient as possible, so far so good for me here.”

To the other side and Pablo Carreno Busta edged a thrilling tie-break to inch past No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 7-6(5) and into the medal matches.

The Spaniard will face the firepower of Karen Khachanov in the semi-finals, who halted Ugo Humbert 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.

“This was one of the best matches of my career. Daniil is a top player, he is No. 2 in the world and it’s very difficult to play against him,” reflected Carreno Busta.

“I played very well from the beginning, missing very little, defending very well; attacking when I had the opportunity, serving well, making practically everything... I used my weapons.

“I came here for a medal. There are four of us left and there are only three medals so I need one more win to get it, the plan is going very well. I won't relax and will continue with this intensity.”

Croatian quartet going for gold

Top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic or Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig are seeking Croatia’s maiden gold medal in tennis.

The Croatian pairings are poised to duel in the men’s doubles final, prompting euphoric scenes between the close-knit quadruple.

“For me and Ivan, this is the pinnacle of our careers. We have won everything in tennis, from Futures level up to Grand Slams,” insisted 2014 US Open champion Cilic. “We had difficult times coming up through youth tennis, both me and him coming from a small place of Medjugorje with a population of only 4000.

“We started tennis together, and to reach this last thing, to win a medal for our country, for ourselves together, is just unreal. We are incredibly proud of ourselves and we played an unbelievable tournament here – the best tournament we ever had together. We showed our strength and how good we are as a team.”