Olympics: Medals within touching distance

A packed schedule in Tokyo sent a selection of players closer to landing gold, silver or bronze.

Elina Svitolina / Tokyo 2020©Kopatsch/Sato/Sidorjak
 - Alex Sharp

Olympics glory is within grasp.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic tennis is heading onto the home straight after some remarkable performances in national colours at the Ariake Tennis Park.

Final four bound

The semi-finals have been set for the women’s singles, with at least two of three debutants set to depart Tokyo clutching a medal.

World No. 6 Elina Svitolina has been on this stage before and soared into the medal matches with another assured display, posting 6-4, 6-4 against Italy’s Camila Giorgi.

The Ukrainian, the highest ranked player left in the draw, will take on Marketa Vondrousova in the last four and is relishing the opportunity ahead with a medal so tantalisingly close in Japan.

“For sure, it’s exciting, but I have to not think too much about that,” said Svitolina, a Rio 2016 quarter-finalist.  

“My goal is to focus on myself, my game and my recovery. I'm really focused on any medal. I’ll try to be ready for anything that comes my way and try to be prepared for the conditions, for any opponents, and try to bring back a medal.”

Svitolina is wary of ‘underdog’ world No.42 Marketa Vondrousova’s form, who sent home charge Naomi Osaka out, but she’s used to being the hunted.

“You know when you are higher ranked everyone wants to beat you, and everyone is extremely motivated to beat you,” said the No. 4 seed, 3-1 up in the head-to-head against the Czech. “I’ve had that for the past three or four years already, when I entered the Top 10: you step on the court, and everyone is just there to try to beat you.”

Swiss timing for Bencic brilliance

Belinda Bencic is serving up something pretty special in Tokyo.

Still in the women’s doubles event too, the 24-year-old quelled the comeback of ROC’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 to earn a semi-final with No.15 Elena Rybakina.

The Kazakh’s firepower, chasing her country’s first ever Olympic tennis medal, packed too much punch in a 7-5, 6-1 scoreline with Spain’s Garbine Muguruza.

Kei carrying home hopes

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, a bronze medallist at Rio 2016, accelerated to the finishing line in a 7-6(7), 6-0 passage past Ilya Ivashka for his third successive Olympics quarter-final spot.

The 31-year-old’s reward is a duel with world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who has won 16 of their previous 18 meetings. The last time world No.69 Nishikori defeated Djokovic was at the US Open in 2014.

The calender Golden Slam chasing top seed evaded an early scare, saving two break points at 1-1 in the first set, before motoring past Spanish youngster Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 6-1.

French duo claim quarters

France’s Jeremy Chardy or No.4 seed Alexander Zverev await the winner.

Ugo Humbert also boosted French morale, digging deep to outmanoeuvre No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.

The 23-year-old produced a similar nail-biting comeback in the second round and his resilience, alongside Chardy, ensured France had a men’s singles quarter-finalist for the sixth consecutive Olympics.

"I'm proud of myself, I had a very bad start and I had to push mentally to get back to a good level of play and hold on,” reflected Humbert, who watched his compatriot Chardy win from court side. “At the end, we were both a bit exhausted because of the heat, but I held on and I'm really happy."

Humbert advances to tackle Karen Khachanov, who navigated past No.8 seed Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 2-6, 6-1, whilst fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev also went the distance 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 against Fabio Fognini. No.2 Medvedev rallied to book a last eight encounter with Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

Stars embrace doubles delight

Bencic and Swiss partner Viktorija Golubic are also in touching distance of going for gold thanks to a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Australians Ellen Perez and Sam Stosur.

The mixed doubles event launched on Wednesday with a plethora of intriguing pairs on the order of play.

Elena Vesnina, also in the women’s doubles semi-finals, alongside Aslan Karatsev were the first to book a quarter-final ticket.

Elsewhere Greek duo Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas buried memories of their singles defeats to post 6-3, 6-4 up against Gabriela Dabrowski and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty and John Peers will be next for the Greek pairing, whilst fellow No.1 Novak Djokovic also enjoyed an opening doubles success together with Nina Stojanovic.