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Vondrousova v Bencic in Olympic final as Djokovic routs Nishikori

  • Matt Trollope

Czech Marketa Vondrousova and Swiss Belinda Bencic will play for the women’s singles gold medal after winning their semifinals on Thursday at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Bencic beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in a dramatic semifinal spanning almost three hours before Vondrouosva dominated Elina Svitolina – the only top-10 ranked player remaining in the draw – in just 64 minutes.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic took another step closer to achieving a ‘Golden Grand Slam’ with a 6-2 6-0 demolition of Kei Nishikori, and was joined in the semifinals by Alexander Zverev, Karen Khachanov and Pablo Carreno Busta, with the latter upsetting second seed Daniil Medvedev.  

Ash Barty and John Peers kept Australia’s medal hopes alive by beating Greeks Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari in the mixed doubles quarterfinals, while Croatia is guaranteed a gold medal after top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic set up a men’s doubles final against Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig.

Vondrousova, Bencic win contrasting semifinals

Vondrousova had lost three of four career meetings with the sixth-ranked Svitolina, but that solitary victory had come in their most recent meeting in Rome less than a year ago.

On that occasion, Vondrousova dissected the Ukrainian 6-3 6-0, and she did the same thing again in Tokyo on Thursday in a near-identical scoreline of 6-3 6-1. 

The Czech left-hander’s vast array of spins, speeds, angles and drop-shots utterly frustrated Svitolina, who finished the match with 29 unforced errors compared to just 13 winners.

Vondrousova’s most notable career performance came in 2019 when she reached the Roland Garros final as an unheralded world No.38.

Unseeded again and similarly ranked, this time at No.42, the Czech – who earlier in the tournament stunned Japanese world No.2 Naomi Osaka – advances to her first final since that run in Paris.

There she will meet Bencic, who trailed Rybakina 2-5 in the first set before saving five set points, then led by a set and a break, only to find herself one point away from going down 4-2 in the third. 

But in keeping with the topsy-turvy nature of this contest, Bencic at this point wrested back control with a winner into the corner and quickly got the final set back on serve.

In the eighth game, strong returning from the Swiss helped her break Rybakina for a 5-3 lead and she served out the match at her first opportunity, overcome with emotion after sealing a 7-6(2) 4-6 6-3 triumph in two hours and 44 minutes.

Bencic has enjoyed an excellent Olympic campaign, advancing to both the singles and doubles finals in Tokyo.

Djokovic continues imperious progress

Following Bencic and Rybakina onto Centre Court was Serbia's Djokovic, who carried on his relentless march through the men's singles draw.

Djokovic ended the contest with a backhand return winner to notch his 16th straight triumph over Nishikori, a streak dating back to 2014.

The world No.1 has not lost a set en route to the semifinals, where he will face fourth seed Zverev, the German who later overpowered Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in a 66-minute, 6-4 6-1 clinic. 

In fact, Djokovic has surrendered only 17 games in four match wins so far in Tokyo as he seeks to add a first ever Olympic gold medal to his haul of three Grand Slam titles in 2021.

Taking another step closer to his goal of a Golden Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic belted 16 winners to Kei Nishikori's six to win their Olympics quarterfinal, extending his winning streak to 22 matches. (Getty Images)

Elsewhere at Ariake Tennis Park, 12th seed Khachanov advanced to the last four with a 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3 win over Frenchman Ugo Humbert.

He will play Carreno Busta for a place in the gold medal match after the Spaniard beat Medvedev 6-2 7-6(5) on Thursday night.

Medvedev and No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas were considered Djokovic's biggest threats for the gold medal given the three-set format used at the Games, but both have now been eliminated.

Medvedev had struggled physically in the heat of his previous match against Fabio Fognini.  

Doubles: Krejcikova & Siniakova to play for gold

Czechs Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova advanced to the gold medal match in the women’s doubles competition.

The No.1 seeds and Roland Garros champions pipped Wimbledon finalists Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina of Russia 6-3 3-6 [10-6].

They will next play Bencic and Viktorija Golubic, the Swiss duo who recovered from 4-0 and 5-3 down in the first set to beat Brazilians Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani 7-5 6-3.

In men’s doubles, Cilic and Dodig advanced to the gold medal match after ending the run of New Zealanders Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus 6-2 6-2 in the semifinals. 

There they will meet countrymen Mektic and Pavic, after the No.1 seeds beat Americans Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren 6-4 6-4.

Mektic and Pavic have won eight titles already in 2021, including Wimbledon, and enter the Olympic final on a 14-match winning streak.

Meanwhile, Barty and Peers’ 6-4 4-6 [10-6] victory over Tsitsipas and Sakkari sets up a semifinal with Russian duo Andrey Rublev and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who also won through in a match tiebreak over Japan’s Ben McLachlan and Ena Shibahara.

Tweet of the day

Quotes of the day

"I mean my emotions right now are too high. To have the medal, for me it's the greatest thing ever. To be here as an athlete, for the Olympics, it's amazing and also to have a medal, it's something I dreamt of and I didn't think it will become reality."
- Belinda Bencic 

"The matches are not getting easier but my level of tennis is getting better and better. I've done that so many times in my career. I know that I'm the kind of player that the further the tournament goes, the better I feel on court, and that's the case here."
- Novak Djokovic

"He was defending amazing today – everything deep – and I was trying to stay with him but I couldn't. The way he's played today, this week and last couple months, it's been amazing."
- Kei Nishikori on Novak Djokovic

“It’s not going to be easy because usually, if you lose, the tournament is finished for you. Now we have actually one more day. I’m going to reset my mind and prepare for the last match.”
- Elena Rybakina, who will play for the women's singles bronze medal against Elina Svitolina

Image of the day

Belinda Bencic (L) drops to her knees in celebration after clinching match point against Elena Rybakina (R) in their Tokyo Olympics semifinal, a result sending her through to the women's gold medal match. (Getty Images)

Day 7: Ones to watch

A place in the gold medal match is on the line when the men's semifinals take place at Centre Court on Friday.

Khachanov and Carreno Busta will go head-to-head – with both playing for a place in their biggest final to date – before Djokovic tackles Zverev in a high-profile second semifinal.

Those matches precede the all-Croatian men's doubles gold medal contest.

ORDER OF PLAY: Olympic Tennis Event Day 7

On Court 1 at Ariake Tennis Park, Krajicek and Sandgren battle Daniell and Venus for men's doubles bronze.

Then it's back-to-back mixed doubles semifinals; Barty and Peers battle Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova, before Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev take on Serbs Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic.