Champion again: Murray carries the flag then raises it with tennis gold

Champion again: Murray carries the flag then raises it with tennis gold

15 August 2016 / 07:07

Andy Murray led Britain into these Olympics, then he provided the final winning note on a day of sporting success that will not be forgotten.

After Max Whitlock seized two gymnastics golds, Jason Kenny triumphed again at the velodrome, Justin Rose won the golf and sailor Giles Scott guaranteed his place on top of the podium, all eyes turned to the Scot.

And, in an epic encounter with Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, he became the first player to defend his Olympic men’s singles title, winning 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Andy Murray win

As the crow flies it’s exactly 5,764 miles between the All England Club and Rio’s Olympic Tennis Centre but the atmosphere was more than half a world away, it was from another planet.

Fans chanted, clapped, stamped their feet, jeered and booed as day gave way to a balmy evening and Murray and his rival slogged out a fascinating encounter.

“This means a lot, carrying the flag was an amazing experience and I was very honoured to get that opportunity,” said Murray.

“London was an amazing couple of weeks but this has been much harder than London.  It was quite emotional the day after the opening ceremony and I had to regroup and get my mind back on the tournament.  That’s why I was very emotional at the end.

“This is one of the hardest matches I’ve ever had to play for a big title. It was difficult emotionally and physically hard. There were so many ups and downs and anything could have happened.

“It was a great atmosphere, the crowd were pretty evenly split and we don’t tend to play in atmospheres like that. At Slams it’s not about one player or the other, you don’t hear songs and booing. In the Davis Cup it’s either a home tie or away tie, so having the stadium so split made for a great atmosphere.”

Del Potro’s power game is a joy to watch, when he crunches one of his forehands, stadiums shake. But such physicality comes at a price that has come close to costing him his career.

When he won the US Open seven years ago, it should have been the first of many major titles but instead the strain his style puts on his body took its toll.

Wrist problems have forced him to miss two and a half years' worth of Grand Slam tournaments, he fell from fourth in the world to sixth in his country and his ranking of 141 means - as it stands - he will need to go through qualifying to make this month’s US Open.

Andy Murray medal

“He played extremely well and it’s amazing to see him back competing at this level after all the issues he has had,” said Murray of Del Potro - who now has an Olympic silver to go with his bronze in London. "I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been to keep going and try and comeback. It’s amazing he’s back at this level again and he should be very proud.”

Murray will be on a flight out of Rio in the next 24 hours, the unrelenting schedule of the tennis professional giving him no time to celebrate before he must reset his focus on the US Open.

But confidence should be high, especially after Djokovic’s recent form, which by his own high standards, amounts to a slump.

“The last few months, since the clay court season started, I’ve been really consistent and the challenge is to maintain that consistency,” he added.

“I’ve not won everything but I’ve been close and had some big wins against the top players. Novak has played amazing tennis for two years. What I’ve done for four months, he’s done for two years, so that’s the challenge for me.

“I’ve played in all the slam finals this year, so I want a good run in New York.”

From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Rio

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