GOLD rather than history will be on Andy Murray’s mind when he plays in a second successive Olympic final this evening.
The world No 2 is the first man ever to achieve the feat and, should he retain the title he won so gloriously in 2012, he would become the first tennis player to win back-to-back singles golds.
Murray faces Juan Martin Del Potro at 7pm tonight.
In an era dominated by three all-time greats, to accomplish something Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have not done first, and almost certainly never will, is a huge feather in Murray’s cap.
“The goal is to just try and win a gold medal,” said Murray,. “I’m not really thinking about any of the stuff that goes with that just now.
“It’s obviously a very difficult thing to do, hence why it’s not been done before. I’ll go out there, hopefully play a good match, fight as hard as I can, give it everything and see what happens.”
If Murray can find the same form he showed in a 6-1, 6-4 demolition of fourth seed Kei Nishikori then he will be tough to beat.
The 29-year-old knew he needed to step things up after surviving tight, tense tussles against Fabio Fognini and Steve Johnson and he did just that.
Murray served superbly and dominated off the ground, with Nishikori failing to create a break point during the match.
The Scot said: “I served very well and I had no lulls in the match. I made most of the games really tough for him. Even the ones that I lost he was having to work hard for.”
The crowd were on their feet at the end of the remarkable penultimate point, which ended with Murray sat on his backside with his arm aloft after somehow conjuring a winning passing shot.
He said: “I just came up with a bit of a lucky shot down the line. I didn’t even see it bounce so I didn’t know whether it was in or not. Thankfully it was good.
“I was obviously pumped because if he turns that around and potentially breaks it’s a totally different match. It was a huge point.”
One thing Murray certainly should not lack is confidence.
He extended his career-best winning streak to 17 matches and has now won 28 of his last 29, winning titles in Rome, at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon and reaching the final of the French Open.
Murray was rewarded for his achievements, both Olympic and otherwise, by being given the honour of carrying the British flag at the opening ceremony and is pleased to have ensured he will contribute to the medals table.
He can at worst leave Rio with silver, adding to the singles gold and mixed doubles silver he won in London.
“The last four months definitely have been the best period of my career,” said Murray. “My job is to try to keep that going now and keep up the consistency I’ve had.
“When you’re competing for your country you do feel a bit of extra responsibility, obviously.
“After carrying the flag, I didn’t want to go and bomb out in the first round and not play well. I’m glad I was able to win a medal and to win gold would cap off a special 10 days for me.”
Murray’s match turned out to be the appetiser for the second semi-final between Del Potro and Nadal, which more than lived up to its billing.
Neither man expected to be here, with Del Potro having feared he may never play again after three wrist operations, while Nadal arrived in Rio admitting his own troublesome wrist was not fully healed.
Neither showed any physical weakness in a three-hour contest that was played in a raucous din and which ended with Del Potro flat on the court after a 5-7 6-4 7-6 (7/5) victory.
The Argentinian, who beat Novak Djokovic in round one, said: “I am living a dream. I don’t want to wake up from this. I cannot believe it.”
Puig makes history
Monica Puig created history as Puerto Rico’s first ever Olympic gold medallist after defeating Angelique Kerber in the women’s singles final.
Puig was already guaranteed to be the country’s first female medallist and only the ninth athlete ever from the Caribbean archipelago to stand on the podium.
But the 22-year-old, who is ranked 34th in the world, kept her momentum going to win 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 after two hours and nine minutes.
Unlike the men’s competition, which has had a number of unexpected medallists since the sport was reintroduced to the Games in 1988, the women’s tournament has been dominated by the big names.
Fifteen of the world’s top 20 were in Rio and it certainly would not have been a surprise if Kerber, the Australian Open champion and world number two, had walked off with the top prize.
But the German’s powers of defence could not match Puig’s aggressive gameplan.
Kerber left the court after the first set for treatment to her lower back and looked like she had turned things round when she levelled the match.
But Puig was in a class of her own in the decider and overcame some late nerves to clinch victory on her fourth match point.
There will be a fifth Olympic medal, meanwhile, for Venus Williams after the 36-year-old reached the mixed doubles final with Rajeev Ram.
Williams, the singles champion in Sydney in 2000 and winner of three doubles golds with sister Serena, made early exits from the singles and women’s doubles but the mixed has provided an unexpected bonus.
Williams and Ram defeated India’s Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza and will play fellow Americans Jack Sock and Bethanie Mattek-Sands for gold.