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Tennis

Kerber and Puig into women’s final, Murray and Nadal survive to semis

After so much talk of whether tennis belongs in the Olympics amid all the withdrawals leading up to Rio, the reactions of the players have made it abundantly clear that tennis is right at home in the Games.

For proof, look no further than Monica Puig, who beat Petra Kvitova in a roller coaster three-setter to make the gold medal match and clinch the first medal won in any event by a Puerto Rican woman:

Similar elation was shown from other players on a banner day for the tournament.

Angie Kerber joined Puig in the final, continuing her 2016 that has evolved from “breakthrough” to “dominant.” She clinched her spot in the final by grinding out an intense 6-3, 7-5 win over Madison Keys. The American generated a number chances to break Kerber’s serve, but continuously netted serve returns and made errors on those break chances. She finished 0/10 on those points, a shocking number, especially when considering the slow speed of the Rio courts.

Kerber and Puig play for gold on Saturday, while Keys and Kvitova will fight to get on the podium in the bronze medal match.

Over in the men’s singles, the favorites had to scrap and claw to survive. Similar to the previous round against Fabio Fognini, Andy Murray looked unbeatable before seeing his level drop and be pushed into a dicey third set. Stevie Johnson took an immediate break in the second set and carried it all the way home and even had a break lead in the third, but couldn’t consolidate. Johnson’s big forehand (and decision-making) finally faltered in a deciding tiebreaker, with Murray moving on.

It appeared Murray would face Gael Monfils in the semis when the Frenchman’s battle with Kei Nishikori saw Monfils sitting with three match points in the third set breaker. Nishikori would save the first two on his own racket, but Monfils -after failing to convert match points against Nishikori in Miami- double faulted on the third. Nishikori continued the run and ended up taking the final five points to prevail 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (6).

After a marathon match that saw him very emotional afterwards, it will be interesting to see if he has enough in the tank to upset Murray.

As for Rafael Nadal, he ran into an on fire Thomaz Bellucci with the raucous Brazilian crowd in full force behind their man. Nadal’s short forehands were being punished as Bellucci took a 6-2 opener. However, Nadal worked to change speeds and spins, with the tempo change helping to cool off Bellucci, whose decision-making eroded as the match grew closer. Nadal prevailed 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, becoming the eighth man in the Open Era to win 800 matches.

Nadal will play a familiar foe in the next round, as Juan Martin del Potro won yet again, taking out Nadal’s Spanish teammate Roberto Bautista Agut, 7-5, 7-6 (4). Nadal leads their head to head 8-4, but they haven’t faced each other in nearly three years.



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