Unexpected champions of the Olympics tennis event
The tennis event at the Olympics is regarded as one of the premier tournaments in the sport, and there have been some surprising champions in its recent history.
There have been 11 editions so far – with three held between 1912-1924, and eight since the reintroduction of tennis as an Olympic sport in 1988. With the Games held every four years, gold medals have eluded even some of tennis’ great champions, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Maria Sharapova.
Here, Tennishead looks at the most unexpected singles gold medalists at the Olympics tennis event since 1988.
Marc Rosset – Barcelona 1992
Marc Rosset was in 44th position in the ATP rankings at the time of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. The tournament was played on clay courts at the Tennis Hall de la Vall d’Hebron. The Swiss was unseeded in the 64 player men’s singles draw – which was then contested over best-of-five sets in every round.
In his opening match, the 21-year-old advanced when Moroccan qualifier Karim Alami retired through injury at one set all. Rosset then dismantled ninth seed Wayne Ferreira 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in the second round. In the third round, the world number 44 pulled off a stunning upset against world number one Jim Courier. He crushed the American – the then two-time defending French Open champion, and defending Australian Open champion – 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.
Rosset then toppled 12th seed and Spanish hope Emilio Sanchez in a tight four-set last eight clash, before downing fourth seed Goran Ivanisevic in a straight-set semi-final. In the final, the Swiss faced another Spaniard – Barcelona-born wildcard and 16th seed Jordi Arrese. The unseeded 21-year-old prevailed 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 8-6 in a marathon to complete a remarkable run and secure an unlikely gold medal.
Nicolas Massu – Athens 2004
Nicolas Massu was ranked 14th in the world when the 2004 Olympics began in Athens, Greece. The event was contested on hard courts – a surface on which the Chilean was 0-7 for the year – at the Athens Olympic Tennis Centre. The 24-year-old was seeded 10th in the 64 player draw – with matches best-of-three, until the best-of-five final.
Massu began his campaign with a close three-set win against a three-time French Open winner – unseeded Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. The world number 14 then saw off unseeded American Vince Spadea in straight sets, before battling past unseeded Russian Igor Andreev in a tight three-set third round contest. In the quarter-finals, Massu downed third seed and former world number one Carlos Moya with an impressive 6-2, 7-5 win.
The Chilean then met unseeded American Taylor Dent in the last four – and progressed to the gold medal match with a convincing 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 triumph. There, the 10th seed came up against another unseeded American – Mardy Fish. Massu came back to edge the future world number seven in an epic final – 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Remarkably, it was Chile’s second ever Olympic gold medal – after Massu and Fernando Gonzalez claimed the first by winning a five-set men’s doubles final the previous day.
Monica Puig – Rio 2016
At the time of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Monica Puig was ranked 37th in the WTA world rankings. The competition was played on hard courts at the Olympic Tennis Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 22-year-old was unseeded in the 64 player women’s singles draw – with all matches being best-of-three sets.
The Puerto Rican started her tournament with a comfortable straight sets win against unseeded Slovenian Polona Hercog. Puig then defeated the 14th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova by an identical scoreline – 6-3, 6-2 – to advance to the last 16. There, the world number 37 crushed the No. 3 seed – Spain’s Garbine Muguruza – 6-1, 6-1 in a stunning display. The 22-year-old then dismantled unseeded German Laura Siegemund by the exact same score in the last eight.
After dropping just 14 games in her first four matches, Puig had a much tougher contest in the semi-finals. The Puerto Rican overcame 11th-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to progress to the gold medal match. In the final, Puig triumphed 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 against the No. 2 seed – Angelique Kerber – to complete a staggering title run. The 22-year-old became the first athlete representing Puerto Rico to win a gold medal.
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