Roger Federer never quite managed to achieve it, nor did Martina Hingis, Stan Wawrinka, Patty Schnyder or many of the notable Swiss players before her. But late on Saturday night in Tokyo, Belinda Bencic stepped into the light and clinched the greatest achievement of her career by becoming an Olympic champion, defeating the Czech Marketa Vondrousova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
In a tense, volatile match filled with sharp momentum swings, Bencic was considerably more disciplined than her opponent and her consistency was rewarded on the biggest points at the close as she won the final three games to take the match. Despite how composed she appeared, Bencic said she spent much of it on the edge.
“When you feel you can’t do anything more but you hold on to your dream, you really play it as if it’s your last match,” she said. “I proved in this match and I’m going to prove in the doubles that I never give up. I just existed, I couldn’t think any more, I couldn’t walk any more.”
Bencic has been working towards a moment like this for a while. At the age of seven, she was a charge of Melanie Molitor, mother of Hingis and mastermind of her daughter’s illustrious career. She spent her time as a junior in 2013 picking apart the flaws of her rivals on a 39-match winning streak. She was a US Open quarter-finalist at 17 and when she beat Serena Williams en route to her first big title a year later in Toronto, her win was punctuated with fireworks blazing into the night.
“I think maybe the success I had very early made people think now it has to go very easy. It’s not like that,” she said. “Everyone has their own time. Some people do it earlier, some people later, some people never, some people always. You never know, every career has its own story but the most important is to be happy with yourself.”
Bencic argues that the path she has taken since – which included missing the 2016 Olympics due to injury, wrist surgery in 2017 and a stress fracture in 2018 – is a regular one.
“You always have to overcome difficulties,” she said. “I don’t know any athlete who has only ups and no downs. Sometimes I found it a bit unfair that people thought I was out of the game, I was gone. I always did my best, I always worked hard and in the end, that was what I could rely on. I knew that I always gave my best and that was enough for me.”
Bencic will now look to her next challenge, the doubles final on Sunday in which she and her compatriot Viktorija Golubic will play against the Czech world No 1 team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova with another gold medal on the line. Only three other players have ever achieved the double – Venus Williams, Nicolás Massú and Serena Williams.
“I will give everything I can,” Bencic said. “It’s unbelievable to have two medals, one gold already and another still to be decided. I will try to enjoy it because really it’s the memories that will last for ever.”
Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina has enjoyed a far more productive honeymoon period than many after her marriage to Gaël Monfils. She defeated Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 1-6 7-6(5) 6-4, reeling off the final five games to win the women’s singles bronze for Ukraine.
The story of the day was in women’s doubles as Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani delivered Brazil its first ever Olympic medal in tennis. They defeated the Wimbledon finalists Elena Vesnina and Veronika Kudermetova of the Russian Olympic Committee, recovering from a 5-9 deficit in the match tiebreak – four consecutive match points – to win a shock bronze.
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Their combined ranking was not good enough to make it into the original Olympics entry list and it wasn’t until a week before the event began that they unexpectedly made the list. They threw all other plans out of the window and flew to Tokyo two days later. Two weeks on, they were crying on the court after becoming Olympic medallists. It is fair to say they used their good fortune well.