Andy Murray has become the first man to defend his Olympic singles tennis title, following a gruelling final against a resurgent Juan Martin del Potro.
Following his erratic performances in the previous two rounds, Murray had hit his best form in defeating Kei Nishikori in the semi-final, but had reason to be wary against the towering Argentine, whose ranking of 141 coming into the tournament owed everything to his long lay-off with a wrist problem that had almost ended his career.
Showing some of the form that had brought him the US Open title in 2009, Del Potro has been hunting big-name scalps since his return, knocking Stan Wawrinka out of Wimbledon and eliminating Novak Djokovic in the opening round in Rio before overcoming Rafael Nadal in a three-hour semi-final.
While Del Potro showed clear signs of fatigue, his sledgehammer of a forehand tested Murray's brilliant defensive skills to the limit in a match that contained no less than 14 breaks of serve. Three of these came in the first four games of the opening set, before Murray raced into a 4-1 lead. He then dropped serve to let the 2012 bronze medallist back in, but took the set to 6-5 before securing the decisive break.
From there, many will have expected Murray to take total control. But from playing some sublime tennis, he suddenly slipped and lost his opening service game in the second set. By this point he had landed less than 40 per cent of first serves, but was to improve markedly in the second set as this rate went up to 72 per cent.
However, this was not enough to salvage the set as Del Potro saved break points in his first game and went on to take the second set 6-4. Roared on by a vociferous Argentinian contingent in the crowd, his power game looked like a genuine threat and this continued into the third until Murray finally achieved another break. From 2-2 Murray took a grip on the third set and secured it 6-2.
The fourth saw both players struggling to hold serve, with the first four games bringing breaks. Del Potro subsequently secured another to leave him serving to take the match into a fifth set, but Murray found the resolve to handle the pulverising groundstrokes heading his way. At 5-5 he took a grip again, holding serve and then forcing his flagging opponent to chase around the court before finally planting a second match point into the net.
Thus it was that Murray had made history, continuing a run that his seen him lose just once in 30 matches. On this form, fans booking corporate hospitality for the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in November could be welcoming a player with two Grand Slam titles in his locker, for Murray is on such a roll he is arguably now the favourite for the US Open ahead of Djokovic.
Del Potro may also have dreams of reaching London. He is clearly back and in great form, bolstered by the 450 ranking points he picked up in Rio, and in a situation where a good autumn might push him into contention. In any event, from the evidence of Rio it seems the transatlantic challenge to the hegemony of Murray and Djokovic over the next year or two will not just come from Canada.
By Sam Coates