10 unforgettable moments from the Rio 2016 Olympics

leyeaduloju in Features 19 Mar 2020
Andy Murray (PA Sport)

No one is quite sure whether the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go ahead as planned, but while we hope and pray, why don’t we take a trip down memory lane and relive the best moments from the last Olympics in Rio?

10. Venus equals Olympic medal record

By reaching the final of the Rio 2016 mixed doubles event, seven-time Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams guaranteed that she would win at least a silver medal from the Rio Games, and a record-equaling fifth Olympic medal overall.

That long-standing record was previously held by Great Britain’s Kathleen Godfree, who won one gold, two silver and two bronze medals between the Antwerp 1920 and Paris 2024 games.

Venus and partner, Rajeev Ram, couldn’t quite go all the way in Rio, as they were beaten by compatriots, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock in the Gold Medal match.

9. Makarova and Vesnina win women’s doubles title

Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova had a difficult time getting to Rio from their previous tournament in Montreal due to flight delays, but their time in Brazil ended on a high as they defeated the Swiss pair of Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinzky to strike gold in the women’s doubles.

Vesnina and Makarova won the title without dropping a set, beating their Swiss opponents 6-4 6-4 in the final.

“We wanted an Olympic medal, especially a gold medal since we were juniors,” said Makarova. “It was our dream since we were kids. I have a medal from the Olympics and it’s much more than the grand slams.”

For Hingis, even though she didn’t get gold, the legendary Swiss was able to add a first Olympic medal to her glittering collection, two decades after she debuted at the event in Atlanta in 1996.

“I think if you asked me 10 years ago if I would be here in Rio, I would say you’re crazy because I didn’t play for six years, and being able to play for gold is unbelievable. Of course, you are a little disappointed (not to win gold), but looking back it’s been an incredible journey.”


8. Nadal strikes doubles gold

Rafael Nadal arrived at the Rio games with question marks over his fitness. The great Spaniard had not played since May, after pulling out of a French Open third-round meeting with Marcel Granollers.

The 2008 singles champion had also sat out the 2012 Olympics due to a knee injury, but he made a triumphant re-entry into the Games, teaming up with good friend, Marc Lopez to win the men’s doubles title in Rio- his second Olympics Gold medal.

Nadal and Lopez pose with their gold medals from the Rio Games. (PA Sport)

The celebrations in the end were telling, as the great champion dropped to his knees, fell face down to the ground, and started sobbing- the sort of reaction usually reserved for Grand Slam triumphs.

Nadal could not quite do the Golden double, falling just short in an epic semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro. He was also beaten by Kei Nishikori in the bronze medal match.


7. Svitolina stuns Serena in women’s singles

Elina Svitolina scored a huge Olympics upset when she took down Serena Williams in the third round of the Rio Olympics, ending the American’s quest for consecutive singles gold medals at the games.

Svitolina celebrates following her victory over Serena Williams (PA Sport)

Williams, playing a reduced schedule due to injuries, had reached at least the final in five of the six tournaments she had played in 2016, winning Wimbledon, and finishing runner-up at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, but she suffered a very rare failure in Rio.

Serena didn’t look 100% in Rio and was close to tears during her 6-4 6-3 loss to Svitolina, but that took absolutely nothing from the excellent Ukrainian, who recorded one of the biggest wins of her career to move into the quarter finals. Unfortunately, her tournament ended in the next round, as she was beaten very handily by Petra Kvitova.


6. Nishikori topples Monfils in Rio thriller

There were many great tennis matches at the Rio Games, one of which was this epic quarter final between Kei Nishikori and Gael Monfils.

Nishikori and Monfils were at it for almost three hours before the Japanese emerged with a thrilling 7-6 4-6 7-6 victory after saving three match points. Monfils looked like he had pulled clear when he led 6-3 in the final set tie break, but Nishikori produced two fine serves to erase the first two match points, before Monfils, not unpredictably, delivered a double fault on the third.

Nishikori, who trailed 4-0 in the breaker, won five points in a row to finish and pull off the win. The Japanese was easily beaten in his semi-final against Andy Murray, but he grabbed his first ever Olympic medal with a fine three-set victory over Rafael Nadal in the third-place match.

5. Safarova/Strycova break Williams doubles dominance

Prior to the 2016 Olympics, the Williams sisters had established a stranglehold on the Olympic women’s doubles discipline, winning the title on all three editions they had entered. The legendary sisters were champions in Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, piling up a 15-0 career record at the tournament. (They did not play together in the Athens Games in 2004 because Serena pulled out through injury).

The Williams sisters after their first round defeat in Rio (PA Sport)

However, that streak was finally broken in Rio, where they suffered a shock 6-3 6-4 first round defeat to the Czech pair of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova.

The result was even more surprising considering the huge experience gap between the two teams. Safarova and Strycova only got together just before the start of the tournament, with Strycova stepping in as a late replacement for Karolina Pliskova, who had pulled out owing to concerns over the Zika virus.

The unseeded Czechs had only ever played one match together, a Fed Cup defeat in 2015, but they pulled off a superb win over the Williams in one of the biggest upset in Olympic history. Safarova and Strycova went on to claim the bronze medal at the Games.


4. Del Potro powers through Djokovic

“This is one of the toughest losses in my career,” said Djokovic following his opening round defeat to Juan Martin del Potro in the first round of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The top- seeded Serbian had left the court in tears after a 7-6 7-6 to an inspired del Potro extended his quest for a first Olympics title by at least another four years.

Del Potro had beaten Djokovic in the bronze medal match in London in 2008, a year before his sensational US Open triumph, but his career had been decimated by injuries in the previous two seasons. The giant Argentine played just six tournaments between 2014 and 2015, and was down at 590th in the rankings by the end of the 2015 season.

He had enjoyed a rare spell of relative fitness in the months leading up to the Rio Games, rising to 141st in the world, but he went into his opening match against Djokovic as a clear underdog. Given del Potro’s history, this was a very rough opening round draw for Djokovic, but the world No. 1, who had only recently completed the Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros, was expected to be too good for his Argentinean opponent. Delpo had other ideas.

Del Potro was on fire at the Rio Olympics (PA Sport)

Predictably, it was the wrecking ball forehand that did all the damage, in tandem with his serve. Del Potro did not face a single break point throughout the match, blasting through Djokovic’s famous defences to seal the win after two and a half hours.

“It was a wonderful evening from the beginning,” said Del Potro. “After all the effort I’ve put in to get back to playing tennis, I’ve defeated the number one. It was a dream night.”


3. Del Potro beats Nadal to reach Rio final

Juan Martin del Potro’s miraculous run at the Rio 2016 Olympics continued with a tremendous 5-7 6-4 7-6 victory over Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, as both men delivered an Olympic epic in front of a vociferous Rio crowd.

Having already scored a shock win over Djokovic in the first round, del Potro took down another huge scalp in Rio, overcoming Nadal a dramatic contest to advance to his first Olympic final.

Nadal had recovered from a break down to take the opening set, but del Potro played a near-flawless second set to push the match into a decider. Both players elevated their levels in an outstanding final set, but del Potro appeared to have struck the decisive blow when he broke for a 5-4 lead.

Never one to give up, Nadal upped the ante again, breaking back to love with some terrific shot-making, including an astonishing running forehand down the line to get the break. He battled back from a 0-40 deficit in the next game to take a 6-5 lead, before del Potro held to love to fittingly push the contest into a tie break.

The Argentine jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the breaker, and he never relinquished that advantage, going on to take the match on his second match point. This one meant a lot, there was a celebration to match. Del Potro fell on his back, arms spread wide, before going on his knees and kissing the court. He later jumped into the front row of the crowd to celebrate with his countrymen, who had offered him tremendous support all though the contest.

Delpo came through another classic against Nadal in the semi-finals (PA Sport)


2. Puig becomes Puerto Rico’s first gold medalist

Monica Puig capped a superb Olympic campaign with a three-set victory over Australian Open champion, Angelique Kerber, becoming the first Puerto Rican to win an Olympic gold medal.

The unseeded Puig had blasted her way through the early stages of the tournament, scything through Polona Hercog, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Garbine Muguruza and Laura Siegemund in straight sets to reach the semi-finals.

She was required to work harder as she approached the finish line, taking down Petra Kvitova 6-4 1-6 6-3, before outlasting Kerber 6-4 4-6 6-1 in the final. The fearless Puerto Rican powered a staggering 54 winners past Kerber, while limiting her unforced errors count to 33. She saved nine of 12 break points, sealing the famous win after two hours and 12 minutes.

“It was the tournament, and greatest moment, of my life,” said Puig, who broke down in tears as she received her medal. “I wanted it so badly, I fought and my put my heart and soul on the court.”

Monica Puig could not hold back the tears after securing Puerto Rico’s first ever gold medal (PA Sport)


1.  Murray outlasts del Potro to win back-to-back singles gold medals

Juan Martin del Potro appears for the third time on our list, but unlike the previous two mentions, the giant Argentine is on the losing side on this occasion. Del Potro had produced a sensational week in Rio, taking down two of the sport’s greatest, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal en route the final, but he could not quite finish off the job, falling in four sets to Andy Murray in a grueling gold medal match.

He might not have claimed the title, but he delivered one final epic contest to sign off a supreme week.

“I left the last of my toenails on the court,” commented the Argentinian. “I was tremendously tired. It was the crowd that made me keep running. Silver is like a gold for me. I will remember this for the rest of my life.”

Like he had done in his previous matches, del Potro threw everything at Murray, but the Scot just about held on for a 7-5 4-6 6-2 7-5 victory. Both men struggled to hold back the tears as they shared an embrace after an absorbing four-hour duel.

Del Potro served to take the match into a final set at 5-4 in the fourth, but Murray broke back at the death, before going on to win the next two games to close out the win.

Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro after their Rio thriller (PA Sport)

That Olympic success formed part of an exceptional year for the Scot, during which he won a second Wimbledon title and claimed the world No. 1 ranking for the first time.