On this day: When Chile ruled tennis world in Athens 2004
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 3541
Fernando Gonzalez had one of the most memorable runs in a career at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Future Australian Open finalist earned two medals with his teammate Nicolas Massu and made Chile the leading tennis country for at least one weekend.
On Saturday, August 21, Gonzalez stayed on the court for more than seven hours, with the second match lasting well until the Sunday morning! First, Fernando battled past Taylor Dent 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 in three hours and 25 minutes to win the singles bronze medal, the first-ever for Chile.
Gonzalez wasted a match point on the return in the ninth game of the decider and served for the triumph in the next one, only to suffer a break and get himself into a position to serve for staying in the match nine times!
The American had his chances as well, squandering two match points while leading 14-13 and losing focus after that to hand Gonzalez a break at 14-14, with the Chilean sealing the deal with a hold in game 30. Like it wasn't enough, Fernando returned to the court after some rest to take part in the doubles final with Nicolas Massu against Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany.
The Chileans prevailed 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 in one of the craziest doubles matches of the century, saving four match points in the fourth set tie break to bring the first Olympic gold medal for their country! The encounter ended at 2:39 am on Sunday, and it was the one to watch, with a fantastic fighting spirit that kept the Chileans alive despite being 6-2 down in that tie break.
Fernando and Nicolas won six of the next seven points to steal the breaker when Gonzalez fired a service winner, sending the match into a decider. Carried by this massive boost, the Chileans broke in the first game before Schuettler and Kiefer broke back immediately to take a 2-1 lead.
The Germans were again very close to crossing the finish line, breaking in game four to take a 3-1 lead before dropping the next three games and find themselves 4-3 down.
Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez were the players to beat in Athens 2004.
Still, they kept coming back, just like their football squad throughout the history, breaking the Chilean team again in game eight to level the score at 4-4, setting up another entertaining closure.
Nonetheless, Fernando and Nicolas made the crucial move in game nine, breaking for a 5-4 lead and starting a massive celebration when Fernando hit that historic unreturned serve in game ten that put the curtain down on this extraordinary clash.
This was the only ATP doubles title for Nicolas Massu in a career, but certainly the one he wanted to win the most, not having too much time to celebrate it as he had to play in the men's singles gold medal clash against Mardy Fish some 15 hours later.
Just like the entire tennis weekend in Athens, it had to turn out into a marathon clash with the Chilean scoring a 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph in four hours and four minutes to embrace the second Olympic gold medal for his country in less than a day and leave the event with two medals.
Before Athens Olympics, Massu failed to win a match on hard courts in 2004, only to deliver six of those in Greece, including the one over world no. 4 Carlos Moya, refusing to surrender in the final to cross the finish line first.
It wasn't the best match we could get, dotted with errors, double faults and breaks of serves, with the Chilean having to endure the physical problems, twisting the leg in the second set and spending the rest of the match crouching or stretching, taking valuable seconds between the points to recover some energy.
Massu broke at the beginning of the final set before Fish pulled it back immediately, only to suffer another break in game five that turned out to be the pivotal moment of the entire clash. Nicolas served well in the remaining games and sealed the deal with a service winner in game ten, just like he and Gonzalez did in the doubles final, falling down in disbelief after what had been his toughest but also the most glorious weekend in a career.