Andy Murray has played finals at most of his sport’s great theatres this year, but nothing will be quite like the occasion or venue that confronts him on Sunday evening.
The Olympic tennis complex looks like it has just sprung out of some giant parking lot, and it is here that he will try and become the first man to successfully defend the men’s singles gold medal title.
In his way will be Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion who came through one of the matches of the year to defeat Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 7-6.
Away from the emotion, the most salient fact is that the towering Argentinian took more than three hours to dispose of Nadal, who fought heroically after an exhausting week. Murray spent just 79 minutes in beating Japan’s’s Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-4 .
In what will be a best of five set final that should outweigh Del Potro being the massive crowd favourite – and not just through the kinship of his fellow South Americans.
He will also have huge sentimental backing from any neutrals, having had his career almost wrecked by years of wrist problems that would otherwise have seen him become a fixture in the world’s top ten.
Del Potro has had to remodel his game to protect his vulnerability, developing a high class backhand slice. He has been so inspired here that he has beaten both Nadal and Novak Djokovic. His forehand remains phenomenal, but if necessary Murray will run him until his legs buckle.
Ever since getting to Brazil the world No 2 has been fretting about contributing to Britain’s medal count, his determination multiplied after carrying the flag at the opening ceremony.
The silver is now in the bag, but what would be an eighteenth consecutive win would put him on the overall squad’s gold roster.
‘When you compete for your country, you do feel a bit of extra responsibility. After carrying the flag out, you don’t want to go and bomb out in the first round,’ he said. ‘ The goal is gold, that would top off a special ten days for me.’
Whatever happens Murray is expected to fly out overnight and rejoin the ATP treadmill in Cincinatti. Before that he will look to reproduce the free-flowing performance that was too strong for the great Japanese hope.
It contrasted sharply with his edgy displays in the previous two rounds, cloyed by the burden of justifying his standing as currently Britain’s leading international sportsman.
‘The last four months definitely have been the best period of my career. My job is to try and keep that going, keep up this sort of consistency that I’ve had,’ said the
‘I’ve not played my best tennis this week but found a way to win. Often in events you have matches that if you can get through, you can start to find your form and feel better as the tournament goes on.
‘It happened at Queen’s a little bit. At Wimbledon I had that match against (Jo Wilfried) Tsonga that really could have gone either way in that fifth set. I’m just happy I’ve come through those ones and made it a great few months.’
Murray, whose final will be around 8pm UK time, will also make life very difficult for his opponent if he serves like he did on Saturday, managing to negate the outstanding returning ability of Nishikori.
Despite vociferous support from a Japanese faction in a crowd that built steadily through the match after looking sparse at the start, the world number seven did not rise to the occasion.
After a tournament that has produced more than its share of upsets there will have to be another one to stop Murray getting gold. Nobody, fresh legs or not, other than Djokovic has beaten the 29 year-old Scot since the middle of April.