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By Erik Gudris | Friday, July 30, 2021

 
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An unexpected gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova caps yet another surprising Olympic tournament.

Photo credit: International Tennis Federation Facebook

Once again, players competing at the Olympics are defying expectations and creating unique storylines leading into the medal rounds.

That's especially true for the women's singles tournament featuring two unexpected but deserving competitors for the gold medal.

More: Zverev Stuns Djokovic

Here's our preview of Saturday's Olympic women's singles final.

Belinda Bencic (Switzerland) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (Czech Republic)

If some casual tennis watchers were expecting top seeds Ash Barty of Australia and Naomi Osaka of Japan to meet in the final, they probably haven't been paying attention to the WTA Tour over the last few years. And then add in the unique mix of pressure and inspiration that playing in the Olympics creates for each player, and it's not a complete surprise that we once again have two different women facing off in a big final this season.

On the one side, we have Belinda Bencic, who, though only at age 24, feels something like a veteran since she burst onto the tennis scene as a teenager. Bencic, long predicted to win a major title one day, has struggled with multiple injuries over the years. Though she reached the US Open semifinals in 2019, some wondered if Bencic would ever find her way into a huge final.

Yet it's these Olympics, with no fans in the stands and extreme heat conditions, that has inspired and fired up Bencic who is playing some of the best tennis in her career. That's especially true since Bencic played herself into both the women's singles and women's doubles gold medal matches this week.




The biggest key for Bencic in this match is her return and her backhand. As Bencic generally plays close to the baseline, that will be key for her to dictate play early in the rallies. The other thing to watch for is Bencic's emotions. She's known for getting testy and downright upset when things aren't going her way. That could work for her, or against her, if this match gets close down the stretch. The other key could be Bencic's serve. While she's found big serves in tough moments, including her semifinal against Elena Rybakina, she's also averaging around 10 double faults per match - a stat she will want to tidy up for the final.

Vondrousova enters as a former French Open finalist, so she's used to the big stage. And like Bencic, she's dealt with several injuries since her breakthrough in Paris before finally resuming her climb up the WTA rankings after reaching a career-high of No. 14 in the world. The crafty 22-year-old Czech, known for her leftiness and deceptive drop shot, has more or less powered her way through this event.




She's only dropped one set, which was early in the event to No. 16 seed Kiki Bertens in Bertens' last career singles match.

Then Vondrousova knocked out two big seeds in the tournament. The first being the home favorite Naomi Osaka in convincing fashion 6-1, 6-4. The second being the fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 to reach the gold medal round. She also took out recent French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Vondrousova has played less tennis than Bencic this event, including Bencic having gone to three sets in her last three matches. The head to head indicates this could be a close match as well. Vondrousova won the only meeting against the Swiss earlier this year in Miami in a tight contest 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Tennis Express

Yet the Olympics always remains that "once in four years" event where we can throw all the stats and results out of the window when it comes down to playing for a gold medal. In many ways, this result could define both of these players' careers as their ultimate achievement, especially since this year's Olympics were held under the most trying of conditions weather-wise and organization-wise due to the current pandemic.

Overall, it should make for an exciting final on all sides.

 

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