It was Brazil’s first Olympic Tennis medal ever, delivered by surprise losing semi-finalists Laura Pigossi & Luisa Stefani, who battled hard in the Bronze Medal Match to pip ROC’s Veronika Kudermetova & Elena Vesnina at the post, 4-6 6-4 [11-9], on Saturday.
My feeling is of peace, of conquest, it is a dream to get an Olympic medal. The medal will stay forever. I'm still trying to understand all the emotions. Laura Pigossi
There was jubilation, both on court and in the Brazilian camp in the stands, after Pigossi & Stefani saved 4 match points in the super tiebreak before the Russians sent their ball long to lose their chance of a medal.
“I’m very happy to play my first Olympics and get a medal,” Pigossi said. “Playing alongside Lu and representing Brazil thrills me a lot. I still don’t know what I’m feeling.
The Brazilians bounced back after their defeat by the Swiss team of Belinda Bencic & Viktorija Golubic to deny Rio 2016 champion Vesnina a second women’s doubles medal.
“We never stopped believing we could do it,” 26-year old Pigossi continued. “When I received the call, I told Luisa that the last ones would be the first. She laughed, but believed it. We had already faced all the opponents and knew it was possible.”
Pigossi & Stefani needed a win to land a medal and it almost came in the semi-finals on Thursday when they opened up a 4-0 lead against the Swiss in the first set, but they were turned around and lost it, 7-5, while in the second, they fell 6-3.
“At that moment we were very frustrated,” Stefani said. “It’s done, I said, but let’s talk to the coaches to see where to improve so that it doesn’t happen again.
“You can’t complain, regret, for everything we’ve done this week,” Stefani promised, who never lost sight of winning a medal.
“The loss in the semi-final was very painful, it felt like they had stuck a knife in my chest
“I’m glad we had a day to rest. We had a tough game against the Russians.
“Lu has had an amazing year and I wanted to give this to her, I played a lot for her because she is taking tennis in Brazil to another level.”
The conversation worked and, in the contest that secured the bronze medal for the duo, they were heroic in their effort to turn the tables against the very strong combination of Kudermetova & Vesnina.
Earlier in the week, they had got past Canadian No 7 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski & Sharon Fichman in the opening round before taking out Czechs Karolina Pliskova & Marketa Vondrousova and then American No 4 seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Jessica Pegula to reach the semi-finals,
On Saturday on Court 1 at the Ariake Tennis Park, Pigossi & Stefani pulled off their improbable comeback to complete their Cinderella run with a trip to the podium.
The Brazilians were one of the last teams to obtain entry into the doubles draw, but they made the most of their last-minute opportunity, stunning the Russian duo to snatch the bronze medal after 2 hours 11 minutes of enthralling and highly entertaining play.
The Brazilian Tennis Confederation had put the pair on a waiting list and they ended up with a spot just days before the start of the event.
While they were childhood friends, Pigossi and 23-year old Stefani had not played together on tour before their respective Olympic debuts this week, and it was Pigossi’s first Tour-level doubles event of the 2021 season.
Stefani is 23 years old and started playing tennis at 10 in the neighbourhood of Perdizes, west of São Paulo.
In 2011, she moved with her parents to Florida, where she continued playing at high school and university, rising to 10th in the Junior World Rankings, and sharing her tennis with an advertising course.
In 2018 she decided to concentrate on her sport, and has played alongside American Hayley Carter on the circuit, winning minor tournaments in the United States and Uzbekistan, and reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open.
Alongside Carol Meligeni, Stefani won the bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima.
Pigossi, 26, who grew up and started playing in São Paulo, also moved to another country, deciding to live in Barcelona in 2016 to devote herself to tennis.
She reached her best ranking in doubles in February 2020 at 125 in the world, and is currently No 188.
Pigossi has 12 titles on the lesser world circuit stage and usually plays alongside Russian Evgeniya Levashova, who is currently No 553 in the world.
Stefani, ranked World No 23 in doubles and a 3-time doubles finalist on the WTA Tour this year, paired sublimely with Pigossi all week.
Against Kudermetova & Vesnina, the Brazilians edged to victory on their first chance, winning nearly 67 percent of their second-service points, while the Russians could win only 51 percent of theirs.
The Brazilians made the first set competitive, pulling back from 1-4 down to 4-4, but big returns by the Russians helped Kudermetova & Vesnina break for the one-set lead, as Vesnina aimed to add another Olympic women’s doubles medal to the gold she won alongside Ekaterina Makarova in 2016 Rio.
The momentum the Brazilians gained towards the end of the opener paid off at the start of the second, when they broke serve in the very first game.
Behind Pigossi’s powerful baseline shots and the superlative net play from Stefani, they never relinquished that lead through the rest of the set and levelled to bring it into the match tiebreak.
It was the Russians who took early command of the breaker, however, jumping ahead 5-1 as sterling serves and returns by Vesnina set up excellent volley winners for Kudermetova.
The Brazilians stayed with the Wimbledon runners-up, but Kudermetova & Vesnina still reached quadruple match point at 9-5 when, bolstered by more exceptional volleying from Stefani, they erased all 4 of those chances in a row to reach 9-9.
At that stage, a rally ended with a rare netted Vesnina groundstroke, suddenly giving the Brazilians their first match point, which they converted to claim an emotional comeback victory.
Pigossi & Stefani celebrated with their teams on court after completing their week in style, as they surpassed Brazil’s previous best-ever finish in an Olympic tennis event when Fernando Meligeni also reached the bronze medal match of the men’s singles event at 1996 Atlanta, but fell to Leander Paes of India and finished just off the podium in 4th place.
Competing at Tokyo 2020 seemed unlikely until almost the last minute, so winning an unprecedented medal for Brazil had not crossed their minds, especially since they did not team up as partners until they landed in Japan.
“My feeling is of peace, of conquest, it is a dream to get an Olympic medal,” Pigossi said at the press conference after the match. “The medal will stay forever. I’m still trying to understand all the emotions.”
Having won the Bronze, they are now thinking about playing more together in tournaments.
“We’re sure to play other times together, to help me climb the rankings,” Pigossi said, laughing at her partner. “One hand washes the other,”
The medal ceremony takes place on Sunday, after the Gold Medal Match between Czech top seeds Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova and Bencic & Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.