The eight-member Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) tennis contingent had an Olympiad to remember at this Tokyo Games, concluding their campaign with an all-ROC final in mixed doubles.
There, in the penultimate tennis match for this edition of the Olympics, 25-year-old Moscow native Khachanov finished runner-up to Alexander Zverev of Germany, the former winning in commanding style as he dropped just four games.
The following match, the closing act of tennis action at the Ariake Tennis Park, saw the mixed doubles final take place – one of two finals between representations from the country, the other being the all-Croat men’s doubles final.
There, the all-new pairing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Andrey Rublev navigated their way past a formidable opposition in birthday girl Elena Vesnina, 35, and 27-year-old Aslan Karatsev to prevail in three sets and win the gold medal.
First-time pairing soars to clinch first set
As both pairs traded service holds to begin the finale, Vesnina/Karatsev made their first charge in the third, conjuring three break chances before taking the fourth to lead 2-1.
Pavlyuchenkova/Rublev, however, soared back into contention with a break next, and then saved break point in the following to hold and lead 3-2.
Clinching the decisive break of serve in the ensuing game put the younger pairing Pavlyuchenkova/Rublev ahead with a two-game advantage, 4-2.
Two more holds came and by now, Pavlyuchenkova/Rublev found themselves serving to close out the set, and did so to love, taking the set-lead after 34 minutes on the clock.
Vesnina/Karatsev strikes back to equalise the match
The 59-minute second set, for most part, was a more straightforward affair, as all games went in favour of the server.
Such was the routine-ness of the set that the only break opportunities came in the opening game, on the Vesnina/Karatsev serve.
This meant it all came down to a tiebreak to decide the outcome – and here it was Vesnina/Karatsev who got the first mini-break to lead 2-1.
The pair soon extended their lead to 4-1 but the tides turned in favour of their younger opponents who reined in the next four points in succession.
Now two games away from the Olympic title and the gold medal, Vesnina/Karatsev recorded another streak of their own, this time earning them the set, doing so on their own serve, which their opponents netted.
Climatic tiebreak set concludes tennis action at Olympic event
Vesnina/Karatsev, each born in Sochi and Vladikavkaz, looked to have carried their momentum from the previous set as they surged to a two-point lead on five occasions, the last of those seeing them edge ahead to 7-4.
Pavlyuchenkova/Rublev then launched a comeback of their own as they took the next five points in a row, thus now having their sights on their first gold medal point.
The pendulum swing, however, continued as Vesnina/Karatsev claimed the next three points to find themselves a point away from the gold medal.
There, the score was levelled once again, at 10-10, and the next point saw Pavlyuchenkova/Rublev record their second opportunity to win the match but that, did not go their way as well.
It would take another two points which put the younger pair up 12-11, and the 24th point of the tiebreak would be the deciding one as Rublev put away a forehand smash to ensure the new pairing the gold medal.
The match ended with the time seven minutes shy of the two-hour mark.
Moscow-born Rublev, who went winless in singles and doubles, was notably appearing his first outing in the mixed doubles discipline, and was in disbelief during the on-court interview after the match: “I am relieved, I am really lucky to be here.”
“This is something you dream about all your life when you have been watching as a kid. It’s a pleasure and an honour,” the 23-year-old added.
The 30-year-old Samara native, who was playing her sixth event of mixed doubles, when asked on what was key to their win, said: “We fought like crazy every match. We believed and fought, and tried to enjoy it."
“Nobody expected us to win gold and even a match here. It’s an amazing feeling and we proved it.”
The podium for the mixed doubles discipline saw bronze medallist in Aussie duo Ashleigh Barty and John Peers join their ROC counterparts, the latter taking home the medal after receiving a walkover from Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic and Novak Djokovic.