When it was over, 3 hours after it began, Fernando Gonzalez somehow had enough energy left to swat tennis balls into the stands, a souvenir of thanks to fans chanting, "Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le, Chi-le!"
Gonzalez saved two match points and outlasted Taylor Dent of the United States 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 on Saturday to win the men's singles tennis bronze in a 3-hour match, earning Chile's first medal of these Olympics.
The 16th-seeded Gonzalez, who knocked off No. 2 Andy Roddick in the third round, finally got the upper hand against the unseeded Dent by breaking to 15-14 with a backhand passing shot. The American helped set up the break point with three miscues: an overhead into the net, a half-volley he pushed long, and a volley error.
Early in the final set, Gonzalez broke for a 3-2 edge and wasted a match point on Dent's serve at 5-3, sending a backhand long. Then, serving for the match at 5-4, the Chilean double-faulted twice in a row to give Dent a break point, then missed a backhand to make it 5-all.
Neither player managed to earn another break point until Dent had his only match points while leading 14-13. But he wasted the first with a backhand return that landed wide, and Gonzalez saved the second with a forehand winner.
Gonzalez, never past the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament, broke in the next game.
The match began in afternoon heat and ended at dusk, shadows covering the court.
As the match crept past the three-hour mark, and the number of third-set games rose above 25, both players appeared content to catch their breath now and then. Aces became more frequent, and from 12-12 to 14-13, there were three straight games at love. Gonzalez sat with his legs crossed at changeovers, as though in a doctor's waiting room, none too eager to hear his named called. The Chilean would take every last moment of rest before heading back out on court after a break, never venturing from his chair until the chair umpire said, "Time." Dent was less relaxed, hopping out his chair 30 seconds or so early and bouncing on the balls of his feet at the baseline.
The men's final Sunday is also a Chile vs United States matchup: No. 10 Nicolas Massu against unseeded Mardy Fish, the only American tennis player who'll leave Athens with a medal.
Tired as he might be, Gonzalez was to head back on court later Saturday, with a chance to win his country's first gold medal in any sport at any Olympics. He and Massu were to face Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany in the men's doubles final. That was scheduled for after the women's singles final, with No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium playing No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo of France. Alicia Molik of Australia beat No. 3 Anastasia Myskina of Russia 6-3, 6-4 to win the women's singles bronze. Molik broke the French Open champion for a 5-4 lead in the second set, then served it out for Australia's first singles tennis medal. The country won medals five times previously in doubles. "Today was a pretty special moment, because if I came out and lost, I wouldn't have anything to remember the Olympics by," Molik said. "My bronze will be something I cherish for the rest of my life."
In the women's doubles bronze match, No. 7 Paola Suarez and Patricia Tarabini gave Argentina its first Olympic tennis medal since 1992 by beating No. 5 Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-3, 6-3.
The gold medal will be decided Sunday, when No. 2 Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain face No. 8 Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian of China.