By Maud Watson
As the tennis portion of the Olympics nears its close, it’s not a bad time to reflect on what this past week has meant in the sport. On the one hand, it’s essentially another event on the calendar featuring many familiar faces playing on a familiar surface, and in the case of the 2012 Olympics, is being contested at a very familiar venue. But the event also has thrown in some curves. Due to qualification rules, some of the sport’s bigger names are absent. It also produced a draw that saw some unusual early matchups, such as A. Radwanska vs. Goerges and Roddick vs. Djokovic. In addition, the Olympics seem to be where you see many of the established stars struggle to find their best early and when it matters most. This is more likely due to wanting to medal for their respective countries and the players recognizing they have very few opportunities to add an Olympic medal to their career records rather than the Olympics themselves being held in higher regard than the slams. Even the governing bodies of the tennis seem unsure of where the Olympics stand in the grand scheme of things. In singles, not only the majors, but the Masters 1000 events are worth more in ranking points, while no points are allocated for the doubles (so as not to punish a double players who comes from a country that can’t field a suitable partner). Looking at all of this, I’m still not convinced professional tennis should be a medal sport in the Olympics the way swimming, gymnastics, and track are, but there’s no denying that being a part of one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles hasn’t hurt any.
The buzz started back in January that Serena Williams and Andy Roddick were toying with playing mixed doubles at the Olympics, and then that fanned into talk of various American men vying to partner Serena in London. As the moment of truth came however, names like Serena, Roddick, and even Isner were absent from the Mixed Doubles draw. Instead, the U.S. opted to put forth the teams of Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond and Bob Bryan and Liezel Huber. While on paper these two teams lack the star power of a Williams or a Roddick, kudos the United States for using some logic. After the Williams/Bryan debacle in Paris, and the quick exit of Roddick/Isner in the Men’s Doubles, it was a wise decision to field two teams of doubles specialists. Even though Bob and Huber lost, you still had to like both teams’ odds of winning a medal, and after their win at Wimbledon, Mike and Raymond aren’t a bad bet to go all the way.
They say it isn’t all that uncommon for players to feed off of good vibes they get from a tournament venue where they’ve tasted success in the past. Even when they’re floundering about, they somehow find a way to flip the switch and produce some good tennis. That’s exactly what happened to American Sam Querrey in L.A. last weekend. An ocean away from the hullabaloo in London, the native Californian has been looking to steadily raise his ranking as he comes back from injury, and he moved a big step towards that at the tournament he’d won two times previously. He absolutely thumped Berankis in the final, and the win saw him jump 19 places to No. 38 in the rankings. If Querrey can continue to build on that and start to exhibit more of the promise he showed earlier in his career, a seeding at the US Open and a Top 20 ranking are not out of the question.
That’s the name of the network, and that’s the cheer it deserves for its spectacular coverage of Olympic tennis this past week in the United States. NBC has taken a lot of heat (sometimes, rightfully so) for its coverage of the Games, particularly as it relates to those events it broadcasts on taped delay. But as far as the tennis goes, it’s enjoyed coverage similar to that of the majors. While not on NBC itself, it’s been right at home on Bravo – a channel typically on the same tier as the ESPN networks – and is broadcast essentially from when play starts on the two main show courts until done for the day. While the Wimbledon venue has undoubtedly added more clout to the event, hopefully the extensive coverage also represents an increase in both popularity and appreciation for tennis.
The Waiting Game
The biggest absence at the Olympic tennis event has been that of defending Gold Medalist Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was forced to withdraw from the Games due to knee tendonitis, and now it appears the wait for Rafa’s return will continue. Shortly after pulling out from the Olympics, he announced that he wouldn’t rush his recovery and would therefore let his knees, and not the schedule, dictate when he would return. It seems that the knees are not yet ready to go, as he has opted to withdraw from the Canada Masters in Toronto. While not a surprise, it was a blow to tournament organizers, who have also seen withdraws from Ferrer, Monfils, and Verdasco, with more possibly to follow due to the Toronto event having the unenviable position of falling right after the Olympics. Cincy organizers will be hoping their event avoids a similar fate, and Nadal fans across the globe will be hoping against hope that Rafa is able to compete in the Queen City a little over a week from now.