By Maud Watson
New and Improved
Just a month after Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, the Scot turned the tables on the Maestro to deliver an Olympic Gold Medal to his native Great Britain. The fact that Murray won wasn’t entirely shocking, but the manner in which he pulled it off was. He did something few have been able to do – he made Federer press. The result was a very lopsided affair that left everyone stunned. Make no mistake. His win is nowhere near equal to what it would mean if he won Wimbledon. Nor is it even tantamount to him potentially winning one of the other three majors. But it was huge. For one, it showed the improved mental toughness of Murray, as we didn’t see the long slump that followed his previous three major final losses. He also didn’t allow the moment to get to him. He played his new brand of controlled but aggressive tennis against one of the sport’s greatest, and he made it look easy. That Gold Medal match, more than any other in his career, served as the strongest case to argue that Murray is ready to win a slam. He’s too talented not to have his moment in the sun.
She’s Got the Look
This past Saturday, Wimbledon Centre Court saw the Serena of old – absolutely dominant with just a pinch of controversy. While acknowledging that Serena’s decision to do the “Crip Walk” and lack of remorse for doing so could justifiably be construed as classless (particularly considering the time and place), there’s no denying that the tennis coming off of her racquet was far above superb. Since losing in the opening round of Roland Garros, she has gone on a tear. It started at Wimbledon, and she looked even more devastating at the Olympics. She was barely giving up games, let alone sets, and she emphatically embarrassed Sharapova in the Gold Medal match. Serena looks like a woman on a mission to get back to the top, and the way she’s played in her last two events have gone a long way towards repairing the invincible aura she once carried. These days, Serena is a bit of a wildcard, so she isn’t a sure bet on anything this summer. That said, if she continues to maintain her drive and focus, she could just run the table through the US Open.
His improvements haven’t been as obvious as Murray’s, but how great was it to see Juan Martin del Potro walk away with the bronze medal in London? The big Argentine has steadily been working his way back up to the top of the game and trying to recapture the form that made him the 2009 US Open Champion. He gave Federer nearly all that he could handle in the Olympic semifinals, and to be able to recover and defeat Djokovic to take home the Bronze shows that he’s starting to regain that mental strength in addition to the ground strokes. If he can continue to win a few more of these key matches to boost the confidence, a return to the upper most echelons of the game could be just around the corner.
While the debate may continue as to whether or not tennis belongs in the Olympics, you can’t miss the fact that doubles benefited greatly from that week in London, and the players themselves seemed thrilled to be a part of it. The Bryan Brothers finally got their gold, while the Williams Sisters defended theirs from four years ago. There were consolation prizes like a Bronze Medal finish for Petrova and Kirilenko (the latter of which just missed the podium in singles), gravy for the likes of Andy Murray, who won a Silver in Mixed alongside Robson after winning Singles Gold, and just the pure joy of a player like Max Mirnyi, who at the age of 35, won the Gold in Mixed Doubles with partner Azarenka. They were all compelling storylines that held their own against the singles competition. I for one am hoping that the bit of extra coverage and exposure of doubles at the Olympics will lead to a greater appreciation and demand for that competition year-round. It’s a whole new ball game with plenty on tap to entice and delight.
For all of the positive vibes to come out of the Olympic tennis competition, there are likely, and understandably, some frustrated tournament organizers and fans. The US Open Series – the lead-up to the year’s final major – has suffered thanks in no small part to the London Olympics. Players have skipped pre-Olympic events, and many others opted to withdraw from post-Olympic competition. This is particularly upsetting for fans and organizers at Montreal and Toronto, as those are top-tier events that offer more ranking points and put up a greater financial commitment. Granted, the governing bodies are at the mercy of when the Olympics themselves are staged. The previous two Olympic Games occurred a full week after Cincinnati had wrapped, while the 2000 Games in Sydney didn’t occur until after the US Open. But it’s not like nobody knew when London was coming, and while recognizing that some tournaments are inevitably going to suffer some casualties to their fields, better planning to the tennis calendar could help minimize this damage. Just something to think about for Rio in 2016.