Last week in Toronto, Venus Williams put in her best week of singles work since before the Sjogren’s disease, falling to Li Na in the semis, the eventual champion. Great to see Venus playing good tennis, with depth and precision off both wings, and her trademark cat like quickness moving inside the court. Venus told a reconfigured ESPN panel of tennis announcers (about time they shook things up, but Jimmy Arias? Really?) that she first started to feel like herself in London for the Olympics, even though she went out in the 2nd round of singles, in straight tie-break sets to the very hot (you have a dirty mind if you are not thinking tennis!) Angelique Kerber. Venus told the panel that despite that loss, she felt like she had her groove back, and “thank God because it’s the Olympics and the Olympics are so so huge.” And then, ho hum, another Olympic doubles gold for Venus and Serena, making for 3 Olympic golds, all totaled, now in her vast trophy case.
The Olympics as huge is not always a concept we particularly embraced. Like when Elena Dementieva tried to pass off her major-less career as something more because of gold in Beijing, saying that it made her a celebrity in Russia, and blah blah blah. I mean, that still is not too impressive to us, as we don’t think too many players were all that upset to lose out on that gold. But that was Beijing. It is a shame about Dementieva, who anyone with any heart at all had to feel bad about by the end of the day, and her failed plight for a major. She really was a very notable big time player, making many major semi-finals, losing the French Open final in 2004 and the US Open final that same year, and twice losing in the doubles final at The Open, to boot. But how bad can you really feel for a player who can barely break 85 MPH on a first serve?
The Olympics at Wimbledon is another story entirely. Especially, when played so close to um, Wimbledon at Wimbledon. What we have seen in tennis this year was an incredible phenomenon with what was essentially an extended grass court season for the top players, who did not need to scurry back to clay or hardcourts in between SW-19 and SW-19. A lot has been made about the cheesy purple cloak around the grounds of The All England Club, and we’d make the point that definitely, Wimbledon did more for the Olympics than the Olympics did for Wimbledon.
We’d also have to note that conditions are different at SW-19 a month after the major and that those conditions played a role at the Olympics. Like slippage, for one, and brightness, for another. We’ve never seen Wimbledon so bright and sunny. Or so slippery. We’d say that a guy like Tomas Berdych, a former finalist, going out early, constantly losing his footing, in that match with Steve Darcis, who we think had never beaten a top ten player before, was certainly affected very greatly by conditions. As dozens are routinely at Roland Garros every year. You have to deal with conditions. Period. Darcis was the more mobile player, he had his footing, and you could really see, in that match, that the ease of motion we associate with the one handed shot played heavily into Darcis’ favor. Since the lawns were very chewed from the major and hadn’t had time to replenish naturally, the groundskeepers had to lay new sod down and that sod didn’t always hold best, especially on the outer courts.
When Serena laid waste to Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match, all the more impressive because Serena, between claiming her 5th Wimbledon crown and her 1st singles gold medal, went out to Stanford and grabbed another title at the Bank of the West, doing all that extra travel, and pulling the surface switch twice, from grass to hards back to grass. Serena was rightly hailed for her double gold, and the American media, usually at odds with Lady S, came a crawling back to her camp. Indeed, they had found amid their bias a minute’s break from bashing Serena as a poor sportswoman, except for her dancing that is, to make these arguments that she had never played better, was a woman among girls, and all the other nice stuff they only get around to saying when we are in heated competition for medals with the entire world.
The same standard by which the US media has feted Serena has been used to denigrate Andy Murray for his most impressive showing at the London games. It’s simply not fair. Murray is 0-4 in major finals and almost all are quick to point out that if he was going to beat Roger Federer in a Wimbledon final, then he picked the wrong one to do it in. Nothing could be more obvious. But to label him a modern day Nicolas Massu?
The Olympics are a huge accomplishment, especially at Wimbledon, and a tremendous feather in Murray’s cap. For one, Murray proved he can beat Federer in a best of 5 set match. Prior to the Olympic gold medal match, across three matches, Murray had managed to take just one set off Federer in best of 5 set play. And two of those matches were blowouts. Murray also proved that he could beat Federer on grass in best of 5 set play, joining a very select club. A mature Federer has only lost to Nadal, Berdych, Tsonga, and now Murray in that type of setting.
Murray blew out Roger in the gold medal match, handing the great man his most lopsided straight 3 set loss since the Roland Garros final in 2008, when Nadal steamrolled Federer, with whom Mono still lingered. We don’t know if Federer has ever been blown out like that on grass. Murray deserves many kudos for this showing. Federer had also announced his intention to compete in the London games, and obviously win the gold medal, during Wimbledon in 2007 and 2009. We loved Federer coming in to the event, feeling that Federer is even more dangerous when he has the confidence to announce his intentions. Especially when those intentions are stated so far in advance. We’d also note that on the eve of Wimbledon this year, Federer considered himself the favorite, and then had his best semi-final and final showing at a major since his last win, which was Melbourne in 2010.
The press has cited Federer’s fatigue going into the final because of the semi-final marathon with Del Potro, which went to 19-17 in the 3rd set. It was a factor, for sure. But this talk of Murray owing his gold to Delpo is just silly. First off, Federer did not take care of business. He threw in a nervous service game and got down love forty at 10-9 when trying to serve it out. Does the final play out differently if Roger gets done with his work 17 games earlier than he did? It’s a moot point because it is on Roger. Murray saw fit to dispatch Djokovic quickly in that spot, and he was the fresher for it and it was well deserved.
We’d also like to point out that for some of the players, guys like Roger, Murray, Djokovic, and Del Potro, who stayed on grass the entire extended season, from mid June through the Olympics, we really got to see how it played out between the very best players on the very best of surfaces. For that, we are so grateful for the London Olympics having the foresight to play tennis at The All England Club. As we always tell you, the Wimbledon champion for that year is the champion of all tennis, today, tomorrow, and obviously, historically. It is why they call Wimbledon “The Championships.” Grass accentuates all that is truly great in the game: the graceful, the bold, the mighty, and the true talent, skill, and artistry that can only be mastered with hands and footwork, and not marathon grunt work. Wimbledon, the opposite of Roland Garros, favors grace over grunt.
So many times over the course of the event we heard our man Justin Gimelstob exclaim that we were watching “the perfect execution of power tennis.” Like with Tsonga-Raonic, Federer-Isner, and Federer-Delpo. For Murray to play aggressively enough to win an event staged at Wimbledon, beating the guys who he did, means not only did he up his usually meek game considerably, but that also, he played perfect counter attack tennis on a very fast grass track. Did anyone notice the forehand redirect he hit, in the 2nd set, business end, versus Djokovic, which was essentially a half volley he hit for a winner from the middle of the baseline? And only dropping 7 games to Roger Federer?
Sorry, but that’s major. So give the kid his due.