Final thoughts from a remarkable tennis event at the XXIX Olympiad…

In honor of the 18 medals that were awarded to tennis players over the weekend in Beijing, I offer 18 quick- and final- thoughts on the Games that exceeded expectations.

1) Both the men’s and women’s doubles gold medal teams were comprised entirely of “singles specialists.” Go figure. There is an old argument that great doubles players or teams would handle great singles players who paired together occasionally. I am not so sure about that. Roger Federer looked mighty formidable out there. There was little that doubles specialists did to disrupt him, and his skill level was obviously superior.

2) If Fernando Gonzalez sincerely did not hear or feel James Blake’s passing shot click off his racquet during their tense third set, then… we should all give him a break. If he has lied about this, then I wish on him six months of severe insomnia where he can grapple with his guilt.

3) Elena Dementieva is the best mover in women’s tennis. Her gold medal in women’s singles confirms her position as the best player to have yet won a major title.

4) The Russian women earned the gold, silver, and bronze medals in singles. There are eight teams that compete in the Fed Cup’s world group each year, and- if they were allowed- Russia has a deep enough talent pool for four completely different teams in this event. Remarkable.

5) Roger Federer’s delight at having won the doubles gold medal was wonderful to behold. He demonstrated more energy and positive emotion during his last three Olympic doubles matches than he has all season in singles.

6) Was the tennis stadium really filled to capacity at 3:30 AM on Friday while the Chinese pair of Yan and Zheng eked out a win over Russian team of Kuznetsova and Safina? If so, this is beyond incredible.

7) Dinara Safina looks like she could become #1 in the world, especially given the uncertainty of the position atop the women’s rankings. Her brother Marat Safin spent nine weeks at #1 on the ATP Tour. If she makes a big run in Flushing Meadows, then she could actually break this Safin family record.

8 ) While the humidity was reportedly thick in Beijing, the air quality and smog became a big non-story for tennis players. Thank goodness.

9) Can you imagine Rafael Nadal living in the Olympic Village? By all accounts, he has had a blast. I have visions of him waking up at dawn to take on all comers in table tennis, grabbing an enormous breakfast, going on a warm-up run with the Spanish track team, racing over to take part in the basketball shoot-around with Pau Gasol, challenging a few wrestlers to a bench pressing contest, trying his luck in archery, followed by an enormous lunch, some beach volleyball practice, a quick tennis match, some ice/treatment/media, an enormous dinner, a quick trip to the Ice Cube for an Individual Medley race against all member of the Spanish contingent, and then eight hours of video games against… all-comers.


10) The despair and sadness etched on Novak Djokovic’s face after losing the semi-final combined with his elation after winning the bronze medal match over Blake were proof positive of how he deeply these players cared about the Olympics.

11) I got a big kick out of the fact that all the players were forced to cover the logos on their racquet and gear bags. If I were representing HEAD, Wilson, Babolat, Prince, Dunlop, then this would have infuriated me. The IOC definitely has a sense of humor!

12) The Williams Sisters will defend their gold medal at the London Games of 2012. They employ tactics – or non-tactics- that distinguish them among the best teams of all-time: See the ball, hit the ball really hard, giggle afterwards.

13) It says here that Mama Lindsay Davenport will compete in the 2012 London Olympics (in doubles).

14) Jimmy Arias did a magnificent job broadcasting the Olympic matches from NYC’s Rockefeller Center building. He is insightful, funny, acutely aware of tactical nuances, and measures his words prudently. Those characteristics differentiate him from the vast majority of announcers. As he has reached the top of the class, he ought to get a chance to work more of the bigger events.

15) I would expect that there were some Olympic medalists (or at least coaches) who were relieved that Juan Martin del Potro was not in Beijing. He is playing like a beast this summer.

16) Chris “Mad Dog” Russo abruptly resigned his post- after 19 years- on the popular “Mike and the Mad Dog” sports talk radio show on WFAN. The Dog was a big tennis fan, an avid player, and he relished discussing big matches on the program that was typically devoted to baseball, football, and basketball. It was always amusing to hear Russo try to pronounce words like “Djokovic” or “Wimbledon” or “statistics.” He will inevitably be back soon, and our sport will be the better for that.

17) I heard Michael Phelps’ being referred to as “the Rafael Nadal of swimming” and it made me laugh. Things change quickly at the top-level of sport.

18) The US Open qualifying event begins Tuesday. The year’s final major will be interesting, as players battle fatigue from a brutal schedule, jet-lag for those returning from Beijing, a wide-open women’s event, and- apparently- the passing of the torch at the top of the men’s game.

The Journeyman: Player Spotlight on Jeff Coetzee

Jeff Coetzee is slowly becoming one of the biggest sporting icons in the history of South Africa. The black right-handed professional tennis player from the town of Okiep in the northern cape of South Africa began playing tennis when he was nine years old. He is currently ranked No. 18 in the world in doubles and is in fourth place with his partner Wesley Moodie in the race for the eight-team year-end doubles championships in Shanghai. He is the anchor along with Moodie for the South African Davis Cup team.

The 31-year-old was first introduced to tennis by his brother Dennis. His idols growing up were the tennis players Boris Becker and Kevin Curren. He was a rather proficient soccer player, but quit at the age of twelve to concentrate on tennis. When he was eleven he moved to Johannesburg and stayed with a family, to improve his game. He realized when he was training in Joburg that he had the potential to be a travelling touring pro. He tried the singles tour and got to No. 184 in December of ’99. He then started to concentrate solely on doubles after sustaining some injuries.

“Apartheid was tough on me, but I only got the last bit of it,” says Jeff. He went on to say, “I could not enter into some tournaments because of my color and had a tough time in the beginning. But my mom always said, just let my racket do the talking.”

One other example of racism was when his manager Bruce Davidson’s car was spray painted with the slogan “kaffir lover.” Mr. Davidson would then sneak him into his apartment when he was visiting.

His best moments playing tennis are when he plays Davis Cup and his mixed doubles match against Steffi Graf and John McEnroe at Wimbledon a few years back. His worst moment came when he was playing Davis Cup and twisted his ankle against Slovakia. They were down two matches to none, and he continued to play but lost the match. A more traumatic experience happened when he was in a car accident with his girlfriend Mauricia Leukes, which put him on the injured reserve list for awhile.

To jumpstart his career he obtained financing from a boxing promoter named Rodney Berman. He resides in London now and is coached by former tour player Piet Norval. He visits and works with his coach in Capetown at the Spier Tennis Academy.He sometimes travels with Norval, and also his girlfriend will come along to a few tourneys during the year.

Some of his closest friends are former tour player Robbie Koenig and his Davis Cup teammates. His favorite tournament is the Australian Open, and his favorite hotel on tour is the Monte Carlo Bay and Casino Hotel. His goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics in doubles, and to achieve the No. 1 ranking as well. He runs a charity with his doctor in South Africa to help kids and Jeff and his brother also run a tournament every September which main focus is to fight violence and crime, sponsored by Dunlop rackets and Oakley sunwear.