Tommy Johansson

Bill Mountford: Olympic Tennis – Citius, Altius, Fortius!

The Olympics event has gotten increasingly compelling.

The Russian women have their 3rd, 4th, and 6th ranked players in the semi-final round (Safina, Dementieva, and Zvonareva respectively).  This is unprecedented since the Olympics were reinstated in 1988.

In a nod to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), who did the seeding for the doubles, it seems as though some of the best “singles” players in the world are poised to be decorated in doubles gold.  This is in stark contrast to Rennae Stubbs’ comments. The affable Aussie offered a self-serving criticism of the seeding policy (before losing to doubles “specialists” from Spain), suggesting that it is incorrect to factor in singles rankings when seeding for the doubles event.

Roger Federer has continued his quest for gold… but in the doubles.  With partner Stan Wawrinka, also ranked top 10 in the world in singles, redemption should come at the hands of surprise Swedes Tommy Johansson and Simon Aspelin during the gold medal round.  I will continue to presume that if Roger Federer actually played doubles frequently (and the same can be said for the Williams sisters in women’s tennis) that he would be atop the world ranking. This is reminiscent of Barcelona, when two great singles players (Boris Becker and Michael Stich) ran the tables to take the gold.

The top-seeded Bryan brothers take on Michael Llodra and Arnie Clement for the bronze.  The French team beat the Bryans in Davis Cup earlier this year and in the 2007 Wimbledon final.

James Blake lost a heartbreaker to Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the semi-final.  The match was marred by an incredulous moment.  The first point of the 19th game in the third set was decided when Blake rifled a passing shot point-blank that evidently clicked off Gonzalez’ racquet before sailing long.  Replays confirmed this.  Unfortunately, the umpire did not see or hear this.  In an act of dubious sportsmanship, the Chilean offered nothing.  Commentator Jimmy Arias, who might well be the best in the business, called it exactly what it was: Cheating.

This has been gum-chewing time for US coaches Rodney Harmon and Jay Berger.  Like tennis coaches are wont to do, Harmon and Berger have looked presciently calm on the sidelines, but their stomachs surely have been churning.

In the second men’s semi, the relentless Rafael Nadal managed to overcome Novak Djokovic.  Theirs is fast becoming the best rivalry in tennis, as Djokovic has the movement and groundstroke artillery to compete favorably against Nadal.  The final point of the match came when Rafa chased down some bombs and lofted a short lob that was sure to be smashed away.  Unfortunately nerves came into play or Djokovic simply took his eyes off the ball, but he missed the simple overhead smash.  His tearful reaction while walking off the court confirmed just how meaningful this Olympic opportunity was for him.

I have been among the naysayers about Olympic tennis, but could not have been proved more wrong.  The painful, inconsolable reactions from losing players, and the sheer tension at the end of close matches, have told a clear story.  The players love this event, and are desperate for success.  Citius, Altius, Fortius indeed!