Part of the Action

by: Steve Tignor | August 06, 2012

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Am-lrThe best thing about the London Olympics, from a tennis-writer’s perspective, is that none of us should have to write any more articles about whether the sport belongs in the Games. After seeing the men’s singles medalists, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Juan Martin del Potro, all shed tears of joy and heartbreak; after watching Maria Kirilenko dance with glee and Richard Gasquet run in circles during their bronze-medal-winning matches, there can be no argument against it anymore. This past week we had a chance to see a different side of the sport, its players, and even the seemingly unchangeable All England Club. Here are a few final thoughts, now that the Games are over for tennis for another four years.

*****

The Muzz Buzz
Yesterday, in my Racquet Reaction on Andy Murray’s win over Roger Federer, I wrote that Murray hit three aces in the final game. It seems, judging from other reports, that he only hit two. I admit that at that point I was caught up in the moment and had stopped taking notes.

Some seemed disappointed in Murray’s relatively subdued reaction afterward. And it’s true, he didn’t fall to the court or scream in triumph. But I thought the way he bent low and teared up was moving in its own way, and characteristic of him. It felt like an inward celebration, an inward sense of relief—you have to feel the weight roll off your shoulders before you can start jumping for joy. And he did eventually do that jump, when he came back on court after climbing up to his player’s box. By then, he wasn’t subdued; he looked like he could have floated all the way across the court to his chair.

The question of the day yesterday seemed to be whether Murray’s win could function something like Novak Djokovic’s 2010 Davis Cup performance, which helped catapult him to No. 1 in 2011.  Murray is certainly a different player and person today than he was 48 hours ago—the tears of joy at the Games have replaced the tears of defeat at Wimbledon. And after straight-setting the top two players in the world in the semis and final, he knows that he can beat anyone, anywhere, by staying aggressive and positive. The caveat, of course, is that Murray will never play in this type of atmosphere, with this much support, again.

Murray said that he felt much less nervous, and more comfortable, in this final than he did in the Wimbledon final. Maybe it will be the experience of that match, despite the fact that it was a loss, that helps him the most. As Ivan Lendl told Murray, he’s already been through the ultimate pressure cooker in tennis, and he bounced back from it brilliantly.

Doubling Up
I wrote at the start of the Games that one of the best aspects of the format is that doubles would take its rightful place at center stage. It took a while to get there—the early losses of Federer, Djokovic, and Murray made the men’s dubs feel a little less unique. But by the final weekend, when the medals were being decided, the doubles was great value—everything gets more exciting when there’s something as valuable as an Olympic medal on the line. The mixed, especially, turned into a pressure-filled battle of opportunities taken and blown. Andy Murray appeared to be kicking himself after losing the gold medal match with Laura Robson, 10-8 in a third-set super-tiebreaker. He had missed the one shot that he absolutely couldn’t miss, his return of Victoria Azarenka’s serve late in that breaker, and it had been the difference. I like the idea that, wherever they go on their tours and in their careers, Azarenka and her partner, Max Mirnyi, will share a gold medal. But I admit that I was rooting for Murray and Robson, the closest the game had to a big brother/little sister team.

VaFavorite Moments:

—Jo Wilfried Tsonga doing a takedown of Michael Llodra after their semifinal win. Many of us thought Jo could thrive in this setting, and while his no-show performance against Djokovic in the quarters was a disappointment, his was the ever-changing face of the tennis Games.

—Gasquet and Julien Benneteau doing the same thing after their bronze-medal win, while one of their losing opponents, David Ferrer, watched them and cracked a smile.

—Clips of Serena and Venus winning gold in Sydney and Beijing and going ballistic both times. I didn’t see their celebration this time, but I’m assuming they were pretty pleased. Best doubles team ever? They’ve never lost a Grand Slam final or won anything but gold at the Olympics. And if we can’t call Serena the best singles player of all time because of her Slam count, being the only player with Golden Slams in singles and doubles seems incredible enough.

—The match between Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki. Slam-bang, mostly in a good way.

—The Del Potro-Federer semi. It would have been fine, and less time consuming, to end it in a breaker, but then we wouldn’t have seen how far they would go, how deep they would dig, the try to win their country its first medal of the Games.

—Federer’s smile for Murray after their final. Federer had made this one of his big goals for the season, so he must have been disappointed to play so poorly in his first chance for gold. But in his immediate reaction and his post-match remarks, he was more upbeat and generous than usual. He called Murray a “champion” for the way he bounced back from Wimbledon, and said that he was proud to have “won his silver” rather than lost his gold. It wasn’t just the winners who were affected by the Olympics; it seemed that the losers were, too.

—Speaking of that Olympic feeling, my favorite two minutes of the tennis Games came this past Saturday afternoon, when the men’s doubles gold-medal match was going on at the same time that Murray and Robson were playing their mixed semifinal. I had one match on the TV and the other on the computer, which made for busy viewing, because they ended at virtually the same moment. Murray and Robson clinched a medal after an exciting, scrambling final point, while the Bryans did the same when Bob threw up a miracle lob over his shoulder, from the far corner of Centre Court.

That was cool enough. Even better were the sporting smiles and handshakes from the losing teams, and the appreciation of the fans, who were more colorful and vocal than Wimbledon’s clubbier, stuffier set. The players had said throughout the Games that it was a new feeling for them to be a small part of something bigger. Now, with cheers from both courts in the air, you could feel what that meant. It still mattered whether you won or lost, as well as how you played the game. What mattered more, though, was that you played a sport in the first place, that you joined in the Games, that you were part of the action.

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