When the Olympic tennis event began on Saturday morning, more than a few fans claimed that it felt “like any other week” on tour. The reaction was understandable. The players, the format, the scoring system: They were the same as they would be at any other dual-gender Masters event. The only thing Rio seemed to have that, say, Toronto didn’t, were those five rings plastered behind both baselines.
Now we know, if we didn’t before: Never underestimate the power of those rings. By the end of the weekend, it was clear how much they still mean, even to the tennis pros whose careers aren’t entirely geared toward them. After two Games, in Beijing and London, where the world’s best players rose to the occasion, Rio feels like it’s going to be a throwback to the chaotic, upset-filled Olympic tennis events of old, to those strange days when people named Nicolas Massu, Marc Rosset, Li Ting and Sun Tiantian walked away with gold around their necks.
Two days into the 2016 Games, the top two seeds in the men’s doubles—France’s Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Great Britain’s Andy and Jamie Murray—are gone. So are the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the women’s singles, Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams. And to top it off, the No. 1 seeds in the men's singles and the women's doubles, Novak Djokovic and Venus and Serena Williams, were sent packing on Sunday night.
Along the way, the Rio crowd has made it clear that it will be a wild card in the proceedings. While these multinational fans tend to arrive late, they came out in force for the first two night sessions, and their loyalty seems to be up for grabs. Their support for Kirsten Flipkens on Saturday night was a big part of her eventual comeback win over Venus. No wonder Flipkens bent down and kissed the rings when it was over.
But while that result was a surprise, it paled in comparison to what happened on Sunday.