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Hard Landing 08/07/2012 - 10:42 AM

JMDPIt's back to the grind time. After a six-week retreat together on All England Club grass, the pros go their separate ways on the hard courts of North America. The men are already underway in Toronto, minus a few prominent names, and with a few that seem uncertain how much they want to be there. Jamming the Olympics, the equivalent of a dual-gender Masters event in which everyone plays singles and doubles, into the middle of the summer was always going to spell trouble for the North American events. Toronto, which will be missing the two biggest ATP draws, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as well as world No. 5 David Ferrer and injured former champ Andy Roddick, has taken a hit. To start, all 16 seeds have been given byes into the second round. We'll see what that does to the upset count, which could otherwise be high.

Still, if the other three Olympic semifinalists, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, and Novak Djokovic, can get themselves across the Atlantic in one piece and get off to a good start, the Rogers Cup should be fine. Contrary to what the results of every big tournament of the last five years may tell you, the ATP is still about more than just the Big 4. Here’s a belated look at the draw. How the London semifinalists will bounce back here is anybody’s guess. Murray, despite making the flight, hasn’t even committed to playing yet.

*****

First Quarter
What’s wrong with Novak? This appears to be the question of the day. He was shut out of a medal in London, and appeared tired by the end of the week. Even his old coach, Jelena Gencic, is speculating that he’s having personal issues. But Djokovic, the defending champion in Toronto, is set to play his friend Bernard Tomic in his opener. Just what you need when you get off a plane—a new surface, and a lot of irritating dinks and slices and changes of pace. This match is no gimme for Novak, but hopefully getting back on his favorite type of court after a month on his least favorite will give him a boost.

Also in this quarter: Del Potro, 2012 bronze medalist and former champ here. He had an emotional week in London, to say the least, but it ended on a high—after winning bronze, he pronounced himself "the happiest man in the world." We’ll see how he transitions against the winner of Dolgopolov and Stepanek. Dolgo is coming off his second career title, in D.C., and could make Del Potro distinctly less happy with his tricky game.

First-round match to watch: Nalbandian vs. Haas

Potential second-round match to watch: Nishikori vs. Querrey

Semifinalist: Del Potro

*****

Second Quarter
Last week was also a busy one for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the top seed in this section. He made the quarters of the singles and the doubles final. He’ll open with his countryman Jeremy Chardy and probably get Florian Mayer, whose awkward game could give him fits, after that. But this isn’t a stacked section by any means—Tipsarevic, Baghdatis, Cilic, Youzhny and Anderson are competing for a quarterfinal spot. I don’t know what kind of shape Tsonga will be in, but at the moment he still has to be the favorite for the semifinals.

Semifinalist: Tsonga

*****

Third Quarter
An interesting section. The top seed is Tomas Berdych, who has spent the last month or so losing in two opening rounds at the All England Club. He was having a good 2012 until then; he should be nice and rested, who knows where his head will be now. The second seed is Juan Monaco, who has played well in 2012 but has reached few Masters semis in the past. 

This would seem to leave an opening for last year’s Rogers Cup finalist, Mardy Fish. The American, who reached the semifinals in D.C. last week and always saves his best for the summer hard-court season, opens against Matthew Ebden this afternoon, and might get Monaco after that. One problem: Fish has lost his last three matches to Monaco.

Also here: Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau, who are coming off the high of their Olympics bronze in doubles. Gasquet was a finalist in Toronto way back in 2006, and would seem to be a threat for the semifinals—he’ll open against the winner of Dancevic and Kukushkin.

Qualifier: Wayne Odesnik, who starts against Benneteau

Second-round match to watch: Monaco vs. Canada’s Vasik Pospisil. This one should have atmosphere.

Semifinalist: Fish

*****

Fourth Quarter
If Murray does decide he’s fit to play tomorrow, he’ll do it against Flavio Cipolla. If he’s fit enough to win, which seems likely, he’ll play the winner of Milos Raonic and Viktor Troicki. Raonic is the home-country favorite, which means, well, we’ll see. At this time last year, he was sidelined after having hip surgery. He played well at the Olympics after a poor effort at Wimbledon, and would seem to be primed to go deep into a tournament with an absent Federer and Nadal, and a possibly gassed Djokovic and Murray.

In the other half of this section is Raonic’s fellow tower of serving power, John Isner, who has also bounced back from a poor Wimbledon effort this summer. Isner has a manageable draw—Andujar to open; Kohlschreiber, Lu, or Fognini after that.

Potential third-round match to watch: Murray vs. Raonic. The Canadian won their last meeting, in Barcelona, which actually may not bode well for him this time. If Murray needs a motivational jolt, not wanting to lose to Raonic two times in a row could supply it.

Semifinalist: Isner

*****

Semifinals: Del Potro d. Tsonga; Fish d. Isner

Final: Del Potro d. Fish

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Part of the Action 08/06/2012 - 3:25 PM

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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Old Glory 08/04/2012 - 5:54 PM

SwThere are two ways to talk about American tennis these days. The first is to lament its decline from the heights of the Pete and Andre and Jim and Michael era, and wonder when the country’s next generation of stars is going to man up and do some winning. The second way, which isn't tried out nearly often enough, is to try to forget the past, ignore the future, and focus on what’s going on under our noses at the moment. When you do the latter, the world ceases to look quite as gloomy. It’s true that the future of U.S. tennis is uncertain at best, but on a day like today it would be absurd to claim that it isn’t what it used to be. On a day like today, you’d have to say that the American game, while it doesn’t have the fresh face of youth, is aging pretty gracefully. 

Serena Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, all of them in their 30s and all of them California natives, won Olympic golds on Centre Court this afternoon. Their medals served as career capstones, as both Serena and the Bryans have also won each of the four Grand Slams. They were blown away by the moment. The Bryans immediately called it the biggest win of their long career together, while Serena couldn’t stop saying, while trying to catch her breath, “Wow, I have an Olympic gold medal in singles.” Their wins felt like capstones for a U.S. tennis generation that, while it may not go down as the greatest, could be the best we’ll see for a long time. We’ve been spoiled: career Golden Slams, of which Andre Agassi is also an owner, don’t come around too often.

As the Bryans said later, it was Serena who “got the ball rolling for the Americans” today. That’s a true statement, but it also may be the under statement of the year. To be fair, most descriptions of Serena’s win over Maria Sharapova, and her play throughout this tournament, couldn't do it justice. I’ll start with the most absurd stat, as long you promise not to tell Gilles Simon about it: Roger Federer lost the same number of games in the third set of his semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro, 17, as Serena lost in the Olympics. When I think of the most dominant single-tournament performances in major events, I think of Bjorn Borg’s 21-set sweep through Roland Garros in 1978, and Rafael Nadal’s similar romp on the same courts 30 years later. Serena’s 2012 Olympics has to be mentioned with them. None of her opponents won more than three games in any set, and she beat the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the world, Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2 and 6-0, 6-1, respectively.

Serena said afterward that this was the best week of her tennis career, and Sharapova couldn’t do anything about it. Besides Serena’s play, she struggled with the wind and her toss. When she did get a decent look at a ball, she rarely took advantage of it. Her only ray of hope came at 1-3 in the second set, when she held a break point and Serena showed a slight sign of nerves. Everyone should have nerves like hers: Serena wiped away the break point with a clean crosscourt backhand winner on the first stroke of a rally. It was hard to watch Sharapova, who so rarely lets anything resembling vulnerability show, appear to fight back tears during the second set. Realistically, though, she should feel lucky not to have been double-bageled, and be happy to walk away with a silver in a week when Serena Williams was at her best.

We’ve seen Williams at her best many times, but she’s never played quite like this. For the most part, she was calm and composed, and determined to win as efficiently as possible. Even her strokes looked more compact than normal. She said that she had practiced like she had never practiced before, and it did appear as if she had honed her shots to a very fine point, to where there was nothing extraneous in them. If the word to describe her best matches in the past was “fierce,” this time the best word might be “cold.” As in, she could strike a cold winner, one where she had to generate all of her own pace, from behind the baseline at any time. As in, the looks she shot across the court could have fired darts of ice. Perhaps most ominous for Sharapova today was how quiet Serena was—no grunts, no shrieks, a minimum of groans, and just a few well-chosen "Come-on!"s. The silence must have been fearful for Maria. Finally, when it was over, Serena couldn't contain herself anymore. She looked up at her big sister Venus, her Olympic inspiration, and danced.

While they come from the same country and state as Serena, the Bryan brothers put on a very different, but equally efficient, show today in their doubles final against the flashy Frenchmen, Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Where Williams does a slow walk of authority between points, the Bros hop and bounce in tandem. But they put their overabundance of energy to good, controlled use against the French. The Bryans move, poach, and close as well as any team ever has, and they’ve developed a unique and very effective half-swing putaway forehand volley over the years. It’s hard to gauge the “mental toughness” of a doubles team, but I’ve always liked how Bob and Mike shrug off missed shots, put their heads down, and move on the next point. 

BBThe two are known for their insatiable, almost comical appetite for practice and work. And their persistence paid off right up until the final point of their biggest victory. At 6-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, Bob didn’t give up on a volley by Tsonga that appeared to be going for a winner. Instead he tracked it down in the corner of Centre Court and, from over his shoulder, hoisted a towering lob that touched down near the baseline. When they eventually won the point, all that was left was a gold-medal chest bump, one they had been waiting to do for many years. They didn’t bother. They hugged instead.

The Bryans are the first men’s doubles team to win a career Golden Slam. Put that together with their 11 majors, their record 299 weeks at No. 1, and their 78 ATP titles and you’re looking at what may eventually be seen as the greatest men’s doubles team in history. At 34, there’s a good chance that they’ll be around for the Rio Olympics in 2016, and maybe even the 2020 Games. They seem happy in their work.

Serena becomes the first player, man or woman, to complete both singles and doubles career Golden Slams, and you get the feeling her Olympic career isn’t over, either. She hasn’t matched the major totals of Navratilova, Evert, Graf, or Court yet, but it’s hard to imagine any woman in history being as invincible for any stretch of time as Serena was over the last week in London. After this, the WTA might as well hit “shut down” on its rankings computer this week—any list of women players without Serena Williams at the top right now is meaningless.

Hyped-up enthusiasm and slow-walking intimidation; cold winners and fast hands; a miracle lob and a miraculously good serve; a hug between brothers and a dance from one sister to another: American tennis showed off its best to the world on Saturday. Forget the future for a minute and appreciate what we can still see today. If this is decline, I think I can live with it.

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God Save the Kings 08/03/2012 - 6:34 PM

RFThis week, whenever I’ve heard Michael Phelps being interviewed after his races, I’ve been reminded of Roger Federer. This isn’t because the two men sound all that much alike. Phelps appears to get tongue-tied when asked to describe what he does in the pool, or how he feels once a race is over. These were the words he used to sum up his emotions after he won his record eighth gold medal in Beijing in 2008: “It’s something I’ll never forget.” (Really, are you sure you want to go that far out on a limb?) Federer, on the other hand, tends to ramble, and has been known to end up with his foot in his mouth. What unites them in my mind is that these two athletes, who may be the best their sports have ever seen—Olympian is the only word for both of them—are doers, not speech-makers or analysts. They express themselves so thoroughly when they play and swim that there’s nothing else that needs to be said, or can be said.

Federer and Phelps, each of whom has had a starring role in London this week, have more in common than just excellence. Personality-wise, they’re both a mix of the supremely confident and the slightly awkward—aside from a bonghit or two (or more) by Phelps, no scandal has been attached to their names. In terms of their careers, each can fairly be called aging: Phelps is 27, Federer is nearly 31. Each made his first Olympic splash, and fell in love with the Games, back in Sydney in 2000. This year each of them has noted, wistfully, that he’d love to be able to recapture the feeling he had then, but that things change. Federer has hinted that the Olympic spirit may be enough to keep him in the sport until Rio in 2016. Phelps claims that this is his final Games, though last night, while he was trying—again without much success—to describe how he felt about swimming the last Olympic semifinal heat of his career, he seemed to waver on that vow just a little bit. NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines says he thinks that Phelps will get bored sometime in the next few years and change his mind. With four Grand Slams to play for each season, it will certainly be easier for Federer to keep his head, if not his body, in the game until 2016.

Federer and Phelps both came to London with younger rivals at their heels, rivals who, at various times, have appeared destined to pass them for good. As recently as two months ago, Federer was ranked No. 3 in the world, hadn’t won a Grand Slam since 2010, and had watched the two best players from the next generation, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, contest the last four major finals. As for Phelps, after a few years of indifferent training, he had ceded the spotlight to his fellow American, and omnipresent cover boy, Ryan Lochte. When Lochte won gold in their first showdown and Phelps finished fourth, Federer may have felt a sense of deja vu about the general reaction. Suddenly, Lochte was the new great U.S. swimmer, the future of the sport, the man who showed that Phelps was mortal after all. A couple of days later, Chad Le Clos, a younger swimmer from South Africa who Phelps has, in the words of the New York Times, “seemingly tapped as his successor,” did what the American had done to so many others, tracking him down and out-touching him for gold in the 200-meter butterfly. It seemed that even Phelps’s formerly airtight legacy could be in danger of being damaged by his London Games' performance. 

Federer’s version of Lochte and Le Clos are Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray, and, today, Juan Martin del Potro. All four are younger, and all use solid baseline games with two-handed backhands, a style that has long been predicted to be the future of the sport. Each time one of these players has beaten Federer, there’s been talk of his decline, and how his one-handed game is outdated. 

While Del Potro overpowered Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final, this year Federer, as he said yesterday, has “had his number,” beating him all five times they’d played. But from the first points of their semifinal on Friday, it was clear that this was a different del Potro. His shots sounded heavier; it looked like he would power his way into the gold-medal match. While he didn’t do that in the end, del Potro may have done something greater by showing the world how much heart he could muster while playing for his country, and how much the Olympic Games have inspired the tennis players of this era. In what would turn out to be an epic 19-17 third set, and perhaps the best match of 2012 so far, del Potro never gave in mentally. He came up with shots and gets and diving volleys that I had never seen from him before. He was also the picture of tennis intensity throughout. The emotional Argentine was working so hard through the third set that it looked as if he were on the verge of tears. It was, in truth, a pained grimace of concentration and will.

As happy as I would have been to see del Potro go for gold—it would have capped his agonizingly long comeback from wrist surgery—I had trouble imagining Federer receiving, or accepting, a bronze. It would have been as strange as the sight of Phelps standing below Lochte on a medal stand. Federer had the crowd behind him on Centre Court today, as he almost always does, and I think part of that is a desire among sports fans to see a legendary athlete’s story end the way we think it should end. I feel the same way about Phelps. I’m sure there are plenty of swimming aficionados who are tired of his dominance and want to see him brought down a notch, just as there are those in the tennis world who have grown weary of Federer’s lionization. But as an outsider to swimming, I want to see the king of the pool remain on his throne. I want to see him crush all of the young punks and challengers, because...because why, exactly? 

MPI think it’s because I want to believe in mythic figures, people who are beyond the flaws that make the rest of us human. I want to shake my head and say, “Wow, Michael Phelps is incredible,” rather than saying, “Well, everyone gets older and you can’t win them all.” I don’t want the myth to be punctured. I think this is the way a lot of people also feel about Federer. Fans want him to show that he can vanquish the younger generation, take back No. 1, win more majors, and finally earn gold. 

The Olympics in general highlights the absurdity of competition; it can blur the line between skill and luck beyond all recognition. A runner may train every day for four years, beat everyone in the world during that time, and with one trip on a hurdle end up with nothing. This week we’ve seen gymnast Jordyn Weiber, the best in the U.S. heading into the Games and the current world champion, make a few mistakes at the wrong time and end up not even being able to compete for the gold. This takes nothing away from the winner, Gabby Douglas, who was nothing if not clutch. It’s just tough to see a one-day performance have such permanent consequences. It would be one thing if Weiber could come back and try against next year, the way most athletes can, but chances are this will be her last Olympics.

It would have been equally tough for Federer to know that, despite his dominance virtually everywhere else, all of his efforts at singles gold over the years would have been stymied. Just as bad, a player he had beaten five times in one season would have turned the tables on him at the most inopportune moment. If, serving at 11-12 in the third set, down 0-30, Federer hadn’t come up with four unreturnable serves, that’s what would have happened. But Federer did come up with those serves. On a day when he walked out with his B game, he simply refused to let himself lose. You could feel, in both men's performances today, the weight of the four-year gap between Games.

And that's also a big part of Federer’s and Phelps’s appeal: They make sports seem less random, less about the blind luck of the day. Federer didn’t give in to what appeared to be his fate. He won with his serve, with his speed, with his fitness; none of these things appear to have been diminished over time, the way they are for the rest of us. The same went for Phelps over the last two days. First he got revenge on Lochte in their second duel, in the 200 IM. This afternoon, he turned back the clock one more time and tracked down Le Clos for one last gold in the 100 meter butterfly.

In between those two races, Phelps did something he had never done before: He won a third Olympic gold in one race. I was amazed to see how much it meant to him. He has won more medals than anyone and more golds than God, but after he won this one, he found the camera and stuck three fingers out, to indicate his three-peat. He looked like the 15-year-old version of himself in Sydney who had just won his first race. That’s one more thing Phelps has in common with Federer: A desire, even after they’ve proved all they can prove, to do more. Two days later, Federer did something he had never done before; he reached his first gold-medal match.

We’ve watched one king vanquish his young challengers and make his Olympic story end in triumph. On Sunday another will try to do the same. This time Federer will have to recover from a grueling match, in front of British fans who will likely want to see him deposed by their own man, Andy Murray (though Federer will have his supporters). We’ll see if can make his myth grow a little more by overcoming all of that. It would, despite how good Murray obviously is, be strange to see him standing above Federer on the podium afterward. Federer himself knows how much it means. Today, with his emotions swirling after his win over del Potro, he found the right words to describe how he felt living up to his countryman’s expectations and becoming Switzerland’s first medalist of these Games. “It’s big, it’s big,” Federer said in a near whisper as he walked away. The biggest, the last chapter of this London story, is yet to come. Which song will be the right one to sing when it's all over: "God Save the Queen," or "God Save the King"? 

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Keeping Tabs: August 2 08/02/2012 - 11:12 AM

LRWhat else is different about tennis at the Olympics? The crowd is liable to start up an impromptu version of “God Save the Queen” at any moment.

“You’d never hear that at Wimbledon,” says Great Britain's Laura Robson, who was the beneficiary, in her match with Maria Sharapova a few days ago, of a highly vocal audience inside Centre Court. At first I thought she meant that they were singing the Sex Pistols' song of the same name. Now that would have been cool. I can hear them now, screaming in unison: “God save the Queen/We mean it, man!” 

Still, as much as people there seem to be enjoying the run of the All England Club, the British press hasn't followed along. It’s been a pretty thin week for the sport in the tabs, which isn’t surprising. There are a lot of other things going on around London at the moment. For instance, yesterday the city’s mayor and leading attention seeker, Boris Johnson, got himself stuck hanging from a zip wire. 

With the tabs failing us, we’ll take it a little more upmarket today. 

***** 

Muzz Makes the Tough Calls

According to the Guardian:

ANDY MURRAY AND LAURA ROBSON CAUGHT UP IN DOUBLES ROW

Robson lost her match to Sharapova, but she also received some good news: She was picked to play with Murray in the mixed doubles for Great Britain. Unfortunately, this was not good news for her friend and countrywoman Heather Watson, the U.K.'s top-ranked women’s dubs player. Watson wasn’t pleased, though she expressed her displeasure in a suitably diffident way:

“I thought I might have deserved a spot,” Watson said, “especially as I won a [doubles] tournament only two weeks ago [in Stanford]. I’m a little upset I did not get picked, but there’s not much else I can do about it. I wanted my Olympics to carry on.”

How Robson snuck past her is something of a mystery. She asked Murray about playing the mixed in March, but didn’t hear anything definite from him or from British tennis officials until this Tuesday. The Guardian says:

“Murray said that, after consultation with the team selectors, Robson was considered ‘the best one to try and win a medal,’ He conceded, ‘Heather has played some very good doubles this year, she is our No. 1 player as well—so it’s obviously tough on her. But tough decisions have to be made sometimes.’” 

***** 

Points Taken
At the Tennis Space, Simon Cambers makes the logical argument that players should be awarded the same number of ranking points for the Games as they are for Masters events. The format is virtually the same, but currently the Olympics come with just 750 points for the winner, compared to 1000 for a Masters.

Along the way, Cambers also floats the idea of changing the Olympics from a standard knockout tournament to a dual-gender team competition like the Hopman Cup. I like the way it’s done now, but I’ve always thought the Hopman Cup had a lot of potential as a concept. It would certainly emphasize the nationalistic and team elements of the competition more. I wonder if players like Serena and Federer, the ones going for gold on their own right now, would find it appealing to put their fates in others' hands. 

***** 

Everything's a Blur
Speaking of nationalism, Chris Clarey writes in the New York Times, that its lines are getting ever harder to discern. Korean swimmers train in Australia, Lithuanians in England.

“It is not uncommon for swimmers in the London Games," Clarey writes, "to have much deeper connections with swimmers from other nations than with their teammates.”

It’s been this way in tennis since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“At this post-modern stage, nationality can even be a symbolic choice for a star athlete,” according to Clarey. “Maria Sharapova, who has lived and trained in the United States since she moved to Florida as a young girl to become a tennis champion, continues to represent Russia, the nation of her birth, because she wants to honor her parents, her roots, and her Russian identity.”

It almost seems that the more fluid national identity becomes, the more athletes want to hang on to theirs, even if they don’t live or train in their home country—blood, family, roots remain important, even in the abstract. Someone like Martina Navratilova had to leave everything and everyone behind for good when she defected from Czechoslovakia; not surprisingly, she embraced an American identity. She once stopped a reporter in mid-sentence after he addressed her with the words, “As an American...” Navratilova told him, “Thank you, you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.”

Sharapova is an extreme example of the opposite, post-Cold War case. She has lived in the U.S. since she was 7, but she never had to cut ties with Russia or her Russian self. While it was annoying a few years ago to hear Sharapova say how much she wanted to beat the U.S. in a team competition—I think it was Fed Cup—I can’t begrudge her a desire to feel a link to her family and its history.  

***** 

The View from 40th St.
The New Yorker throws its high mind into the Games. Louis Menand writes about the ritualistic quality of the Olympics, and how television helped create it. 

“Wide World of Sports was significant for two reasons,” he writes of the ABC program of the 1960 and 70s. “First, it lived up to its promise of ‘spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport’ (a classy touch, the singular noun). Second, and most important, the show established an intonation, a cadence, a discourse for high-level athletic competition. This wasn’t the hopped-up staccato of ordinary play-by-play. It was weightier, more momentous, more world-historical. ‘The thrill...the agony...’ It was Churchillian.”

—Elsewhere in the NYer, Anthony Lane writes about “The Body Olympic” with a trademark flash of wit:

“Not until you gorge on the Olympics, sport by sport, do you arrive at an obvious truth: all human shapes are here. Well, all but one; the obese, it must be said, are scandalously underrepresented, despite the encouraging presence of both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola as offiical sponsors.” 

***** 

Red, White, and Gray?
Speaking of that other Olympic specialty, overweening sponsor presence, Chris Chase at Yahoo wonders why the American athletes are wearing gray Nike jackets on the medal stand rather than something more...American. The company apparently sold them on the idea that the "reflective" quality of the color would make them “shine” and “stand out” on the podium. But Chase thinks he sees another reason to go with the neutral color. 

“The [jacket] and its highly reflective properties is selling for $450 at some retailers. There’s the real reason Nike went with these jackets. It can sell them outside the Olympics.”

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Taking Stock 08/01/2012 - 6:36 PM

MSOne negative about Olympic tennis: It can be hard to keep up. You have singles, you have doubles, you have men, you have women, and starting today you had men and women together. Plus, two out of three setters on the men’s side don’t give you a chance to drift in and out of any one match (unless the third set lasts 48 games, of course). When the weather allows, things keep moving on the All England grounds, from morning until sundown.

After five days of on-again, off-again play, it’s a good time to survey the landscape as it stands at mid-week. The draws have been narrowed to a manageable eight players or teams each—even after just one day, the mixed, which began with only 16 entrants (win two matches and you play for a medal; they need a bigger draw in 2016), is almost there. While the Games have been different in many ways, and they’ve produced a few surprising results around the edges, the cream has mostly risen in the singles. Six of the world’s Top 8 women have survived to the quarters, while the men’s last eight features Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, and del Potro.

The doubles has been more predictably unpredictable, with teams featuring Murray, Djokovic, and now Federer eliminated early. But the American sibling acts in both draws, the Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters, remain. The mixed? Well, if you like the idea of seeing Juan Martin del Potro and Gisela Dulko lined up on the same side of the net—and who wouldn't?—this is an event for you. 

Here’s a look ahead at a few of the more notable matches to come.

***** 

Roger Federer vs. John Isner
The Big Enigma is trending again. It’s been a roller-coaster season, but for some reason Isner has shaken off whatever ailed him through the early part of the summer and rediscovered his cussed clutch self. Today the marathon man outlasted Janko Tipsarevic 16-14 in a second-set tiebreaker to reach the quarters. (How long can it be before Isner has a hand in smashing the record for the longest tiebreaker? And aren’t the Olympics tempting fate by playing out third sets when he’s in the draw? What if he had played Raonic?) Befitting Isner's hard-to-figure mentality, as soon as we say that he can’t play on grass, he shows us that he can.

As for Federer, there were some moments of slippage in his first set with Dennis Istomin today. Not with his footing, but with his consistency. The wayward ground strokes that he has mostly banished for the last month made a brief reappearance in the first set, before he authoritatively sent them away them again in the second. Is this a sign of more to come, or a temporary glitch? Either way, Federer will be playing a very different match against Isner than he would against anyone else. He can afford his share of shanks over the course of two or three sets against the big man, yet one or two mistakes at the wrong times could be fatal.

Isner stunned Federer in Davis Cup in February, but Federer avenged himself in Indian Wells a few weeks later. Since then, Federer has done a lot and Isner very little. I picked Federer to win the gold medal, and I’m sticking with that pick, but as I said above, Isner is winning the points he was winning when things were going well for him this year. I have a feeling he’ll make this interesting. Let’s see who wins the first-set tiebreaker. 

Maria Sharapova vs. Kim Clijsters
These two each appear determined to make up for disappointing Wimbledons. Sharapova fought even more fiercely than normal in her win over the woman who had beaten here there, Sabine Lisicki, and she reacted even more joyfully when it was over. Meanwhile, Clijsters matched Ana Ivanovic in fist-pumps and “Come ons!” in her straight-set win over the Serb.

Who will give in when they face each other on Centre Court tomorrow? Kim has a 6-3 edge in their head to head, though only one of those matches was played after 2007. Based on recent form, the percentage choice is Sharapova—she’s less likely than Kim to go walkabout. Whichever player ends up on top, this should be the battle of the women's tournament thus far. Neither has ever won an Olympic medal. 

Also alive:

Petra Kvitova has walked her own quietly circuitous path to the quarterfinals. Despite being a former Wimbledon champ, she’s been exiled from the big show courts thus far. That continues tomorrow, when she and Maria Kirilenko contest the only quarterfinal on Court 2, while a mixed match featuring Brits Andy Murray and Laura Robson gets Court 1 dibs. Look out for Petra, though; she’s not in Serena’s half, which means she could finish up inside Centre Court on Saturday.

—Speaking of Serena, with each day, each match, each blowout makes it seem more likely that she’ll walk out of London with two gold medals. But even after dropping just a single game to Vera Zvonareva today, she’s not a mortal lock. Tomorrow she plays Caroline Wozniacki, who beat her in Key Biscayne and took a set from her in Madrid this year. After that, Serena and Venus face Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the doubles quarters.

—How about Angelique Kerber, coming through in two tiebreakers against a Venus Williams who had spent the week turning back the clock to better days. That’s a gutsy win. Now she gets Azarenka. They’ve played once, this year at Indian Wells, where Vika won 4 and 3. 

—Remember the controversy over Indian men’s doubles? It's finished for the moment, as both teams, Bhupathi-Bopanna and Paes-Vardhan, have lost. It might have seemed more crucial before half the country lost power this week.

Novak Djokovic vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Each has run his share of miles. Each hopes to run a lot more. This one should be fun; each has beaten the other six times in their careers, and they're coming off a classic at Roland Garros. I picked Djokovic to win the silver, but I’m curious about Jo. Once again he’s at a point, after his victory over Raonic and the way he followed it up with wins in singles and doubles today, where you might start to believe he’s primed for that long-awaited breakthrough at a big event. Conversely, you also might start to believe that he's primed to run out of gas. 

Mixed Bag
Cool teams: Azarenka/Mirnyi are the top seeds, but I like the idea of Hewitt and Stosur, an odd couple who won their first round today; Dulko and del Potro, a long/short combo who did the same; and Murray/Robson, local favorites opening on Court 1. We’ll see how it plays out, and if the mixed makes any kind of mark. It has already been fun to see Agnieszka Radwanska fight off a Hewitt passing shot and win a point with a deft touch volley.

Enjoy it tomorrow. It feels like the Games are about to go from a novelty event to a seriously good tennis tournament.

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Tennis in the Global Village 07/31/2012 - 6:39 PM

JwtIt’s still possible, at least theoretically, to make a case that tennis isn't a good fit for the Olympics, though you won’t read it in this column—if the Games are good enough for Serena Williams and Roger Federer (and Rafa and Novak and pretty much every other player), they’re good enough for me. But even if I were to make that argument, even if I were a purist who believes that the Olympics should be reserved for steeple chasers and power walkers and beach volleyballers, none of whom have a Wimbledon of their own, what would I do when the tennis event at the Games went on anyway, despite my beliefs? Pretend that I didn’t care? Stage my own futile personal protest by watching sports I didn’t like as much as tennis?

Love it or hate it, this is a tournament that has come to mean a lot to the players, one that they work toward, one that they dream about winning. The thought of competing in London has kept a few of them going over the last year, and the thought of competing in Rio in 2016 may help keep Federer and Serena going for four more. Why look that gift horse in the mouth?

Now that we’re watching, I’ll take a look at a few of the things that make the Olympic tennis experience special and different from the rest of the season. 

***** 

Tennis Players Get to Be Faces in the Crowd
Among those who think tennis and the Games don't work together, there’s a sense that the rich and famous ATP and WTA pros are invading the swimmers’ and runners’ natural turf, stealing some of the thunder that we only get to hear from them every four years. To me, the opposite is the case. I like how even the most famous tennis players, while they attract their share of awed reporters and frantic pin-hunters, don’t overshadow the traditional Olympic sports and their athletes. Yes, Roger Federer is in London, but the biggest names, at the least in the States, are still Phelps, Lochte, Missy Franklin, Jordyn Weiber, and the track and field stars we’ll begin to hear about next week. And while Andy Murray is playing, the biggest story in England so far is the surprise bronze earned by the country's men's gymnastic team. In 2008 in Beijing, it was news that the Great Phelps actually knew who Rafael Nadal was and was happy to meet him, not the other way around.

For these two weeks, tennis players take their place alongside the world’s best athletes, not above or below them. At the opening ceremony, we had a chance to see how important even the less famous among these players are in their home countries—non-household names like Max Mirnyi, Horia Tecau, and Stan Wawrinka were given the honor of carrying their countries’ flags. It’s hard to think of anyone, tennis player or not, who looked prouder or more excited to do it than Novak Djokovic. Both Andy Murray and Andy Roddick talked this week about how different it felt not to be the center of attention, but neither was put out by it. The Olympics are a universe of their own, one where water polo and badminton get to share a stage with the NBA and feel just as important. It’s been interesting to see tennis adapt and find its place inside that universe. Where else can you see the normally stern and stoical Venus Williams giggle like a little kid when she gets to trade a piece of metal with someone in the crowd? 

We See How Serious Two Out of Three Can Be
From Serena to Novak to Murray to Federer, the players have made no secret of how thrilled they would be to win a gold medal; both Murray and Djokovic have called it the ultimate achievement. What makes this week unique is that, unlike those other “ultimate” events in tennis, the Slams, the men’s singles is two-out-of-three sets. Maybe this accounted for Djokovic’s tight start in his first round, in which he dropped a set to Fognini before gathering himself—one more lost set and his Olympic experience was over for four years. The men have no margin for error at this particular ultimate event, the way they do at the majors. I’ll take three-of-five if I have to choose; there’s a better chance that the superior player will win. But two-of-three gets your attention right away. 

We See NBC's Pat O’Brien Do Tennis
At first, it seemed as if O’Brien, a veteran of many Olympics past, felt like an exile having to host the tennis coverage way out at the All England Club, and way up the dial on Bravo. He has rambled some, he has gotten colleagues’ names wrong—“let's send it over to Rebecca Stubbs"—and he's generally sounded like the channel's crusty uncle. But he ripped Ryan Harrison more forthrightly than those in the tennis biz would have been likely to do. 

The Bravo broadcasts haven’t been perfect. Like ESPN, the network will make you sit through a less-than-germane studio piece even while a match you want to see is reaching its crucial stages. And like every other channel, the commentators talk too much. But I’m not going to complain when tennis is one of the few, maybe the only, sport on NBC with a dedicated network that’s showing the event live. And when they do bring out Mary Jo Fernandez’s son to show off his pin collection while Tsonga is playing Raonic, I can always stream it online. 

We See Players Looking and Acting a Little Differently
In this alternate sports universe, the players wear different clothes. Thumbs up: Bellucci’s Brazilian yellow on his shirt; Venus and Serena’s red, white, and blue dresses, and especially Venus’s continuation of the theme in her hair; Wozniacki’s red baseball cap; Murray’s navy version of his kit; Djokovic’s Serbian blue and Tsonga’s French bleu; the Radwanskas' doubles outfits; Sharapova going visor-less. There’s something positive about knowing that these aren’t simply the latest individual creations by Nike or Adidas or UniQlo. They’re uniforms, but with none of the rigidity or solemnity that the word implies.

Better, though, is the chance to see the players thrown into new situations, where they have a chance to show off skills you never knew they had. This is one of the beauties of doubles, of course; it forces even the most stubborn baseliners to find their way to the net. When they get there, they often surprise you with how well they know their way around the front of the court—you wonder, why have I never seen your shoe-top volleys and touch lobs before? Yesterday, it was Kei Nishikori, a classic Bollettieri grinder by day, who showed how fast his hands can be. He and partner Go Soeda nearly took out the defending gold medalists, Federer and Wawrinka. While they lost, the Japanese matched them reflex volley for reflex volley for three close and entertaining sets.

Fellow lovers of deft volleys, ricochet rallies, and meaningful doubles, we should savor the chance to live in tennis’s other universe while we can. Like the players, we won't get back here for another four years.

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Catching Heat 07/30/2012 - 6:43 PM

RHIf you’ve ever had doubts about the sagacity of coaching legend and soldier of self-promotion Nick Bollettieri, consider the comments he made concerning two volatile American players, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young, at the very beginnings of their careers. Asked about Young’s future when he was 16 and the No. 1 junior in the world, Bollettieri was optimistic, but cautioned that DY didn’t react to adversity well, and that “when things don’t go the way he wants them to go,” he would have to learn to adjust. A few years later, when Harrison made a splash with a win over Ivan Ljubicic at the U.S. Open as an 18-year-old, Bollettieri was again asked for a long-term assessment. He zeroed in on what he thought was the most important variable in his future: “the kid's got a temper,” Nick said, in that gravelly way of his. He knew Harrison and his temper well, having seen him up close at his academy for years. Bollettieri said he believed that it could be a big part of Harrison’s success. As long as it didn't destroy him. 

It’s safe to say that, at the moment, Bollettieri’s early concerns for both Young and Harrison have proven well founded. This weekend at the Olympics, Young lost his 15th consecutive match—he hasn’t adjusted well, or at all, to adversity lately—while Harrison made news not for losing his own opening-rounder, to Santiago Giraldo, but for the way he acted while doing it. Harrison, as anyone who has watched the Olympics on the Bravo network over the last two days knows well, slammed his racquet to the grass multiple times and smashed the head in half after double-faulting at match point. 

The hot-headed Harrison was hardly breaking new ground, or turf, in London. This is a guy who began 2012 by stating that one of his goals was not to get fined for bad behavior on court. He knows that getting his temper under control is both something he needs to do, and something that requires a concerted effort. Up until the Olympics, Harrison had generally been successful. Despite letting his racquet go at the French Open and showing plenty of signs of anger during other losses, he hadn’t had to fork over any money to the authorities this season. But he chose the wrong venue to revert to form. After his Olympic outburst, broadcasters Chris Fowler and Pat O’Brien, among others, ripped Harrison for embarrassing his country. The highlight reel that Bravo ran didn’t help Harrison’s cause—it looked like all he did all match was try to deep six his racquet (as much airtime as his stick got, that can’t be what Babolat is paying him for). Finally, Harrison felt bad enough about it that he went on air and gave a near-tearful apology. Which, naturally, got him ripped some more. Mark Hodgkinson of the Tennis Space asked today, “Who is going to apologize for Harrison’s apology?” 

Hodgkinson, citing Harrison’s youth—he’s 20—and the fact that he’s hardly the first guy to lose it on court, believes Harrison had nothing to apologize for. I agree that a televised appearance wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad Harrison apologized in some form. It’s true that he’s young, it’s true he’s not the first offender, and it’s true that U.S. tennis players have been embarrassing their country with their on-court behavior for many years—it’s practically a national tradition by now. It’s even true that there’s some hypocrisy among fans about what we really want to see on court. Call it the train-wreck effect; you may not like what you see, but you can't turn away. When I saw Harrison go nuts in the highlights, I cringed. But when I finally watched the match on tape yesterday, all I really wanted to see was...Harrison going nuts. This time, though, his outburst felt different from those in the past. The fact that it came at the Olympics really did seem disrespectful and childishly reckless, as if he had no sense of where he was (which is too bad, because Harrison has made it obvious how much representing his country means to him). It felt like something had to change with him this time, and hopefully his apology was the beginning of that change.  

Walking an emotional edge is something that we ask all athletes, and especially tennis players, to do. They’re supposed to be fired with aggression and killer instinct. Yet at the same time they can't let their precarious hold on it go. Victoria Azarenka, for one, has struggled and often failed to find that balance. What makes it even tougher for Harrison is that, like Bollettieri said, his competitive spirit may be his single more important attribute. How many times have we, and I assume Harrison himself, heard a pundit say that they like his “fire.” It seems to have become the main reason to believe that he’ll keep moving up the rankings. Yes, Harrison has a strong serve and forehand, but it’s his athleticism and scrappiness, rather than his ball-striking skills, that are typically singled out. Which means he can’t afford to dull his emotional edge too much. But Harrison, who is a sharp analyst of the game, also knows that giving in to his anger doesn’t make him play better. He’s said in the past that if he can show some positive emotion early in a match, it helps him combat the negative feelings that may come later. Obviously, there weren't many positives to hang onto in his straight-set loss to Giraldo. 

Instinctively, I like Harrison—his energy and obvious desire to succeed make his story and his matches worth following. And I like how articulate and level-headed he is off the court. But I don’t like the way he points toward ball kids and orders them around, or the way he seems ready to fly off the handle. It makes me think that he's overcharged, that he tries to control too much, that he lets outside elements get to him. Which may have been the case on the slippery grass at the Olympics.

Any tennis player knows how hard it can be not to break your racquet in half at times. It’s difficult, logically, to ask someone to “want it more than the other guy" and develop what we call a killer instinct, and then turn around and ask him to shrug off a bad shot or a loss, accept defeat graciously, and say, “I’ll get him next time.” But that’s what we ask tennis players to do, and the sooner they learn to maintain that precarious balance, to, as Bollettieri might say, play with fire and not get burned, the sooner they make good on their potential.

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Keeping Tabs: July 30 07/30/2012 - 12:25 PM

AMSince I last checked the world’s newspapers Friday morning, the general feeling about the 2012 Olympics appears to have done a 180. Leave it to a really, really long opening ceremony to silence the doubters and kvetchers. Danny Boyle’s epic wiped away, at least for the moment, those drab concerns over traffic jams, rookie bus drivers, and money not well spent.  

Or, as the Sun put it: 

OLYMPIC OPENING CEREMONY IS FLAMING FANTASTIC

The flame part was pretty fantastic, as were the fiery rings, as was the sight of eight tennis players carrying their nation’s flags into the stadium—Novak Djokovic’s obvious pride and joy was a highlight. As for the rest of the ceremony...I know I’m in the minority, so I’ll just say that you maybe you had to be there; or maybe you had to be British; or maybe you had to be into those kinds of things. If only the country’s finest export, the Rolling Stones, had been there to give us a rude jolt at the end. Somehow, according to Mick, the boys “weren’t ready.” Was 50 years of playing together not enough? 

As I said, though, I’m in the minority. Here’s what our friend Simon Barnes had to say about Boyle's prodcution, and the tone it set, in the Times:

"At the exact centre of the world last night, London turned down the option to celebrate giants and supermen and power and might and chose instead to celebrate people. It was on this fine and not unexpected note that the Olympic Games began—a Games fit for humanity, a Games that might stress joy rather than triumphalism."

I''ll go with that for now.

As for the tennis, the coverage in the papers has been overshadowed by other sports so far—the men’s gymnastic team in Britain, the men’s swimming and women's gymnastics in the United States. I like seeing tennis players take their places alongside the world’s athletes; the downside is that it leaves us with fewer over-the-top headlines to round up here. 

As for the matches themselves, see my Racquet Reaction on Roger Federer's second-round win over Julien Benneteau here.

***** 

Big Brother Knows...Nothing?
The Sun did its best to hold up its end of the tabloid bargain this weekend:

JUST SHUT IT, ANDY!
Jamie Murray will try and make sure his little brother Andy listens to his every word today 

“As the older brother,” Jamie said, “I’d like to take charge, but whether he listens to me, I don’t know. I enjoy playing with Andy. I don’t know whether he enjoys playing with me.” 

Jamie is probably still wondering that. Apparently Andy listened a little too well to big brother, because the Murray boys went out in the first round of the doubles, 7-5 in the third set to Melzer and Peya of Austria. 

***** 

Opening the Roof
The Mirror reports on a potentially distressing story:

DRIP, DRIP HOORAY! ANDY MURRAY THROUGH DESPITE CENTRE COURT WATERWORKS

You know that multi-million dollar roof that Wimbledon built to keep out the rain? Apparently it’s letting some in. Murray, echoing the concerns of Lisa Raymond during Wimbledon, said on Saturday that “there were actually a few drips coming in next to my bag for pretty much the whole match. Might need to sort that out.”

Sticking with Murray for a minute, it’s always interesting to hear how much differently the players answer questions put to them by former players, as opposed to reporters. I’ve written about how loose they are when they talk to Jim Courier on court in Melbourne,but by the time they get to the interview room a few minutes later, their grim and guarded selves have returned. The same was true, to a slightly lesser degree, when Murray talked to NBC/Bravo's Justin Gimelstob after his first-round win.  

Gimelstob caught him before he had even left the court, yet Murray, still wiping sweat off his face, came up with more thoughtful answers than he typically does with the British media. He said that when Wimbledon is going on, it seems to him as if that’s the only thing happening in the entire world, and that he lives inside its bubble. He said that he had sat inside Centre Court and "had a think” after the Wimbledon final (he told the press that last week, but it still seemed like an exceptionally revealing thing to say two minutes after a match). Murray also said that after his previous Grand Slam final losses, he hadn’t felt like practicing or going to the gym or doing much of anything, but this time he had been forced to by the quick turnaround for the Olympics. It wasn't the quality of Murray's answers, which don't seem that amazing now that I've written them down, but the more open manner in which he said them—he almost looked like he enjoyed being interviewed.

Either Murray was reacting to a familiar face quizzing him, or he was very relieved to get past Stan Wawrinka so easily, or the Olympic atmosphere has finally put a smile on his face. Or a little of all three. 

***** 

Who Would You Like to Play, Exactly?
At ESPN.com, Kamakshi Tandon quizzes the Bryan brothers about each team in the men’s doubles draw. A pattern emerges:

Cilic/Dodig: “Big hitters. Dangerous. Don’t want to see them.” 

Cabal/Giraldo: “They’ve played a lot of big matches together for Davis Cup. They’re crafty.” 

Bopanna/Bhupathi: “I’m sure they’ll be very happy that they’re in the draw, so they’re going to play with nothing to lose.” 

Davydenko/Youzhny: “Two really good returners. good ball strikers....They’ll be tough.”

Tecau/Ungur: “Ungur I’m not familiar with, but I’m sure he’s a great player!” 

I guess this is a secret to success: Always be on your guard; never underestimate anyone. Either that or the Bros should just pack up and go home now, because they have no chance.

*****

Pippa’s Personal Olympics
It’s left to the Telegraph to give us the biggest tennis-related scoop of the Games thus far:

PIPPA MIDDLETON IS A TENNIS STAR

Kate's little sister, it turns out, has “won a place in the women’s first team at the Queen’s Club in West London. They will play in the Middlesex Premier Division.”

Maybe Bravo can send Pat O'Brien and Jon Wertheim out to call a few of those matches.

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Keeping Tabs: July 27 07/27/2012 - 3:09 PM

CwThese are the golden days for the London press, the days they'll reminisice about with their grandchildren. Not only does the media have two weeks of Olympic spectacle ahead, it also has the widespread whinging and accusations of incompetence that have thus far surrounded those Olympics. Yesterday, Fleet Street received the perfect sour cherry to top it all off: Mitt Romney. In case you haven’t heard, Mittens had a bad day. Or, as the Mail's Toby Harnden puts it:

MITT ROMNEY’S TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY IN LONDON

First words of the story: "Oh dear."

Mitt really is a gift, though, because his criticism of the organizers—now popularly known as “Romneyshambles”—appears to have united the country behind the Games. It’s one thing to bash your fellow Brits, it’s another to listen to a slicked-back American moneybags lecture you on your shortcomings. Elsewhere, the Mail wonders, “Who Invited Party-Pooper Romney?” and happily reports on his turnabout this morning:

“'London IS Ready': Romney completes humiliating u-turn in new UK charm offensive after Olympics gaffe”  

The Sun, meanwhile, comes out swinging: 

MITT THE TWIT: Wannabe President in Games Insult—but Cam Insists: We’ll Show You.

So, now that the enemy has been identified, it’s time to let the Games begin. 

***** 

Let’s Tell It Like It Is
There was sadness in much of the tennis world when Rafael Nadal announced that he wouldn’t be coming to London. But no one has captured it quite like the Sun

IT’S A KICK IN THE NADS FOR RAFA
Nadal, who was due to carry the Spain flag, has a knee injury 

But hey, the paper finds an upside to the story: 

“With Nadal crocked,” the Sun claims, “[Andy] Murray has a sniff at landing a big one.” 

The Sun quotes Murray talking about how the Olympics have helped keep him from wallowing after Wimby (Wait, “Wallowing after Wimby”? Am I starting to sound like a London headline writer?):

“It was good for me that the Olympics came so soon after Wimbledon,” Murray says. “It gave me an extra push and extra motivation to get back on court and not think too much about what happened.” 

***** 

Speaking of Waterworks...
The Sun previews Andy Murray’s opening-round this way: 

TEAR WE GO AGAIN!
Andy Murray will get a chance for instant Wimbledon revenge...as he goes for gold against Switzerland at SW19 

This time, of course, it isn’t Swiss Roger Federer that Murray will face, but Swiss Stan Wawrinka. If you’re looking for a first-round upset, that may be the one to follow. 

***** 

Breaking: Murray Cracks Smile
The Independent has the scoop on what Muzz did with his time off: 

MURRAY: KARTING AND PUPPIES CURED ME OF SW19 BLUES 

In the story, Murray makes a bold but as-yet-unsubstantiated claim about himself:

“I laugh a lot—just not in front of you guys," he says. "Your questions normally aren’t that funny. I go to quite a lot of comedy shows. Laughing is normally the best way to get over most things.” 

After Wimbledon, Murray says he went back to pick up a few bags and spent some time inside an empty Centre Court.

“I just sat there for a little while thinking about the match and then thinking a bit about what it was going to be like at the Olympics. The whole venue had changed so quickly after the tournament. They already had all the London 2012 backdrops at the back of the court. It maybe got my mind to looking forward.” 

***** 

Wait, Are You That Gymnast I Saw On TV, What’s Your Name Again?
Tennis players turn into fawning fans during the Games. Gisela Dulko had her picture taken with LeBron James; Laura Robson “bumped into” Michael Phelps; and Christina McHale managed what is apparently the biggest celeb get of all: a shot of her with Phelps’ rival, Ryan Lochte. 

The Mail, calling tennis players “the most pampered of athletes,” has a story today about how these spoiled young people have had to make do with less during the Games. The All England Club essentially handed its grounds over to the IOC. The “scars” on the grass behind the baseline have healed, but food and towels are harder to come by. So are passes for entourages. One day Caroline Wozniacki reportedly had to choose between letting in her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, or her hitting partner. She went with Rory, leaving the hitting partner, in the Mail’s words, “decidedly non-plussed.” 

Worse, though, is the transportation. The Spanish team endured a five-hour journey from the airport to the Olympic Village. With the bus driver lost, David Ferrer and Alex Corretja tried to get out and hail a cab, but were told that it wasn’t allowed. 

***** 

Jonny Come Lately
The Express has a story on the trials and tribulations of the country’s surprise Wimbledon doubles winner:

NOW JONNY MARRAY HAS TO MASTER FAME GAME

Marray seems to be starting pretty much from scratch. “This has completely turned my life upside down,” he says. “People actually know who I am now, and that’s something I’ve never had before.”

He makes it sound as if his own mother wouldn’t have recognized him walking down the street before this year's Wimbledon. 

***** 

Setting the Bar Low
The Mirror admirably refuses to put too much pressure on its young doubles team of Heather Watson and Laura Robson. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the paper isn’t taking their Olympic bid altogether seriously. 

BRIT TENNIS STARLETS GETTING READY FOR A GIGGLE  AT LONDON 2012

They’re off to a good start. Both Watson and Robson have received late entries into the singles after other players withdrew. 

*****

Now all that’s left to do is play the Games. Tennis begins right away Saturday morning, so early that many players, including Roger Federer, will have to skip the opening ceremony.

Have a good weekend. I'll be back Monday to pick up where we left off.

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