“I drew a lot of inspiration from great athletes in other sports as well — Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Valentino Rossi. They inspire me to keep pushing further...not just being happy with World No. 1 or with a Grand Slam title, but to reach for more.”
- Roger Federer after his triumph at Wimbledon 2012
Roger Federer, who was resurrected as “king of grass” in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon 2012, has given notice to pretenders to his throne. He is aiming at even greater conquests, pushing the frontiers of his rule in the tennis world. What could be greater than what he has achieved so far — a record of 17 grand slams, seven Wimbledon titles in all, and also being one up on Pete Sampras’s tally of 286 weeks as world no. 1? His immediate goal is to win at the Olympics that will be held on the lawns of SW19 (July 28-August 5), just three weeks after his victory on the same grass courts.
The defending champion is Rafael Nadal. Unfortunately, he has withdrawn from the Olympics due to injury. But it should not in any way detract from the seriousness of the competition that will see top-rankers among men and women players. Unlike in the grand slam tournaments, many singles player like Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, John Isner, Novak Djokovic, Federer, the Williams sisters, Li Na and Zheng Jie are participating in the doubles also.
Federer has the odds in his favour to win. He and Stanislas Wawrinka are the doubles title holders. They may very well succeed in defending the title. By a happy coincidence, Federer’s birthday is on August 8 when he completes 31 years — three days after the final. If he wins at the Olympics, then he will set another record of 18 grand slam titles, equalling the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus of the US in golf. But Nicklaus achieved it over a quarter century (1962-86) as against Federer’s 17 grand slam titles in a decade (2003-12). Tiger Woods is still trying to equal Nicklaus’s record, having got only 14 so far over 12 years. Federer has a total of 75 titles against Woods’s 74.
Fernando Gonzales and Djokovic are the defenders of the silver and bronze medals, respectively. In the doubles, Simon Aspelin/Thomas Johansson and the Bryan Brothers hold the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Between Wimbledon and the Olympics, there have been several ATP tournaments but most of them were on clay. Isner won at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame, New Port, US (grass) and Roddick at Atlanta, US (hard). They are no indicators of the possible outcome on the grass courts in the Olympics since many of the top-ranking players did not participate in those tournaments.
After a possible victory at the Olympics, Federer’s objective will be to win the US, Australian and French Opens so that he will have the distinction of a non-calendar year golden slam that would include the Olympic title. So far only Steffi Graf has had the distinction of a golden slam, winning all the four majors and the Olympics in 1988. Can Federer achieve all this? As the saying goes, nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes!
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On the women’s side, Serena Williams is back on the prowl. Like Federer she seems to have reinvented herself. Her total of 102 aces at Wimbledon exceeded those of Federer. As a result of her foot surgery, she wants to minimise her movements. She is trying to make up for it by keeping the rallies short and also avoiding them altogether by serving aces as far and as frequently as possible. Whenever the indicator for the speed of serve showed up on the screen during Wimbledon it was generally 110 mph plus. She holds the second-best record for speed of serve among women players at 128 mph, next only to her sister Venus at 129 mph. The return of serve will determine the fate of her opponents.
No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka’s 23rd birthday falls on July 31, the fourth day of Olympics. Will it prove to be lucky for her? Li Na and Zheng Jie are competing, both in the singles and doubles. They are potential threats to the Williams sisters. Russia dominated the women’s singles event in Beijing (2008) as Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva led a clean sweep of the gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively, for their nation.
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As for the Indians, all the controversy that we saw on the pairing of players at the Olympics seems in hindsight to be much ado about nothing, when we look at their results in Wimbledon. Ideally, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi should have been the doubles partners and Bhupathi and Sania Mirza should have been in mixed doubles. One has only to recall the glory that they have brought to the country in the majors. But now with the new pairings one wonders whether the country will get even a bronze medal in any event. Let us not forget that Paes won the bronze in singles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge (“The Woodies”), who dominated the men’s doubles in the 1990s, once said that Paes and Bhupathi would be their successors. Alas, it was not to be due to inter-personal conflicts. With both nearing 40 (fit to be called “veterans” in tennis parlance) this year may be the last opportunity for them to shine at the Olympics separately. Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna, Rushmi Chakravarthi, Mirza, Paes and Vishnu Vardhan play in doubles and Somdev Devvarman in singles.
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Tennis appeared for the first time at the Olympics in 1896 but was dropped from the programme after the Paris games in 1924 due to a controversy over the inclusion of professional players. It returned 64 years later, with Miloslav Mecír (Czechoslovakia) and Steffi Graf (West Germany) winning gold in the two singles events in Seoul in 1988. London staged the Olympics on two previous occasions, in 1908 and 1948, but this is the first time that the current Church Road site of The All England Club is being used as the venue. There are five separate events being contested with mixed doubles being reinstated as a full medal sport for the first time since Paris.
One good feature of the Olympics is the level playing requirement of best of three sets, instead of five sets. In the case of the latter, muscular strength and physical fitness sometimes play a greater role than tennis skills to the advantage of athletic men like Nadal, who do better in such enervating matches. The format will be followed until the final when it will be the best of five in the men’s singles event only. The matches will be held over nine days only in five rounds and not in seven rounds during a fortnight, as in the case of grand slams. This is another factor that takes away the physical constraints in playing over a longer period.