Friday, July 27, 2012
Will the top three sweep the medals?
By Kamakshi Tandon Special to ESPN.com
The players are returning to Wimbledon for another go-around, but don't expect the Olympics to be an exact rerun of what happened three weeks ago.
That's partly because of the results at the All England Club. Roger Federer is back at No. 1 after lifting his 17th Grand Slam title, and he will lead the field, followed by No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray. That means no semifinal rematch between the top two. They can face off only in the final. Things will also look different, with purple backdrops instead of the usual green and players dressed in national colors rather than white.
Federer's recent victory means the spotlight will be squarely on him as the Games begin, but whether it makes him the favorite is still a matter of debate. Many think so. Federer isn't so sure.
Andy Murray's leap to greatness started at the 2012 Olympics in London.
"I don't think at the end it matters that much to win Wimbledon prior to the Olympics," he said the day after lifting the Wimbledon trophy. "But at the same time, I believe my situation has got that little star next to it -- you know, I am Wimbledon champion."
That's because the Olympics are being played on the very same courts -- albeit with hurriedly regrown grass.
"I think that gives me even more confidence coming into the Olympics and in some ways maybe takes the pressure off the Olympics because I already did win at Wimbledon this year," he said. "So that is a good thing for me because, of course, there is a lot of hype around me playing the Olympics this year."
There's extra attention because a singles gold is one of the few things still missing from Federer's trophy cabinet, though he still points to winning the doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka in Beijing as one of his many career highlights.
After a week's vacation, much of it spent on a yacht in Sardinia with his family, Federer put in a week's training to prepare for the Games and is staying in a rented house at Wimbledon rather than in the hustle and bustle of the athletes' village.
Djokovic and Murray, meanwhile, hit together on the grounds earlier this week, both looking to erase their Wimbledon disappointments with Olympic success. Djokovic, who took a quick vacation in Greece and is sharing a house near the grounds with the other Serbian men in the competition, had an unexpected fourth-set fade in the Wimbledon semifinals but was playing perhaps better tennis than anyone during the early stages. If he can regain that form, he might be the biggest threat once again.
For Murray, a lot has changed: He comes in as the people's choice after his tears following the Wimbledon final, but has he really recovered from that defeat?
"The night of the final I didn't sleep much. I cried a lot," he said during an appearance with the rest of the British team last week. "That was the first part. Then I just started doing other things to try to take my mind off it."
Murray stayed in England during the interim and made a trip to Centre Court to think back on Wimbledon and ahead to the Olympics. With huge crowd support once more, he has a lot to play for and should rebound more quickly than after his previous Grand Slam defeats.
One thing is guaranteed to be the same at both events: Rafael Nadal will not be in the hunt during the later stages. He lost in the second round at Wimbledon and picked up a knee injury that eventually forced him out of the Games. The Spaniard, who was picked to carry the flag for Spain at the opening ceremonies and was looking forward to staying in the athletes' village, described his pullout as one of the hardest moments of his career. But it has benefited several of his Spanish friends. NBA player Pau Gasol has been named Spain's flag bearer, David Ferrer receives the No. 4 seed, Feliciano Lopez gets into the singles and Marc Lopez into the doubles.
Nadal's absence also means there are only three of tennis' big four taking part, and coincidentally, three medals to be won. Will they sweep, or are there more upsets in store on the grass this year?
The shorter best-of-three format and the quick surface lend themselves to unexpected results, so the top names are braced for dangerous matches. They will be particularly wary of big servers such as John Isner, Milos Raonic and Andy Roddick, as well as erratic talents with a taste for the lawns and big occasions such as Bernard Tomic, Jurgen Melzer and David Nalbandian.
There are other top names hoping to get on the podium as well. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost to Murray in the semifinals, will be right in the mix, as could Tomas Berdych, who is looking to rebound from a first-round defeat at Wimbledon. Because of the packed schedule, those who went out early at Wimbledon will have the advantage of extra rest and could make the tournament unfold very differently from what happened at SW19 three weeks ago.
"You only get an opportunity every four years," Federer said. "It takes some getting used to and then obviously you hope you get the right draw, play the right matches and the right points at the right times.
"I think to win an Olympics gold, things all need to fall into place nicely."