Olympic Tennis has had a lot of ups and downs. During some Olympic years, the tennis events have seemed at best like a 500 point tour level tournament while other years have produced high drama for the sport. With Davis Cup, Federation Cup, Hopman Cup, World Team Cup, and tennis’ four majors being held on three continents, it is a valid question to ask if tennis should be in the Olympics. Every tournament, with the possible exception of Atlanta this week, has a United Nations feel to it. I used to think tennis should not be an Olympic sport, but I changed my mind after seeing how Olympic status has helped tennis receive more systematic support from various nation-states. I similarly thought the addition of mixed doubles as a medal sport was an awful idea, but given the rarity of men and women competing both along side one another and against one another during the Olympics I have softened my stance. I am going to take a quick walk down memory lane and review both the strong and weak years for Olympic Tennis.
1988: Steffi Graf Conquers the World
1988 was a strong year for Olympic Tennis precisely because it was the first contemporary games to to have tennis as a medal sport. Steffi Graf had already won a calendar year Grand Slam in 1988. She entered the event with a great deal of momentum and pressure. Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 6-3 to achieve a Golden Slam in 1988. Zina Garrison and Manuela Maleeva picked up bronze medals as tennis at this time did not have a consolation match between the losing semifinalists to determine a sole bronze medal winner. Graf also collected a bronze medal in doubles. Graf’s 1988 included winning all 4 Grand Slam singles titles, a gold medal in singles, a Wimbedon doubles crown and a bronze medal in doubles.
On the men’s side, Miloslav Mecir was a surprise gold medalist, but Mecir had reached the 1986 US Open final, won the 1987 Key Biscayne event, and would reach the 1989 Australian Open final. Mecir could clearly play on the hard court surface at these games. Mecir also reached the 1987 French Open semifinal round and 1988 Wimbledon semifinal round. He was incredibly talented but was also sadly often injured. Tim Mayotte captured the silver medal while Brad Gilbert and Stefan Edberg each collected a bronze medal. Stefan Edberg also won a bronze medal in doubles.
Final Verdict – A Strong Games for Tennis
These games were a big success. I think falling after the US Open, as the Sydney Olympics also did, helped the tennis event. The excitement about tennis’ return as a medal sport all but insured that these games were a success for tennis. Graf’s pursuit of a singular level of excellence during a tennis season also added to the overall heft of these games. From my point of view, the general success and momentum from 1988 built up expectations for 1992 that were not realized.
What We Should Expect
3 of the 4 matches have gone deep into the 3rd set. 2 of those matches went to 3rd set tiebreaks. The player with the better ranking won 3 of 4 matches to this point. World #1 Novak Djokovic struggled with Thomas Berdych, but held up under pressure better than the big Czech. World #2 Rafael Nadal had problems with Mardy Fish and his stomach. Roger Federer out-dueled Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. More or less on point. Top 8 players should be able to win sets and demonstrate their strengths, but the top guys should win out in the end.
David Ferrer d. Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5
I know Murray had an injury in Basel. I know he was hurt during his match with David Ferrer. I know Ferrer is the worst type of opponent to play when struggling physically due to the long punishing points he likes to play. Still, after Murray’s Triple Crown in Asia, I thought he might be ready to make a move and get into the mix as a true threat to Nadal and Djokovic. Instead, Federer wins back-to-back events and Murray plays phlegmatic injury-prone tennis.
Murray’s Big Move?
Federer is clearly no worse than #3 in the minds of the fans and players right now. Andy Murray is still not in that elite pantheon that he so clearly desires to join. The setting of London only places added pressure on Murray. World #5 David Ferrer keeps adding to his career haul as well. The beauty of the round robin format for Murray is that he can get back into this event if his health and game are there. If London does not go well for Murray, I might suggest something crazy. He might want to approach Lleyton Hewitt to be a player-coach in the same manner that Andre Agassi approached Brad Gilbert during Gilbert’s final year or so on tour. Hewitt might help Murray thumb his nose at all of the respectable people unintentionally putting unwanted pressure on him. Murray against the world may be the only way a man from his part of the world meets the expectations placed upon him. Meet the expectations by disdaining those expectations and the entire tennis world. It is a crazy plan, but it might also work.
Here is a good take on Murray’s demonstrative ways.
Thomas “Coach” Muster?
A lot of good can be said about how hard Thomas Muster worked on and off of the tennis court. Muster is best know for his perseverance to overcome a freak knee injury and his amazing clay court play in 1995. Muster played a sort of visceral tennis that often looked like he was trying to mug his opponent in a street fight. I saw Muster mix it up with Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, and Brad Gilbert.
After his first retirement, I thought Muster might make a good coach or consultant for Roger Federer in 2007 as Federer tried to figure out how to play against another left-handed monster in Rafael Nadal. I figured that the Austrian and the Swiss each spoke German and that Muster could help Federer in the way that Tony Roche helped Ivan Lendl figure out the left-handed John McEnroe.
I doubt Federer at 30 is going to make any huge coaching moves. Still, I think Muster could be an excellent coach if he so desired. Muster’s working with Thomaz Bellucci or even Grigor Dimitrov might help each player figure out how to play a more muscular and disciplined brand of tennis. Who would be better at helping younger players understand the physical sacrifices needed to make it to the elite tier of the game? All I am saying to Muster is “Happy Re-Retirement” but don’t stay gone for too long.