It is possible for opponents to fight hard and be gracious in victory as well as in defeat
Olympic Tennis: The State of Men’s Singles After One Round
Olympic tennis means a great deal to all 64 singles competitors who started the men’s draw. If anyone doesn’t believe that simply look at the tears world number one Novak Djokovic shed after his first round loss to Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic’s loss raises the question of who is the favorite to win the gold medal
in men’s singles. Wimbledon champion and 2012 gold medalist Andy Murray is the obvious favorite to win gold, but 2008 gold medalist Rafael Nadal is nearly the co-favorite despite not playing since Roland Garros. Andy Murray’s path to the final
is pretty soft, but Nadal benefits a great deal from how slow the surface is playing in Rio. Given that both men have won major singles titles and gold medals their mental edge has to be taken into account as well.
Other players to watch include Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori, and Gael Monfils. Marin Cilic had a good grass court season and should be able to make good use of the high bounces Rio’s courts are producing. If Cilic is able to line up his shots, he can be deadly. Nishikori’s return of serve is also aided by the slow conditions in Rio. There is also a sizable Japanese population in Brazil who might give Nishikori some strong crowd support. Monfils’ confidence should be sky high after his win in Washington, DC and semifinal showing in Toronto. Finally, I think Fabio Fognini could be a dark horse for a medal. He has played well since getting married and is a shot maker who often plays on emotion. The olympic games could be the sort of emotional cauldron Fognini needs to find his best tennis.
Novak Djokovic’s loss sends shock waves through this draw. Novak has been the best hard court player on the men’s tour since his 2011 victory at the Australian Open. Furthermore, with wins at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, and Toronto, Djokovic owns the 4 biggest hard court trophies awarded in 2016. Djokovic clearly badly wanted to win a career golden slam, but now his sights must shift to the olympic doubles draw (Federer and Warinka took gold in the 2008 men’s doubles event) and winning an elusive singles crown in Cincinnati. Djokovic certainly can play in the 2020 Tokyo games, but he will be 33-years-old. That is by no means ancient as tennis has been rewarding experience over youth in recent years, but Novak will likely be a bit past his prime when his next chance at a gold medal in singles arises. Djokovic can certainly win more olympic medals (he did win a bronze medal in 2008), but his best chance at gold is likely behind him.
Juan Martin del Potro’s upset win shows two things. First, injuries robbed tennis of a player capable of mixing it up with anyone including the big 4. Second, JMDP is not done yet. If he can find good health, his forehand, serve, and mental toughness all give him an ability to win matches. If consistency returns to Delpo’s game, he can translate individual match wins into deep tournament runs. It may not be the career one expected when he won the 2009 US Open after losing in 5 sets in the 2009 Roland Garros semifinal round, but JMDP still has a consequential career. That is something that should make tennis fans everywhere happy.
Novak Clearly Cares a Great Deal about Olympic Tennis