I have to admit, I’m pretty lukewarm when it comes to pro tennis being part of the Olympics and the Beijing games which open tomorrow. To me the Olympics is about bringing the best athletes in the World to compete for the greatest prize in their sport: The Gold Medal.
Yet unlike other competitions such as gymnastics, track and field, swimming, etc., the Olympics isn’t quite that pinnacle of achievement, that end goal for tennis players. It’s one of them perhaps, but just the not highest award.
And that’s because in tennis we have the Grand Slams, the Davis Cup and as far as the competition goes, we already get to see best in our sport battle week-in, week-out. So from my chair, what’s the real difference between watching the Olympics and say playing Toronto? From a competition standpoint there isn’t much. In fact, winning the Olympics is arguably an easier achievement than winning Toronto since the draw is not as deep.
So really for me if the highest achievement in a given sport isn’t winning the Gold, then maybe that sport shouldn’t be part of the Olympics. And that’s how I feel about tennis.
Anyway, enough Olympic ranting for one day, on to the men’s draw which was released overnight in Beijing.
All eyes will again be on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer is of course the top seed and still No. 1, but he’ll lose that ranking come August 18. So this could be the last time Federer is ever seeded above Nadal at any event. Who knows? That’s pure speculation and so to is trying to handicap the draw.
As I said when the summer began, because of the Olympics this hard court season is going to be a roller coaster of a ride, filled with plenty of twists and turns and so far it has been just that and I think we stay on that ride through Beijing.
Some of you suggest Federer has an easy draw, I think otherwise. I know Murray, Djokovic and Nadal are on the other half, but…Right now the Swiss is just 12-6 on hardcourts on year and given the way he’s been playing there are no easy draws for him. He opens with Dmitry Tursunov who I think could get him, and looking ahead he could run into Ivo Karlovic, Tomas Berdych or Gilles Simon, all of whom have beaten him on hardcourts – Ivo and Gilles this summer, Berdych at the last Olympics. So it’s going to be a tough road in what I think is Fed’s last chance at Olympic gold. The Swiss by the way turns 27 tomorrow.
The second quarter is a real crap shoot. For some reason though I like Nicolas Kiefer to emerge. I also think the Nikolay Davydenko-Ernests Gulbis match is the best first rounder of the tournament. David Ferrer-Marin Cilic could be a cracker as well.
Jumping to the bottom, Nadal has an easy early few rounds before hitting perhaps Andy Murray in quarterfinals. A lot will depend on just how fast/slow the court is but I could see Rafa in the semifinals where I think Novak Djokovic should be waiting.
The Serb really has only a couple legitimate threats in his quarter, Mikhail Youzhny and my man Gael Monfils. I’m not convinced of David Nalbadian’s health, so I’m already eliminating him as a contender. Novak’s the clear pick in that section.
But back to Federer.
As I wrote last month, we are going to learn a lot about Roger this summer. And so far we have. We learned that he’s not the same hardcourt player he was even a year ago – his losses to Simon and Karlovic suggest that. And we learned that he’s officially shifted into Pete Sampras gear, focusing solely on the bigger events like the Olympics and the Slams.
“Toronto and Cincinnati weren’t the tournaments that are going to make me cry for months and months,” Federer told the press yesterday. “It’s really the Olympic games and the U.S. Open that matter to me in this point of my career.”
Well, the Olympics is now upon us so it’s truly put up or shut up time for Roger. Let’s see how he handles it.
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