Okay. So it was the wrong Rafael. It wasn’t Rafael Nadal that Roger Federer beat 6-2, 6-4 earlier today at the Beijing Olympics second round. It was Rafael Arevalo. You know him. 22-year-old from El Salvador. Just under six feet tall. About 170lbs. Ring a bell yet? How about a former junior Top 10? Still no? Fair enough. I have no idea who the heck he is either or really how the guy is even in the Olympics.
Point is, Federer’s through to the third round and so too are many of the other top names in tennis. Nadal, who will officially take over the No. 1 ranking come Monday, won easily today over Lleyton Hewitt. Novak Djokovic also has had little resistance in navigating the first two rounds, and my man, Gael Monfils, has set himself up with a third round encounter against David Nalbandian. Good stuff!
The only real early causality was Andy Murray, who having just come off a tough win in Cincinnati, probably wasn’t physically up to the Beijing heat and humidity, not to mention the air pollution.
As I said before – and apparently Andy’s mum, Judy, also agrees – I don’t see a player winning both the Olympics and the US Open. It’s a real longshot. It’s a pick one, but not both situation. So maybe for Murray, who’ll have an even bigger, more meaningful Olympics come 2012 when it’s held in his backyard at Wimbledon, probably better to focus on the here and now, and that’s the US Open and worry about the Olympics later.
Plus, if the rains do return to Beijing and the schedule gets pushed back, that’s not going to the help the guys still left in China in terms of their US Open preparation.
So advantage to early losers like Nikolay Davydenko, Murray and even another Andy, Andy Roddick, who bypassed the Olympics to concentrate on his hardcourt game and the US Open, which by the way begins in just 13 days!
Roddick’s prep, however, took a bit of a hit this weekend when the surging Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro really took the wood to the American. I watched the match and was absolutely impressed with just how well JMDP played that first set, crushing Andy 6-1 behind three breaks. Roddick wasn’t at his best perhaps, but credit to JMDP for hanging in there and delivering the knockout punch in the second set tiebreak.
The 19-year-old has won 14 straight matches, and he’ll bring that streak into Washington tonight against American Jesse Levine.
So add Juan Martin’s name to the growing list of young guys that now need to be feared. And as these guys like JMDP, Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Marin Cilic, Marcos Baghdatis, Andy Murray, JW Tsonga, Stan Wawrinka, and the many others, mature and improve, the circuit is going to be that much tougher in the months ahead. As ESPN’s Darren Cahill hinted, this class of 19-22 year-olds we have right now may very well turn out to be the greatest group ever.
Remember the New Balls campaign with Federer, Hewitt, Safin, Kuerten, Roddick, Haas, etc? I think as a group this pack is better. Time will ultimately tell of course.
Back to the Olympics.
Federer now gets a long-awaited revenge match with Tomas Berdych, the man who sent the Swiss packing in the Athens 2004 games. And it’s a big step-up in class from the aforementioned Arevalo, so Fed’s going to have to be on his game to beat the big Bird.
Meanwhile, Nadal now plays Igor Andreev, Djokovic gets Mikhail Youhzny, Blake faces Simon and my darkhorse pick, Nicolas Kiefer, meets Chilean flag bearer Fernando Gonzalez.
So in all we are starting to see some really great match-ups as the big names have come through.
And unlike the earlier rounds, many of these contests are actually worth watching. Unfortunately, at least here in the U.S., I’m at a loss as to when, where and if the Olympic tennis is even televised. And I’m not really taking a shot at NBC for not televising any tennis during their primetime this far, they really shouldn’t. As I’ve said before we get Olympic Tennis every week thanks to the pro circuit, so watching Beijing tennis really is no different than most other events. But I just wish there was some sort of schedule telling me when tennis would be on exactly and on what channel.
And I couldn’t forget to send congratulations to Jelena Jankovic for officially becoming the No. 1 player on the WTA rankings yesterday. Jankovic of course reached that top spot without ever having reached even a Slam final. That can never have happened before.
We sometimes get players without a Slam title getting to No. 1, but not even a Slam final? Simply amazing, and I love it. What a joke women’s tennis is. I just hope Jelena can keep it going by not getting to the US Open final and by finishing the year No. 1. So go Jelena, I’m now your biggest fan unless of course you are in the US Open final four.
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