What a crazy day at the Beijing Olympic Tennis event Thursday. Have Roger Federer, Serena and Venus Williams ever all lost on the same day before? That has to be some sort of a first. Federer, of course, suffered one of the worst defeats of his career, getting turned away from probably his last realistic shot at Olympic Gold by James Blake 6-4, 7-6.
Serena was stunned by Russian Elena Dementieva 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 and sister Venus was shown the exits by Li Na of China 7-5, 7-5.
Avoiding the upset bug once the rains cleared were soon-to-be No. 1 Rafael Nadal, a 6-0, 6-4 victor over Jurgen Melzer, Novak Djokovic, who worked hard to beat Gael Monfils 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and Fernando Gonzalez, who outgunned Frenchman Paul Mathieu 6-4, 6-4.
So the semifinals on the men’s side are set for Friday with Nadal v. Djokovic and Blake v. Gonzalez. Without getting too much into the nuts and the bolts of each match, I like Nadal to beat the Serb and maybe I’ll lean to James against Gonzo.
Nadal of course lost to Novak just a few weeks ago in the Cincinnati semifinals. But maybe Rafa was tired and maybe, having just completed a three-year journey by clinching No. 1 ranking the night before, he took his foot off the pedal ever so slightly. Today or tonight, I think he comes out guns-blazing and I think he gets through Novak, who might be feeling some fatigue after a three-setter Thursday vs. Monfils. Rafa leads the head-to-head 9-4, but Novak’s won four of six on hardcourts so this won’t be easy for either guy.
The earlier, 4pm local time semi is a real toss-up between two guys who can run hot and cold. Gonzalez has owned Blake, just like Federer did, and usually when I put my chips on James that’s when he does me wrong. But in this case I’ll ride the American medal wave – I believe the U.S. is still in front in the medal count, especially after Michael Phelps won again today – and go with him to get to the final.
As for Federer, things really have gone from bad to worse for the Swiss as his game and his confidence have basically done an swan dive off a cliff this year on the hardcourts, a surface he use to absolutely dominate. Yet now Roger’s struggling just to get wins, against anyone on the pavement!
One thing losing to up-and-comers like Gilles Simon, Andy Murray and of course Rafa and Novak, but that’s just not the case. Fed’s losing to guys older than him (Blake, Karlovic) and to guys he use to flat-out destroy like Americans Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and Blake.
I can only imaging he’ll be like fresh meat to opponents come US Open time in 10 days or so. That aura is long gone, at least on hardcourts it is. Maybe Roger should stick to claycourt events, start playing Kitzbuhel, get back to Gstaad. Who knows.
Full credit to Blake, though, for hanging in there and not caving in against a guy he was 0-8 against lifetime. James surrendered an early second set break and the dam could have easily broken at that point, but it didn’t. He held it together, played just enough defense and got what was arguably the biggest win of his career. Good for him.
While Fed might never, ever land an Olympic singles medal now – he’ll be 31-ish come the 2012 London Games assuming he’s still playing – he does still have a crack at doubles Gold this week with countryman Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss team will complete their match with the Indian dynamic duo Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in the doubles quarterfinal. The match was suspended at 1-1.
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