Indeed, Rafael Nadal fans, go ahead and pop that champagne, can things get any better? Nadal did right on his last day for now as a World No. 2 – he’ll finally take over the No. 1 ranking Monday from Roger Federer – by going out in style with an impressive 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 win over Fernando Gonzalez to capture (then eat) the Olympic gold medal in Beijing earlier today.
I admit, I didn’t see the match at all today – I’m really in the wrong time zone for this tennis event and I honestly didn’t think it would turn out to be a one for the time capsule – but from what I’ve read Rafa did what he does best, that is to go out and take care of business. Nadal fought off two set points in the second set, but otherwise was never broken and untroubled in the match by the Chilean who had wasted Rafa at the Australian Open back in 2007. Not the case today.
At the start of the week, no, make that the start of the summer, I’d say many of us, myself included, didn’t think Rafa could sustain the level, the intensity that we saw from him in wins at the French Open and Wimbledon. I definitely thought we would see him have his best run on hardcourts, but to basically run the table like this? Well, Rafa has proven us wrong yet again winning two of the three summer events he entered including Toronto and now the Olympics. Too good.
And after so much talk that there were so many more players that could derail the Spaniard on a hardcourt, the only guy to actually do it was Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati, and you could make the case that Rafa wasn’t all there for that match on that night.
Nadal has now won 38 of his last 39 matches including the last two Slams and after a three-year chase, Rafa will officially supplant Federer at the top of the new ATP rankings come tomorrow. And with Federer in freefall he’s now the clear favorite to win the US Open which begins a week from Monday (US Open draw is released Wednesday I believe). Can the run continue, can he add to his growing resume which at the age of 22 already includes the Davis Cup, Olympic Gold, French Open, Wimbledon and the No. 1 ranking?
Also today, Russia swept all three medals in the women’s singles. Elena Dementieva took the gold defeating countrywoman Dinara Safina 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 while Vera Zvonareva beat Li Na to win the bronze.
The Williams sisters remained perfect in Olympic play after winning their second doubles gold. Serena and Venus teamed to win the 2000 Sydney doubles gold.
For Federer, however, all wasn’t lost in Beijing after his disappointing loss to James Blake. Fed did manage to finally collect a gold medal of his own, albeit in doubles on Saturday when he and “Stanley” (as Fed calls him) Wawrinka knocked out Bhupathi/Paes, then the Bryans and then Swedes Simon Aspelin and Thomas Johansson in the final medal match. But how satisfying can a doubles gold be compared to Rafa’s singles gold? Or for Roger is it mission accomplished now that he has his gold?
As I’ve said before, I’m still lukewarm on the whole concept of pro tennis being part of the Olympics. The Olympics simply isn’t the pinnacle of achievement for tennis players that it is for athletes in the other sports where the gold medalist instantly becomes world’s best at that discipline. We now know that the world’s best swimmer is Michael Phelps, the world’s best female gymnast is Nastia Lukin and the world’s fastest man is Usain Bolt and so on. But is Dementieva really the world’s best female tennis player?
That said, I think for tennis stars like Federer part of the allure of winning the Olympic gold isn’t necessarily the recognition, the glory that comes with winning it, but it’s the possession of just having it. Just having arguably the world’s most recognizable sporting award in the trophy case is real the drive. Federer and Nadal both have piles and piles of trophies in their homes, but the gold medal is the only one that is instantly identifiable across all continents and all cultures and all races. And credit to them, they now each have it. Who figured that at the start of the week?
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