By Randy Walker
Olympic tennis at Wimbledon has not disappointed.
Two dream Olympic gold medal matches are on tap this weekend as Serena Williams of United States will take on Maria Sharapova of Russia for gold in women’s singles Saturday, while Roger Federer of Switzerland will face Britain’s Andy Murray for men’s singles gold on Sunday.
Williams continued her dominant play on the grass courts of the All England Club defeating world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 Friday, advancing into the gold medal match, losing only 16 games in five matches. Sharapova, playing in her first Olympics, beat fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-3 in the other semifinal. Murray ensured Britain’s first Olympic tennis medal since Tim Henman and Neil Broad won silver in men’s doubles in 1996 with his 7-5, 7-5 defeat of No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic. Federer edged Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17 in four hours, 26 minutes in the other men’s semifinal, documented here: http://www.worldtennismagazine.com/archives/7566
While the Williams-Sharapova match may be the gold medal match-up featuring the two most famous female athletes on the planet – both of whom are seeking the historic distinction of winning a “Career Golden Grand Slam” – it was the men’s event that stole the spotlight Friday with the two dramatic semifinal matches.
Murray caused pandemonium among his home-nation crowd by beating the No. 2-seeded Djokovic, setting up a re-match of the Wimbledon men’s singles final from last month against Federer. Murray was the first Brit in 74 years to play in the Wimbledon men’s singles final, but lost in four tough sets to Federer, who won his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title and record enhancing 17th major singles title. Murray received enormous attention in that loss for the tears of disappointment he shed during the post-match ceremony.
While Murray was trying to end the tremendous drought of a British men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, the number of years since a Brit last won Olympic gold in men’s singles is even greater. It was in 1908 also at a London-hosted Games when Britain last won Olympic gold in men’s singles when Josiah Ritchie won men’s singles gold at the All England Club, but at the old Worple Road facility that hosted The Championships until 1922. In 1908, an indoor tennis event was also held at the London Games, held many weeks earlier than the outdoor event. That was also won by a Brit, Arthur Gore, in an competition played indoors at the Queen’s Club in downtown London.
In the midst of the post-match British pandemonium and celebration, Murray told John McEnroe on BRAVO TV in the United States that his win over Djokovic was “probably the most emotional match I have ever played” and labeled the spirit and enthusiasm of the British crowd at Wimbledon “more like a rock concert than a tennis match.” When asked to focus on the task at hand – beating Federer for Olympic gold – Murray said to McEnroe, “I want to beat him this time. That’s the plan.”
Murray did not drop his serve in the entire match against Djokovic and broke once in each set in the 12th game.
In the women’s final, whoever wins between Williams and Sharapova Saturday will join Steffi Graf as the only woman to complete a “Career Golden Grand Slam” – winning all four major singles titles and the Olympics in a career. Steffi Graf, of course, achieved that all in one year, in 1988, capping her Grand Slam with her gold medal run in Seoul. Sharapova has won each major title once and completed a her career Grand Slam when she won the French Open in June. If she defeats Williams on Saturday, she will also regain the No. 1 ranking from Azarenka.
“It’s been amazing to achieve what I have achieved,” said Sharapova, who missed the 2008 Olympics due to a serious shoulder injury that threatened her career. “Obviously growing up you have big dreams and hopes of winning your certain favorite tournaments. I’ve been fortunate to win all the Grand Slams, and obviously this is my first Olympics, so I’m just thrilled to be in the final.”
Williams owns two gold medals in women’s doubles from the 2000 and 2008 Games, won with her sister Venus, but this is the first year she will win a singles medal. She has also won 14 major singles championships, the most of any active woman, including her fifth Wimbledon singles a month ago.
“I’m just enjoying myself,” Williams said. “It’s just a great vibe to have the USA fans and all the other countries’ fans that come out and root really, really hard. It’s an unbelievable experience.”
Williams had 16 aces against Azarenka and just five unforced errors.
“When you’re playing the best player in the world, you’ve got to play well,” Williams said. “I felt like I had nothing to lose — just going for it.”
Sharapova had a 35-7 advantage in winners over Kirilenko but still had to rally in the second set, sweeping the final four games.
“Obviously it’s tough to play a Russian on the other side of the net, but I’m happy that one of us can go for gold,” Sharapova said. “It’s incredible, not only to be a part of this event and be an Olympian, but to put yourself in with an opportunity to go for gold. It’s a really nice feeling.”
Azarenka will play Kirilenko for the bronze Saturday. Djokovic will play del Potro on Sunday for the bronze. Djokovic won the bronze in 2008.
In men’s doubles, the No. 1 seeded Bryan brothers – Bob and Mike – from the United States will play for gold against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra – the French team advancing into the gold medal match with a dramatic 6-3, 4-6, 18-16 win over Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer. Ferrer and Lopez will play for bronze against France’s Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau, who lost to the Bryans 6-4, 6-4.
In women’s doubles, top seeds Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber of the United States were defeated by the Czech team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The Czechs may face Serena Williams and Venus Williams in the gold medal match in a rematch of the Wimbledon women’s doubles final, but the Williams sisters semifinal match against Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova of Russia was postponed due to the schedule delay due to the length of the Federer-del Potro final.
To read more about the history of Olympic tennis, records, results and anecdotes, download this Amazon.com Kindle ebook “Olympic Tennis: An Historical Snapshot” here: http://www.amazon.com/Olympic-Tennis-Historical-Snapshot-ebook/dp/B008EOXW40/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344028748&sr=8-1&keywords=Olympic+Tennis+Randy+Walker