The desire of tennis players to win Gold at the Olympic Games has never been as strong as it is right now, not least because of the tournament being played on the hallowed courts of The All-England Club. With the unfortunate exception of the injured Rafael Nadal, all of the world’s top players head to South-West London this week in search of what is deemed by sport, if not tennis, fans as the ultimate prize; an Olympic Gold medal.
Many feel that Roger Federer has played on so long for the sole reason of dreaming of winning Olympic Gold on his Centre Court. His recent triumph on that court ensures he will continue to gun for further Slams for at least another year or two. His dual aims of winning another major and regaining the Number 1 ranking have been achieved after some personal sacrifices. Quite what this will do for his career remains to be seen, but the lifting of self-imposed pressure could lead to Fedex having an Indian summer in the most unbelievable of careers.
Andy Murray has to now believe that he can win on the grass of Wimbledon. I always sensed with Andy that he didn’t truly believe that his breakthrough win would come in his home Slam. His run to the final three weeks ago must surely give him the confidence to go on to great things there in the future. The smart money may yet be on the man from Dunblane winning Gold on home soil.
What of the world number 1? For the first time in two years, Novak Djokovic has gone two majors without winning one. He will want to prove that he is still top dog and the proud Serb would love nothing more than to do that by winning sport’s top prize whilst wearing his country’s colours. I have thought all summer long that Murray, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer would each take one of the four big summer prizes. Nadal reigned supreme in Paris, King Roger returned to rule Wimbledon so I believe it is left to Murray and Djokovic to squabble over the Games and the US Open.
Does anybody else have a realistic of striking Gold? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cannot be ruled out – his semi-final appearances in the last two Wimbledons prove that he is capable of majestic grass-court play. He also has the power to blow away any of the top 3 candidates on any given day. If he gets a favourable draw, he is more than capable of ensuring the ‘Tricolore’ is raised above the lawns of the All-England Club at the end of the Games. My other outside chance may surprise many. I have never been this man’s biggest fan, and his best days are undoubtedly behind him but something is drawing me to Andy Roddick. There are not many who are prouder to represent their country than the big-serving American yet, in his heart of hearts, he knows he is no longer capable of posing a credible threat over the course of a fortnight of 5-set matches. But you would be foolish to count him out over 3 sets against most of the world’s players, such is the power of his serve even at this stage of his career. Yes, don’t discount A-Rod going deep into the tournament and he would prove to be a popular champion at the All-England Club, even if he wasn’t wearing the all-white of a Wimbledon tournament.
On the women’s side, it is hard to see beyond Serena Williams following up her brilliant Wimbledon title by adding singles Gold to her glittering career. It had been a long road back to full recovery and redemption for Serena, but finally two years of illness horror and shocking tantrums came to a happy conclusion when the natural order was restored 3 Sundays ago with the surname Williams being engraved back onto the Venus Rosewater Dish. Serena is back and wants to play and you get the sense that the others are playing for scraps as long as she remains serious in her ambitions. It would be foolish to back against Serena next week, but which other players will believe they have a genuine shot?
Maria Sharapova still sees Wimbledon as home but Sabine Lisicki’s straight-sets destruction of her a month ago serves to show that Maria is not infallible on the lush green courts. And this goes for a lot of the women’s game right now; the top 20 are all capable of beating 18 of the other 19 on their day. Quite whether Maria would be a popular winner would remain to be seen, such was her lack of determination to play Fed Cup until recently, when she was only prompted into doing so by having to prove her eligibility to compete in the Games.
The Wimbledon finalist Agi Radwanska won many fans with her diverse play during the Wimbledon fortnight, if not for her personality. She has a sound tactical brain but you sense that the Wimbledon final may prove to be the highlight of her career, even at this relatively early stage. Look out for her and little sister Urszula to make an impact in the doubles event however.
Vika Azarenka was points away from cracking the Serena nut in the semi-finals last month and will think that she is the one with a genuine chance of ousting the younger Williams sister. Her tenacity and refusal to admit defeat will take her a long way in this tournament, and no doubt she will look to impress whilst wearing her country’s colours being the strong patriot that she is. Petra Kvitova still has the game to win on the grass and, with the heavy burden of defending champion being lifted from her shoulders, she can go on to prove she is has the potential to be the greatest grass-court player of this new generation.
A few words on two players with little chance of winning Olympic singles Gold; Venus Williams has been a great player for well over a decade and it was great to see her contribution to tennis rewarded when she was asked to carry the Olympic torch through the grounds of The All-England Club last week. A career that has known no bounds ticked off another marvellous achievement. In addition, Elena Baltacha will fulfil a career-long dream next week when she represents Great Britain in the London Games having also earlier carried the Torch. Elena is a player who has made herself available for selection for Fed Cup duty at all points in her career. She has fought back from a series of career-threatening illnesses and has fulfilled every bit of potential in her career. I finally got the chance to see her play live last month and what a honour it was. Sadly for her, her career has never been about going deep in Grand Slams but to watch her fight like a lioness for every single point is a wonderful experience. Enjoy every second, Bally!