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Wimbledon: 25 June - 8 July 2012

What we learned from the Olympic tennis at Wimbledon

Centre Court on finals day
by Alexandra Willis
Tuesday 7 August 2012

The advent of the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon was greeted with trepidation, excitement, and nervousness, as London 2012 moved into the All England Club grounds on the day after The Championships. Setting about turning the Club's reserved and revered green and purple into a sea of pink, Coca Cola stands and Cadbury's treat huts, manned by an army of epaulettes-wearing volunteers, and the real army too, Wimbledon prepared to embrace the world in a very different way. 

Nine days, five events, and 20 medals shared between 15 medallists, Locog are setting about packing everything up, and restoring Wimbledon to its post-Championships oasis of calm. 

Tennis does belong at the Olympics

From Sharapova getting mobbed at the Olympic village, to Serena and Venus glued to the archery and gymnastics, to Ryan Lochte tweeting about Serena, to the Brits staying in the Olympic village... it is fair to say that for tennis players, being part of London 2012 is something they'll never forget. The hullabaloo surrounding pin-trading told you all you needed to know about how much players enjoyed the Olympic experience. 

And as for the weight of their results? The fact that the three Grand Slam champions of 2012 scooped the women's singles medals, the men's semi-finals featured three of the top four, the men's and women's doubles were won by two of the most dominant doubles partnerships in history, and the mixed doubles by former mixed doubles Grand Slam champions, proves that the Olympic tennis was by no means a lightweight event. 

7.9million viewers watched the women's final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the USA, 10million watched the men's final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer on the BBC. The numbers speak for themselves. 

But perhaps most importantly, was the way the fans who came to Wimbledon embraced the occasion. Yes, there were crying babies, but there were also flags, team tracksuits, chants, and an atmosphere the like of which you could only have during an Olympics. 

"The atmosphere in all of the stadiums, when everyone's won gold medals in all of the sports, everyone's just been so happy and pumped. I'm just glad I've been able to contribute to that," Murray said. 

"That's one of the reasons why the Olympics is so great.  Everybody gets into it. Everybody gets into sports that they maybe never have watched before, never seen. You know, I'm no different."

Andy Murray has arrived

Will this be Andy Murray's Djokovic Davis Cup moment? The 2012 Wimbledon finalist played three sets of impeccable tennis to beat Roger Federer for the first time in a major best-of-five-set final to win the gold medal, dubbing it 'the biggest win of his career.' And rightly so. Murray was relaxed, yet focused, throughout the nine days of the Olympics tennis. It will be exciting to see what he does next. 

To scoop not just the gold, but also silver in the mixed doubles, that was very nearly a second gold, was a happy bonus.

All England Club Chairman, Philip Brook, conveyed his congratulations:

“It has been wonderful having the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon and being a host venue for London 2012.   We have seen some brilliant tennis over the week and none more so than Andy Murray’s remarkable performance to win the Gold medal. To win against one of the all time great champions on Centre Court in front of a home crowd will be remembered as one of the iconic moments of these Olypmics.

“It was a fantastic achievement for him and a result which, in addition to  winning the Silver medal with Laura Robson in the very exciting Mixed Doubles, made for a memorable final day for British tennis. 

“On behalf of the All England Club I offer our warmest congratulations to Andy, Laura and Team GB.”

Saluting Serena Williams

There seems to be no end to what Serena Williams can do. Seven matches in a row to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish was one thing. Flying thousands of miles to honour her commitment to play in Stanford, winning four matches and the title on hard courts, was another. Flying back again to Wimbledon and winning six matches and the gold medal, was yet another. 

That Serena, at the age of almost 31, could string together 17 straight wins and three titles in the aftermath of suffering her first ever Grand Slam first-round defeat at Roland Garros, shows that there is no end to what this woman wants to achieve. She was even annoyed that she dropped the one game against Maria Sharapova in the final. Astonishing. What next? We can but wonder. 

And Venus too   

Credit must also be lavished on Venus Williams, for whom it looked like the Olympics would be a sure impossibility when her Sjogren's Syndrome had her languishing at No.141 in the rankings in March, a fair distance from the top 56 cut-off. But she gritted and grinded her way up the rankings, a quarter-final in Rome on clay, her least favourite surface, the one that tipped her inside the field. To then reach the third round of the singles, and tear through the doubles alongside Serena, was nothing short of extraordinary. And, she was far from carried by her younger sister, who leaned her head on her older sister's shoulder during the medal ceremony.

Serena put it perfectly. "Maybe they'll hit all the balls to Venus and I'll relax. That's the mistake." 

Between them, the duo now hold 21 Grand Slam singles titles, 17 Grand Slam doubles titles (13 women's doubles and two mixed doubles each), and five Olympic gold medals (three doubles and a singles each). Quite something.

Is Federer showing his age?

Roger Federer is still missing Olympic singles gold from his trophy cabinet. It's the one thing he hasn't got. So any suggestion that he didn't want to win the final with every ounce of his being has to be well wide of the mark. But, to the viewer, it seemed like Federer simply didn't have the legs to mount his usual comeback and regain control of a match, as he had done against Murray in the Wimbledon final a month before. At the age of almost 31, playing eight matches in nine days, including the epic against Del Potro, that anyone would have struggled with, had to have had an effect. Would anyone else have been able to do what he had done? Probably not.

The great man says he wants to play Rio in 2016, even if it means coming out of retirement to do so. 

Of course, he is still the Wimbledon champion, and can never, ever be counted out. 

Not forgetting the Bryan brothers

While marvelling at the Williams sisters, we must salute the Bryan brothers, who completed their career golden Grand Slam by taking Olympic gold in the men's doubles. The BryBros, who won the Wimbledon title as well, dropped just one set on their path to the title, against Thomaz Bellucci and Andre Sa in their first match, and seemed to be powered by the force of their convictions to win gold. 

As a side note, to have two sibling combinations from the same country win gold at an event can't happen very often, surely?

Magical mixed but champions' tie-breaks are not good for the nails

The mixed doubles, returning to the Olympic tennis for the first time in 88 years, was almost the most hotly-debated part of the build up to the event at Wimbledon. With nationality in the mix, and medals on the line, who would pair up with who? Being only a 16-man draw, the spots were limited, with only three countries afforded two spots - USA, Germany, and Italy, some of the pairs regular doubles players with mixed doubles pedigree, and some singles players who fancied some extra tennis.

If the draw had been bigger, there would bound to have been more celebrity combinations. But almost the fact that it was smaller gave the draw more weight. It was a more sought-after, and thus intensely competitive, event. 

The only thing was the deciding champions' tie-break, which really did mean that gold, silver and bronze came down to one or two points, as Murray and Robson found to their gain, and to their cost, in their four matches. 

It will be interesting to see what the ITF decide to do with the mixed in 2016. 

Let there be colour

Wimbledon, of course, is not a place where coloured kit belongs, the Club practising a 'predominantly all-white rule' both during The Championships and outside of it. The rule is relaxed for the practice courts at Aorangi during The Championships, the reasoning being that players probably don't possess that much white kit outside of their match kit.

But at these Olympics, the rules were flipped. Colours were allowed on the Championship courts, and not at Aorangi, as a few members hitting on the courts there found to their cost. No pink shoes please, Ana Ivanovic.

At first, seeing bright gold and green, and bright blue and red, in the Wimbledon oasis looked very odd. But then, set against Locog's bright pink (or purple) canvasses, the whole thing was colourful. And thus all the more different. Which was a good thing. 

Don't expect the AELTC to let colours back into The Championships though.

Farewell to Kim, Lleyton, and Fran?

There were three players who will definitely, probably and maybe not be back at Wimbledon in competitive action again. Kim Clijsters, we know for certain, has played her last competitive match on the All England Club grass, and acquitted herself with aplomb in her run to the quarter-finals of the Olympic tennis event. Lleyton Hewitt, who will amaze many if he is still competing next year, put up a similarly dogged fight to reach the third round, before the level of his opponents became just too good - Novak Djokovic - and Francesca Schiavone, who is still battling away and could well be in 2013, bowed out in the second round.

Mixed zone the way of the future?

The infamous Mixed Zone, the post-match/game/ride/run press that all Olympic athletes have to go through according to IOC regulations, has its critics, but it was received favourably by the tennis fraternity this week, the players taken straight from the court to do their broadcast and written press interviews, all in a row. It might not work for written press on a tournament basis, there still being a need for longer press conferences, and crucially, transcripts, but you could start to see more of it in a broadcast capacity. 

Well-deserved rest

For Centre Court. The most famous patch of grass in the world, which was brought back to life in less than three weeks from the end of The Championships to the opening day of the Games, has more than earned its summer holiday break. The pre-germinated seed did what was necessary to keep the court fresh for as long as it possibly could, but just a few days in, it was back to its post-Championships state, looking increasingly bald as the days went on. It is unlikely to have to handle so much tennis, in such a short time, ever again. At least not in our lifetimes. It deserves a medal all of its own. 

The London 2012 Olympic tennis took place at Wimbledon. Visit the ITF Olympics site for full scores, draws and the London 2012 site for video content, venue and schedule information.


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