Picked up Pieces from Olympic Tennis 2012

Few thoughts about the weekend after Andy Murray’s 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 evisceration of Roger Federer:

  1. It is interesting the contrast between the gold medal matches in the men and women’s – although both were fairly profound beatings.  Serena Williams’ 6-0, 6-1 wipeout of Maria Sharapova was – at its heart – a truly great performance.  Some critics on the Twitterverse were all too pleased to dance on Maria’s grave and her performance.  Indeed, I was perplexed how often she was wrongfooted on ad-court serves from Williams.  However, Williams when her serve was on like that is pretty much unstoppable.  Williams’ biggest weakness can be spraying shots since she goes for so much – but that requires getting balls back and it requires Williams missing.  Yesterday, neither happened – and so we have a blowout.  Could some other woman have provided a better challenge?  Really, whomever was across from Serena was the Washington Generals yesterday.  Honestly, Maria Sharapova should be proud – she won HER tournament, Serena was out there doing something else.
  2. Serena is not the greatest player of all time, though her best is clearly THE best the women’s game has seen.  But, like Andre Agassi, tennis’ importance in her psyche has fluctuated wildly. (of course Agassi was tortured by tennis, and Serena fluctuations seemed more voluntary but whatever) As a result much of the bulk that an all time career has is missing – nothing like Pete Sampras’ 6 straight year-end #1, nothing like Federer’s 287 weeks at the top.  But the majors are there obviously, and like Agassi, the lack of punishment she has taken due to the oscillating motivation level in her career leaves her far better equipped than her peers to be a truly successful 31 year old.  One envisions a Navratilova-Rosewall-Agassi level third act – and the early evidence is pretty special.
  3. On the other hand, the Murray victory was really about a truly horrible performance from Roger Federer.  Whether he was pressing – which is certainly something he has done before – or whether he had trouble with the wind, or the Davis Cup level opposing crowd, Federer played a pretty horrible match.  The last time he was blown out in such a spot was by Nadal in the 2008 French Open final – and that game was Nadal having an ethereal day.  This performance was really about his ineptitude.
  4. That said, Murray was excellent, a little better than he was in his inspired run at Wimbledon a few weeks earlier.  Whether this is a culmination of a career or a breakthrough is a bit hard to say.  This is still not a major – and Murray has won events approximately as “big” as the Olympics before with his numerous “1000 Series” wins.  Hell, he is now 9-8 lifetime against Federer.  That said, tennis being what it is in terms of profile – clearly this is the most visible great performance he has strung together.
  5. It is easy to be happy for Murray – as he has suffered far too much criticism as not being up for the moment and other such convenient announcers cliches.  His career in a lot of ways is rather criminally underrated.  This is a guy who has gotten to #2 in the world, has won more worldwide titles than Patrick Rafter and Gustavo Kuerten, has a career winning record against Roger Federer.  His real crime was being born into an era where two all time greats have rode roughshod over the competition – and a third’s all time great credentials are still being written.  Is there any doubt Murray would have won a major or three in the pre-Fed/Nadal era?  This is not a choker, jut a guy who is excellent without being all time great.
  6. For Federer it continues one of the greatest, yet simultaneously most curious careers of all time.  The majors and wins are beyond reproach.  He is the greatest talent to have played the game, and his week to week professionalism is the best ever.  Like Pete Sampras, Federer IS a true professional tennis player, and has churned out results with metronomic efficiency.  His streak of slam quarterfinals is amazing – and he almost never has bad losses.  However, we remember amazing shotmaking, amazing consistency.  But his career is also notable for a general lack of – well, mental toughness misstates it – examples of really digging deep.  His wins over Djokovic in the 2011 French and 2012 Wimbledon as notable exceptions, but by contrast, Serena Williams would have been much better equipped to turn that match around today.  Against similarly caliber players, Federer has shown to be a frontrunner of sorts, and clawing is not something where there are many examples – no Pete Sampras vomit game, no Sampras sobbing match, no Jordan flu game.  On the other hand, kicking away leads against Del Potro, Djokovic, being utterly unable to figure out Nadal after all of these years (and indeed in some matches looking thoroughly spooked) have all littered his resume.  He is the greatest player of all time – but without a lot of the anecdotes that the greatest player delivers.  It is not a knock, just a peculiar quirk.

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