I flicked onto the men’s singles tennis final today and I could not believe what I was seeing. Roger Federer was losing, and losing badly.
Think back just one month ago to the Wimbledon final, one of the four (five, if you count the ATP finals at the O2) biggest showcases in the tennis calendar. Andy Murray, love him or hate him, was reduced to tears at having come so close in front of such a partisan crowd. The Scot vowed to have a few weeks’ rest before coming back to claim an Olympic medal. What a holiday that must have been, as he emphatically trounced the world number one in straight sets, finally achieving a dream of winning at Wimbledon.
There were no tears this time. Murray climbed onto the middle step of the podium and collected the biggest prize of his career, barely even smiling at his achievement. His attempts at singing the national anthem were comical at best, but you can be sure he was happy with his medal. But would he have been happier had it been a Grand Slam?
The biggest problem with the Olympic tennis tournament is that it’s not the pinnacle of a player’s career. The singles events of the Australian Open, US Open, French Open and, of course, Wimbledon, appear to rank much higher in the eyes of many participants. Others savour their respective doubles competitions, some countries even believe a Davis Cup win is something more special than winning for yourself. Whilst there are some that wish to do their nation proud and add to a “medal haul” by winning at the Olympic Games, there may be others that see it as an unnecessary distraction in their preparation for the next Masters event.
Tennis isn’t the only competition that this train of thought applies to. It’s pretty clear that there are a lot of football tournaments that hold more prestige than an Olympic final – World Cup, continental competitions, UEFA Champion’s League, maybe even the national cup. It suffers from having the daft rule of limiting eligibility to mostly under-23 year olds. The best competition should have the best players, but that would ruin a second string competition like the Euros, wouldn’t it? At least lawn tennis scores a point by featuring the best of the best – when they’re not injured.
So, back to today, and Great Britain completely dominated Switzerland over three sets – much more like a Wimbledon match than the rest of the tournament. Federer looked rusty and appeared dejected when Murray’s determination and skilled shots continued to poke holes in his attempt to win his first Olympic gold. Had it been a Wimbledon final, maybe Federer would have found something in his locker to come back into it. Nevertheless, the British home crowd loved Murray’s efforts and I certainly did. Two aces in the final game signalled an enormous cheer from me – and likely thousands of others sitting at home – as Murray finally fulfilled his potential and won a major competition. What made it more satisfying for me was that it was for his country, in front of a chanting, screaming crowd. As a number of people have (misguidedly) said, “he was British, today”.
Will this victory be well remembered in the years to come? Possibly. I had no idea that Tim Henman was an Olympic silver medallist. When it comes to the Olympics, the 100m winner will be one such athlete that will forever enshrined in people’s minds. Murray will have to come out and win this again to earn that recognition and maybe still won’t ever achieve the acclaim a sub-10 second runner can earn. The problem, again, is that one win of Wimbledon would forever make him a memorable hero. A champion of tennis. Winning gold had simply made him a statistic as part of another fantastic Olympiad for Team GB and tennis hasn’t particularly come out any better as a result.
As always, congratulations to today’s GB medallists. Ben Ainslie has had an amazingly tough week but finally managed to overcome Dane Jonas Hogh-Christensen during the medal race, earning gold. Christine Ohurugou was extremely disappointed to lose her 400m title but she shouldn’t be, silver against a talented field is a success in my book. Despite achieving the same score as the eventual champion in the pommel horse final, Louis Smith was given silver for having a lower execution score for his routine. Both he and Max Whitlock, who won bronze, go home with two medals, a fantastic result for male gymnastics. Laura Robson had a poor final “set” in the mixed doubles of tennis, but both she and Murray blazed through the Belarus opposition early on and will probably be gutted with silver. Finally, Ed Clancy climbed from fifth to third in the cycling Omnium with the time trial, following an iffy scratch race and ensured the British team continue to pour medals into the final total.
“And finally”, I’ve been made to shave off my burgeoning “Bradley Wiggins” sideburns, although I imagine they were nowhere near as well-groomed as the Olympic champion’s. Now, with no bike and no substantial facial hair, I don’t think I’ll ever win the Tour de France…