Fancy Chances

Olympic Games, Day Six

The four semifinalists of the Olympic tennis event have been decided, following a day of men’s quarterfinals almost entirely devoid of drama. None of the four matches extended into a third hour, or a deciding set, and only two of those sets reached tiebreaks. The four semifinalists are Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Juan Martin del Potro. If doubts lingerover the validity of tennis as an Olympic event, this line-up has hopefully helps to allay them. Or perhaps it’s fairer to assert the obverse, that the Olympics works well as a tennis tournament. So far the Olympic tennis event has looked and felt rather like a Masters event, which is gratifying for those of us who fervently believe one of those should be played on grass.

Three of these men will leave London with a satisfyingly dense alloy medallion (mostly silver, some copper), and one of them won’t. Given the surface (green) and the company (red, white and blue), it is difficult to imagine that del Potro will number among those eventually mounting the medal podium, although I assume he has the means to install a private one at his house for re-enactment purposes, although that might be a little weird, especially for house-guests. He plays Federer in the first of tomorrow’s semifinals. This will be their first [edit: second] meeting on grass. One must fancy Federer’s chances, especially since it will be their sixth encounter this year, and the Argentine has yet to win one. Federer has been victorious on slow hardcourts in Melbourne and Indian Wells, faster hardcourts indoors in Rotterdam and outdoors in Dubai, and on clay at Roland Garros.† These victories have testified mostly to the world No.1’s peerless variety and unwavering determination to force del Potro out of position, detain him there indefinitely, and then subject him to stern questioning. No surface rewards this style more than grass. Expect to see large feet wronged and balls sliced, often low and short to the backhand. Del Potro’s best chance, as ever, will be to hit everything very hard.

The other semifinal, between Murray and Djokovic, is tougher to read. Murray has successfully navigated a draw that appeared quite frenzied when it first tore free from its hander’s grasp, but has grown decidedly more sedate as it caromed through the London streets. He defeated Nicolas Almagro in today’s quarterfinal, a man whose proven inability to perform on either grass or big occasions was exacerbated by a right shoulder reportedly dangling by a sinewy thread. As quarterfinals go, it might have been much worse: Murray might have faced a rested and dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. This is a sentiment that Djokovic hopefully shared, as he saw off a tired and frustrated Tsonga without too much incident. Both Murray and Djokovic have been inconsistent this week, skittishly veering between majestic calm and wide-eyed panic from round to round, or even set to set, although they’ve finished well even on the bad days. I will pick Murray to win their semifinal, but I have no good reason to do so, beyond a nebulous sense that home turf will once more prove more helpful than not. Don’t make me defend this choice, because I cannot.

Djokovic will beat del Potro for the bronze. Murray will beat Federer for the gold. There you go, British readers. I hope you’re happy. Now toddle along! Alright, have the Brits gone? Ok then.

Federer will win.

†The French Open also featured a fairly healthy dose of luck. Whether bad or good is a question of perspective.

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