2012 proved to be a very special year for tennis at the Summer Olympics. One of the reasons was location. Performed at the All England Club, the heart and soul of grass-court tennis, the on-court performances seemed second to none.
Most agree that since 1988, the quality of tennis performances at the Summer Olympics has increased dramatically.
At this year's Summer Games, some of the best and most heart-stopping tennis matches were played on the main stages to the delight of audiences around the world.
Following are the top 10 Olympic performances by individual players and teams. These brought tennis fans and players to their feet in appreciation.
Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares of Brazil vs. Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 1-6, 6-4, 24-22
Brazil won in four hours, 21 minutes in edge-of-your seat action!
In the second round, the Czech team of Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych, seeded fifth in men’s doubles, faced the the team from Brazil, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.
The Czech team shot out to an early lead, winning the opening set 6-1.
Things did not look good for the Brazilians, but they finally settled into the match, winning the second set 6-4.
With each team winning one set, it was on to the pivotal third set.
The two teams skirmished until they reached 18-18 when the match was called on account of darkness. It was no longer possible to follow the ball from court to court. Disgruntled fans left the grounds.
The next day the match resumed, with the crowd once again fully invested in the match.
At 22-22, the Brazilians finally broke the Czech's serve. Then they managed to serve it out to secure a victory 1-6, 6-4, 24-22, allowing Melo and Soares to advance to the next round to face the French team of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The match set a record as the longest three-set Olympic match for number of games played at 63. The third set also set its own record, lasting three hours and 11 minutes with 46 games played.
But the fervor in men's doubles continued—stayed tuned to Part 2...
(14) Maria Kirilenko of Russia
No. 14-seeded Maria Kirilenko of Russia, who had an amazing run to the quarterfinals at the Wimbledon Championships, pulled together another fabulous show for the 2012 Olympics held at the All England Club.
After eliminating Mariana Duque-Marino, Heather Watson and Julia Goerges on her way through the draw, Kirilenko took out 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 7-6, 6-3. She was definitely on a roll—seemingly unstoppable in women's singles competition.
The win allowed Kirilenko to advance to the semifinals where she would meet fellow Russian Maria Sharapova.
Steady nerves and rock-solid ground strokes saved the Russian on critical points in her match with Kvitova. Kirilenko, however, would not fare so well against Sharapova. That match unfolded neatly for the No. 2 seed, who did not waver in her quest to medal at the Olympics.
She lost to Sharpova 6-2, 6-3. That meant Kirilenko had to battle for a bronze medal against the world No. 1, Victoria Azarenka.
Seeing her fortunes sinking, the Russian also lost the consolation match, ending her fabulous run and without a medal to show for her efforts.
But hope was not dead for this "also-ran."
Kirilenko also competed alongside doubles partner Nadia Petrova in the women's doubles semifinals against the Williams sisters for a chance to advance to the gold-medal match.
This was a battle the Russians would lose 7-5, 6-4, leaving Kirilenko once more to battle for bronze against the USA’s Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber.
In typical Hollywood fashion, however, the Russians won 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, allowing Kirilenko to climb the podium to win a bronze medal at long last.
(4) David Ferrer of Spain
Sometimes you just cannot fight the elements and tournament officials, too.
No. 4 seed David Ferrer had been playing lights-out tennis earlier this summer.
In the third round, Ferrer faced the No. 15 seed, Kei Nishikori of Japan. Most expected Ferrer to advance without too much difficulty to the quarterfinals.
But in a stunning turn of events, Ferrer lost the opening set on Court 14, 0-6. That was a very unusual result for the man who never quits on a point.
But, steeling his resolve, Ferrer fought back to take the second set 6-3. It seemed he had regained his equilibrium.
In a somewhat questionable call, officials stopped play at 5-4 in the third and last set, citing concerns over the fading light.
The match was then moved to Centre Court under the lights.
In this encore game on center stage, as play resumed, Ferrer was immediately under pressure serving.
Nishikori took advantage, burrowing down to get five points, breaking Ferrer and winning the match.
Something in this win just did not sit right as the Spaniard was eliminated from competition.
(5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Milos Raonic, Round 2, Court 1
During the second round on Court 1, the match between No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the hard-serving Milos Raonic got underway. The Canadian, unseeded at the 2012 Olympics, was ranked No. 23.
This match set the bar for all the action that followed at the 2012 Games. It became one of the most significant in tennis Olympic history when it ended with a score of 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in just a little under four hours.
Tsonga emerged the winner in the longest three-set match in Olympic history, but only until later that week, in fact. The final set extended for 48 games, which remains a record.
The Frenchman led early. The No. 5 seed broke Raonic’s serve out of the gate. For a while it appeared Tsonga would nullify the serve of the 6'5" Canadian, as he took a 3-0 lead.
Although Raonic fought back, Tsonga held on, winning the first set 6-3.
In the second set, the roles reversed and it was Raonic who broke Tsonga’s serve and extended his advantage to 3-0. The Canadian also served it out to win the second set 6-3.
Rain, however, interrupted play almost immediately as the third set got underway, and the two men left the court waiting for the rain to stop.
When play resumed, the third set lasted almost three hours with hardly a break point attainable on either side of the net.
Finally, at 24-23, Raonic fell behind 0-40 on his own serve. This time he could not come back from that deficit.
Tsonga won his last point with a drop shot that remained beyond the reach of Raonic, who finally fell after fighting for so long.
Needless to say, Tsonga was jubilant, leaping into the air at the conclusion of the match, grateful for the win and grateful for the record-setting match.
It kept the fans riveted in their seats, waiting until the end...
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra vs. David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 4-6, 18-16.
This seemed to be the year for men’s doubles, as the ongoing competition sent up very competitive matches which thrilled and delighted fans who watched.
Very often, doubles matches get little or no attention; but at this year's Summer Games, these contests drew rave reviews.
Another record-setting performance was turned in by the French team of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra, who opposed the Spanish team of David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez on Court 1.
The match turned into another epic battle.
With one break of serve, the Frenchmen took the first set 6-3. Then, with a single break of serve, the men from Spain capitalized, winning the second set 6-4.
The third set was a different story altogether, as the two teams fought tooth and nail for two hours and 23 minutes.
Lopez and Ferrer jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third, but the Frenchmen battled back to level the set. Each team held match points as the advantage seesawed back and forth throughout the long third set.
Finally, the French team broke through and won the last set 18-16, sending themselves into the final match where they would face the Bryan brothers. This guaranteed Llodra and Tsonga a medal.
Ultimately, the Frenchmen came away with a silver medal.
(4) David Ferrer of Spain
When Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Olympics, hard-working and, of late, very successful David Ferrer of Spain was granted the No. 4 seed.
Ferrer’s run deep into tournaments was paying dividends as his ranking continued to climb. He even did well on grass in 2012, including the courts at Wimbledon.
Previously at the All England Club, the Spaniard advanced to the quarterfinals, losing to Andy Murray, the eventual Wimbledon finalist.
At the Summer Games played on the same grass courts, many expected Ferrer to advance at least that far in the draw. But Ferrer was unexpectedly upset in the third round by the No. 15 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.
That left Ferrer no chance to medal in men’s singles.
Feliciano Lopez also went out in the third round in men's singles to Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6, 6-4.
But, both Spaniards were still alive in men’s doubles.
After taking out the experienced team of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski from Poland 7-6, 6-7, 8-6, the Spaniards next eliminated Austrians Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya 6-3, 3-6, 11-9.
Nothing in doubles was coming easy for the Spaniards so far.
In the quarterfinals, Lopez and Ferrer finally won a reasonable match without too much drama over Croats Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4.
In the semifinals, Ferrer and Lopez went all out in a losing effort against the French team of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-3, 4-6, 18-16.
That meant that in order to medal, Lopez and Ferrer had to win the bronze-medal match against another French team—Julian Benneteau and Richard Gasquet.
With nothing left in the tank, the Spaniards fell short again, losing 7-6, 6-2.
After all the hours of play and the pain of losing close matches, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez came home empty-handed.
Not a nice ending for the Spaniard—for either Spaniard, as far as that goes...
(4) Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram in the second round.
The Swiss team came into men's doubles competition recalling the glory of four years ago when Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka won a gold medal.
It was a magical run—one worthy of the mountain of accolades that greeted them after their big win.
In 2012, the Swiss duo were back to defend their championship run of 2008.
But, they would exit stage left at the end of Round 2 when the Israeli team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram dismissed them 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 to advance to the next round and the Bryan Brothers.
Erlich and Ram played the "spoiler" role to perfection.
The Swiss team shot out to an early lead, winning the first set 6-1. That seemed easy enough. But the second set proved to be more difficult, as the Swiss held to a tie break. Federer and Wawrinka lost a critical point to give the Israelis the second set.
The Swiss had their chances to win the second set but did not capitalize. Now the pair found themselves embroiled in set No. 3.
With one break of serve, Ram and Erlich took the final set 6-3, and the two Swiss defending champions were sent home, this year empty-handed in men’s doubles.
(1) Victoria Azarenka of Belarus
Working her way through to the women’s semifinal match, determined Victoria Azarenka fell to the eventual champion Serena Williams, losing 6-1, 6-2.
That meant in order to medal in women’s singles, Azarenka, the No. 1 seed, would have to win the consolation match to walk away with a bronze medal.
She met Maria Kirilenko in that match, defeating her 6-3, 6-4 to win her first Olympic medal—a bronze in women’s singles.
But, all was not over.
There was a second chance for Azarenka to win gold because the Olympic program now included a mixed-doubles division for the first time since 1924.
Azarenka was teamed with partner Max Mirnyi in this competition.
Her second medal came in mixed doubles. The team from Belarus met the team of Andy Murray and Laura Robson of Great Britain to battle for a gold medal at the conclusion of the Summer Games at the All England Club.
Plucky Azarenka won a gold medal in the first mixed doubles competition since 1924 with her partner Max Mirnyi. Belarus was the recipient of two medals.
Azarenka had found another route to win gold.
(4) Serena Williams of the United States
Serena Williams blasted through the women's singles draw, barely allowing her opponents games, let alone sets. She took out former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1, followed by Urszula Radwanska 6-2, 6-3.
Then Serena dismissed Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-0, starting to feel the ground grow more steady beneath her feet as she marched on to the quarterfinals. There Serena met another former world No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki, who was soon history, falling 6-0, 6-3.
In the semifinals, the No. 4 seed dismissed the current world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 in record-breaking time. In the finals against Maria Sharapova, Serena barely allowed the Russian a game, winning 6-0, 6-1.
It was not much of a match, but it was an emphatic power statement.
Serena Williams was simply the best, winning her third Olympic gold medal.
But she was not done.
With sister Venus, they took the court on Sunday to win another gold medal, defeating the doubles team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka from the Czech Republic. The Williams sisters won that match 6-4, 6-4.
That meant that since their first Olympic triumphs in Sydney in 2000, the sisters have each won four gold medals. Venus and Serena each own one gold medal in singles and three gold medals in doubles.
The sisters may equal each other in gold, but they are probably out of reach for the rest of field—now and into the foreseeable future.
Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro (6-3, 6-7, 17-19), four hours and 26 minutes: longest ever three-set match in Olympic history.
As matinee idol and tennis pro Roger Federer advanced to the semifinal match, the tennis world remained mesmerized, wondering if Federer might actually walk away with that one missing piece of hardware—a gold medal in men’s singles.
What the rest of the field secretly hoped was that Federer would win and decide he’d had enough glory—that the Swiss would hang up his racket in 2013 and start living the good life.
That would be the only way, they figured, that someone else could supplant him at the top and begin winning some of the world’s most coveted trophies.
Everyone, that is, except world No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro, who had once defeated Federer at the 2009 U.S. Open finals, winning his first Grand Slam at age 19 over the world No. 1 in five sets.
After injury removed the Argentine from the men's tour for a year, Del Potro is now all the way back, ready to assume his rightful place at the top of the men’s game.
Del Potro promptly won the first set, breaking Federer’s serve once in the eighth game, then holding his own serve to win the first set 6-3. The two had been on court for 36 minutes.
In the second set, with both battling tooth and nail, the two played dead even to a tiebreak where Federer was able to go up 7-5, winning the second set, 7-6.
The third set became one for the record books, as the games and the tension mounted with the passing hours. Finally at 17-17, Federer broke the Del Potro serve to go up 18-17. Now he needed to serve it out to win the match and advance to the gold-medal round.
Federer stumbled at 40-30 and had to win with his first "ad" to the delight of the crowd.
The loss was very disappointing to Del Potro and his fans, but Federer was ecstatic to find himself in the finals, hopefully to win his first gold medal.
Just one step away from perfection...
(3) Andy Murray of Great Britain
Once again the two met during the finals on Centre Court, but this time it was for Olympic gold, not for the Wimbledon championship.
For Roger Federer, it meant capturing the final piece of metal for his mantle to go along with his 17 Grand Slam championship trophies and his gold medal in Olympic doubles, won with countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in 2008 at the Beijing Games.
It was the perfect setting with the grass courts; the site of Wimbledon, Federer’s favorite tournament.
Yet it was not to be.
Andy Murray was determined to win something this summer. Necessarily, he would start by winning an Olympic gold medal for his home country of Great Britain.
Stopped cold at the Wimbledon tournament a month ago, Murray would not be denied the second time. The Brit smacked down the man who had made him cry earlier, after Federer defeated Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon final.
Federer remained powerless to fight back, to bring the Brit to his knees again. It was too much to expect Murray to fall twice in four weeks.
His pride assuaged by the backing of the Brits sitting in the stands, demanding that he win, was all Murray needed to push his iron will up a notch, beyond the reach of the Swiss.
The man who refused to cry "uncle," won the biggest prize of his career.
Now it is time to sit back and see if that will push him over the top at the US Open.