The 2012 Olympics continue this week in London, but the tennis competition has wrapped up. There's no rest for the weak and weary, however, as just three weeks separate the end of the Olympics and the start of the U.S. Open, the fourth and final major in the tennis season.
Here are two takeaways from singles tennis at this year's Olympics.
Andy Murray has finally broken through.
The recent narrative was that Andy Murray couldn't win the big match, couldn't hang with the big boys. 2011 Australian Open? Loss to Novak Djokovic in the final. 2011 French Open, 2011 Wimbledon, and 2011 U.S. Open? Losses to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. 2012 Australian Open? Loss to Djokovic in the semifinals in an excruciating five-set epic. Murray trailed 5-3 in the fifth set, got back to 5-5 and had a break point to serve for the match but couldn't convert, and then got broken to end the match.
The narrative began to change a bit, however, after this year's Wimbledon, when Murray navigated a tricky draw to reach his first final at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, and then took a set off Roger Federer. However, once Federer stepped up his level of play and the roof closed, Murray couldn't keep up, losing in four sets. But the prevailing consensus was that Murray had played an excellent match and was very close to a breakthrough.
Fast forward to the gold medal match, and another encounter with Federer, who regained the top ranking following Wimbledon. Spurred on by a partisan crowd, Murray thoroughly outplayed Federer, defeating the Swiss in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Although he had defeated Federer eight times before, this was the first time he had defeated him in a best-of-five match. Murray has made four Grand Slam finals, only to lose three to Federer.
Murray now heads to Toronto for the Rogers Cup on Cloud Nine and with an extremely strong sense of newfound confidence. Although it wasn't a Grand Slam title, it was surely a significant victory nonetheless. It will be interesting to see what he can do liberated from the pressure of never having won the "big one." With Djokovic slumping and Nadal ailing, the time is now for Murray to make a run. He's proven that he can beat Federer in a best-of-five match, and who knows? He may have to do it again at the U.S. Open to capture his first Grand Slam title.
Serena Williams is dominant once again.
How else can you explain what she did to the field at the Olympics this year? Former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic? Out 6-3, 6-1 in the first round. A top-50 player in improving Urszula Radwanska? Flicked aside, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round. Former No. 2 Vera Zvonareva? Blitzed, 6-1, 6-0 in the third round.
Once she reached the quarterfinal round against Caroline Wozniacki, who was No. 1 for virtually all of 2011 and January of this year, a stiffer test was expected, as Wozniacki had already defeated Serena once this year, at Miami. But Wozniacki was no match for Serena, dropping the first set 6-0 and salvaging some measure of respectability in the second set, losing 6-3.
Next up was the semifinals, against the once and current No. 1, Victoria Azarenka. Serena powered past her, 6-1, 6-2, and then absolutely annihilated another former No. 1 in the gold medal match, Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1.
Just take a look back at the wreckage Serena inflicted on the field. She defeated five players that were either currently or once ranked in the top two in the world, and lost a grand total of 11 games. Ironically, the only player not on that list, Radwanska (the sister of Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska), gave Williams her toughest test, taking five games off Serena.
So, what does this mean going forward? Well, with the U.S. Open right around the corner, Serena has to be considered an overwhelming favorite for her fourth championship in Flushing Meadows. Even though she's currently ranked No. 4 in the world, these Olympics showed that she is playing like the No. 1 she once was.
Last year, Serena's injury left her seeded 28th for the U.S. Open, but she blasted through the field, not dropping a set until the final, when she came undone in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Samantha Stosur. This year? On current form, it's hard to see anybody but Serena lifting the trophy on Saturday night, September 8.
But the usual caveats do apply, however—anybody can be upset at any time, as Serena was a little over two months ago at the French Open to Virginie Razzano. But that result was on clay, a surface that does not suit a powerful player like Williams. She's only lost two matches on hard courts this year, and none since March.