I watched the entire opening ceremony last night and have to say, however cheesy it may sound, I was proud to be British. I love the Olympics, so was never as sceptical as many whinging Brits can be in the run up to these things but even so, I wasn't expecting to be moved emotionally by a bunch of dancers and singers! Just great that it wasn't all about matching the awesome spectacle of Beijing but about conveying Britain in a humorous, informative, innovative and at times, touching manner - a great success.
The stars are all taking part in the tennis at Wimbledon, starting today. Beijing was probably the first games where many of the world's best players started taking it seriously and this year is undoubtedly the biggest ever tennis tournament at the Olympics. Almost every single top player is taking part and desperately wants the opportunity to add a gold medal to the Grand Slams and other tournament trophies. Make no mistake; this is now considered almost as big as a Grand Slam (though the field and ranking points on offer are much smaller, on a par with a Masters 500). Very few of the top players have played during the past 2 weeks and the only player who has deliberately decided not to take part, is Mardy Fish. Apparently, he was so gutted at reaching the final and losing in 2004, that he can't face returning, so he'll be playing the 500 event in Washington next week instead.
Alexander Dolgopolov is the only other player who you'd expect to be in London, who is in Washington instead. He's easily Ukraine's best player (ranked 17), yet Sergei Stakhosvsky (94) has been given a wildcard because the Dolg doesn't meet qualification criteria of playing enough Davis Cup matches - he hasn't played at all in 5 years! Defending champion Rafa Nadal has already pulled out with an injury, so
Roger Federer remains in pole position for a second gold medal to add to
his doubles win in 2008. Feliciano Lopez takes Nadal's spot, with Marcel Granollers very unlucky not to make the 4 Spanish slots, as he's a top 25 player these days. Just shows how strong the Spanish depth is.
There will be a new champion for the women too, as 2008 winner Elena Dementieva has retired. Marion Bartoli has the same problem as Dolgopolov. Due to a dispute with the French federation (who won't allow her father to be involved with Federation Cup matches) she has not played for France for 8 years and so is ineligible. The only other top player not in the women's draw is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (ranked 28), who would easily qualify but suffers in the same way as Granollers - due to the fact that there are 4 better ranked Russians. Unfortunate when you consider Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein and Paraguay's Veronica Cepede-Royg have been offered wildcard places by the Olympic Tripartite Commission, despite being ranked 233 and 188. I have never heard of either but I'm guessing they are trying to even up representation for certain nations/continents.
This is basically Wimbledon Mark 2, so another Roger/Serena double would not surprise me in the slightest. None of the genuine men's contenders have played a single match since Wimbledon, so it's difficult to pick based on recent form. Of the top 10, only Janko Tipsarevic and David Ferrer have been in action, both winning titles on clay. Juan Monaco is newly in at number 10, after he won Hamburg. These three should be best equipped to hit the ground running and will be confident.
Serena Williams won in Stanford, so we know she's on a hot streak still, but the other top ladies have all rested completely since Wimbledon. Dominica Cibulkova comes into the Olympics with a title under her belt in Carlsbad and so she will be a dark-horse to watch - playing superbly and close to a top 10 spot now. Watch out for Brits Laura Robson and Heather Watson too. Both will have the usual home support they get at Wimbledon but will be really enthused about this tournament because they only just qualified at the last moment by taking the place of injured Petra Martic and Alona Bondarenko.
Losing finalist Aga Radwanska knocked Watson out of Wimbledon but a kinder draw could see her go far and she's got one for the first round at least, in Silvia Soler-Espinoza. Robson had her best ever tournament on the main tour a couple of weeks ago, reaching the semi final in Palermo and so is in the best form of her short career. She has a tougher draw against Lucie Safarova but from what I saw in Palermo, Robson is more than capable of winning and causing a few upsets next week.
Another key thing to take note of, is that all men's matches are best of 3 sets, unlike the slams. This can work against the top players, as they are less likely to recover from a bad start and have less time for their class to shine through, as they would do in a best of 5 set match. It is more likely that players who are not as strong on the fitness side of the game but are technically superb (such as Gasquet or Youzhny) will go further into the tournament. For example, you'd never expect Gasquet to beat Murray over 5 sets but over 3, he's always got a fighting chance - and they are scheduled to meet at the Olympics!
So once again, we ask the question: can Murray win at Wimbledon? Of course he can but as with Wimbledon, the Scot has a tough draw on paper and 'best of 3' makes it even tougher, in my opinion. Nadal is out the way but he would still meet Djokovic in the semis if they both came through as expected (which leaves Federer a nice 'easy' route to the final). But if the sun we've finally had in England over recent days, decides to stick around, it would mean an outdoor match if he meets Federer. And as I said during Wimbledon, that changes everything.
NB: Can you name the 8 tennis players who carried their nation's flag at the opening ceremony? Answers in my next post!