The lead up to the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro has not been easy. From the impeachment of Brazil’s President,to reports of contaminated water at certain venues, to the Zika virus and rising crime, every story has been an indictment of the decision to hold the Games here in Rio.
So, too, it seemed for the Republic of Tennis. Missing many of its biggest stars — to injury (Federer, Wawrinka, Gasquet), ban (Sharapova), Zika fears (Halep, Raonic), the Rio draw was more notable for its gaps than its match-ups.
But, there’s a kind of magic that happens when the world’s greatest athletes come together. Most have already achieved their dreams just by making it to the Olympics, and their joy makes the Parade of Nations a highlight of the entire event — a brief moment where the utopian vision of the founders of the modern Olympic movement is realized. Even those who do expect to medal threatened to overload the smile-o-meter:
Rafael Nadal withdraws from the Olympics due to broken cheek bones. pic.twitter.com/gU8RfsS2GE
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) August 6, 2016
Olympic tennis still occupies a strange middle ground — it’s vitally important to some, and completely not a priority for other players. It’s a strange juxtaposition with most of the other events — where Olympic medals are the yardstick of success. But, for those who are here, the best of three format and the added pressure of the Olympics promises more than a few surprises. Here are some thoughts on what happened (mostly) on the court:
- Zhang d. Bacsinszky, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6. This was going to be a hard loss, no matter who went home afterwards. That said, despite an off day serving, Timea Bacsinszky showed a lot of grit in breaking Shuai Zhang twice late in the the third set to force a deciding tiebreak. But, Zhang showed resolve of her own in persevering past the Swiss medal hopeful, saving two match points in the tiebreak before winning the match.
- Bouchard d. Stephens, 6-3, 6-3. This is a rivalry that only gets better, even if this installment was rather lopsided. At its best, it displays the movement and ball-striking ability of both players. And there were flashes of that throughout the match, but Bouchard’s win tonight is a welcome sign that she has put a rough 2015 behind her. A side note, to those who insist on wolf-whistling and commenting on Genie’s body while she is TRYING TO DO HER JOB — stop it. It’s menacing and unwanted.
- Del Potro/Gonzalez d. Guccione/Peers, 6-4, 7-5. This isn’t the most notable result of day 1, but it was great to see Grand Hugmaster Flash back at the Olympics. His first round match against Djokovic tomorrow is easily his biggest match since the last time these two played at the 2012 Olympics in London.
- Flipkens d. Williams, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. This was a barn burner, with Venus starting out strong, but plagued by too many errors to get by a very solid Flipkens. Flipper did well to use her variety, and more than a few drop shots to draw errors from Venus. It’s a bit sobering to think that this might have been Venus’ last Olympic singles match, and even more so because of the oddly hostile crowd she faced. That said, I wouldn’t bet against seeing Venus in Tokyo in four years.
- The first day has had its glitches on site, long lines to enter every venue, hardly any food on site for visitors, and more semiautomatic weapons than one likes to see at a sporting event. On the other hand, considering how much work goes into holding just one tennis tournament, it’s hard to complain about a few missing creature comforts when a country of limited means is trying to host dozens of world class sporting events at the same time.