Nadal’s absence creates a plethora of possibilities, the most obvious of which is a singles gold medal for Roger Federer.
With the games in London, the tennis to be contested at the All England Club where Federer just won his seventh Wimbledon title, he must be considered a prohibitive favorite to win the gold medal.
Olympic gold is the only hole in Federer’s resume. You can bet your bottom dollar he wants to fill that void badly, very badly.
For the record, I think he will win. However, I will play the devil’s advocate a bit as well.
While Nadal’s absence softens his task, Federer, being the sportsman and competitor that he is, probably wishes Nadal was part of the contest.
Athletes who are competing as purists, those chasing perfection rather than dollars, actually want their stiffest competition present in all the major events because only the best provides them with the impetus to summon their best.
John McEnroe needed Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Jimmie Connors. They brought out his champion qualities like no others could. Those guys needed McEnroe as well. The same held true for Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. It’s sort of a confrontational symbiotic relationship.
But this is different. This is the Olympic games, an assemblage of the best athletes the world has to offer, all of whom are playing more for their country than for themselves. That fact alone insures that there is no lack of motivation.
National pride plays a huge role in Olympic success. It can be the catalyst that urges an individual athlete to accomplish something wildly beyond his own expectations even though he/she is part of a team with a common goal.
Having said that now, do I think “The Fed” is a lock to win? Yes…no…maybe so.
I would not equivocate so had “The Rosol Factor” not occurred at Wimbledon. The 100th ranked player, Lukas Rosol pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in sports history by beating Rafael Nadal, the number two seed, in the second round. And he didn’t just beat him, he bludgeoned him.
Rosol’s victory and the emphatic way in which it was achieved exposed something new, something daring, something exhilarating.
It showed the entire world, that with conviction, the improbable is not impossible.
It also showed that in modern tennis, the gap in physical skills of top tennis players is not as great as many imagine.
They’ve all had the best instruction since childhood when a mere glimmer of real promise was detected. Now, as pros, they all hit very hard. They all can absorb pace and most can create insane angles with the ball. To top it off, they’re all incredibly fit.
Rosol illustrated how to execute an unwavering game plan. From the first few balls struck, his demeanor seemed to be shouting, “This is what I’m gonna do to you and their ain’t a damn thing you can do about it!” He seemed to have more than ample time to take Nadal’s ball early and just pummel the thing so hard that poor Nadal was left with only one recourse, defense.
I’d never seen a man punish both the tennis balls and his opponent in such ruthless fashion.
It was resolute, absolute, domination.
I’m convinced that Julien Benneteau, inspired by what Rosol did, applied the same tactics against Federer. He came within two points of securing his own stunning upset.
I think of it as controlled hyper-aggression. It sounds contradictory but it’s not. The player must be totally committed to extreme aggression without being reckless. Admittedly, he’s definitely on the threshold of recklessness, but able to “maintain” at that point without the least bit of hesitancy.
Rosol did it, Benneteau copied it, others can do it too. The blueprint is out there now, accessible to all.
Conviction is the operative word. That is what has been and is undoubtedly still a source of interference in elite-level achievement for many pros.
They’ve got the goods, they simply don’t believe it.
Mind you, I’m not referring simply to the traditional belief, like in your skills. Of course you must have that. And I’m not talking about the gradual evolution of belief such as Djokovic had which propelled him to number one in 2011.
I’m speaking more of a radical belief, a belief that you can do something that you never thought remotely possible, that you could do something Rosolian.
It only takes one upset to change the entire dynamic. Olympic magic could infect an unlikely candidate with the necessary inspiration and vigor to employ the hyper-aggressive style of play that can beat anybody in any setting on any day.
Winning gold is never easy but the 2012 path is considerably less cluttered now. There’s one less very difficult obstacle to overcome, the guy with the bad knees.
But now all the top guys have to be wary of falling victim to a Rosolian event.
Always something to worry about but at least it’s not Nadal.
I’ll miss the 2008 champions’ presence in the mix but…
Let the games begin.