Less than three weeks after Wimbledon finishes the Olympics will bounce into the All England Lawn Tennis Club: the lush green grass of SW19 will be a dustbowl by mid-August. Even worse, with this amount of tennis the country may run out of strawberries and cream. Drastic times.
Better news is that Britain possess a potential men’s champion in Andy Murray. A potent counter-attacker, the Scot is now in his prime. However, standing in his way is Serbia’s world number one Novak Djokovic, a man who has won nearly every match for the last eighteen months. Another obstacle is the Beijing 2008 gold medal winner, Spain’s mesmeric matador Rafael Nadal who recently claimed his seventh French Open title. Oh, and then there’s Switzerland’s Roger Federer - the most successful player of all time who needs an Olympic gold to complete his trophy cabinet. The sport is spoilt for talent, and Andy Murray will, yet again, be facing mission improbable.
The tournament format should favour Murray because matches are best of three-sets, not five. These shorter contests have proved far better for the Scot against the three tennis greats, and backed by a home crowd he has a genuine chance of victory.
While the men’s game has been enjoying its zenith, the women’s game is wide open. The top ten changes daily and the world number one tag appears to be a poisoned chalice, making for a potentially brilliant competition. Wimbledon darling Maria Sharapova has returned to her best form and she will spearhead Russia’s formidable list of challengers, which includes the victor in 2008 Elena Dementieva.
American Venus Williams has won an unprecedented three gold medals in her stellar career, and this summer will be aiming for her fourth (and possibly fifth) in both the singles and doubles tournaments.
British women’s tennis is in a far better position than four years ago, and promising youngsters Laura Robson and Heather Watson, along with Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, could all cause a stir. However a medal would be a huge surprise for the host nation and all four have their work cut out to make the main draw.
Did you know at the London Olympics in 1908 Britain won the gold medal in the men’s singles, with Josiah Ritchie taking the title.
Players to Watch:
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – The rambunctious Frenchman is a delight to watch. Equipped with a thunderous serve, Tsonga also loves diving around on the grass makes him a good outside bet for a medal.
Victoria Azarenka – It’s impossible to ignore the Belorussian. Not because she is tall, aggressive or currently ranked number two in the word, but because she grunts louder than a pneumatic drill. Victory for the racket-wielding would be heard across the city.
Where can I play tennis in London?
The capital is teeming with public courts and local clubs, yet they are very well hidden. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is the best place to find your nearest facilities; so dust off that old wooden racquet, find your retro headband, and you may just sneak into Team GB.
We’re bringing you the Londonist lowdown on all Olympic and Paralympic sports in the run up to London 2012. Photo by Viorel Popescu.