I haven’t been writing anything about the Olympics because the Olympics are one of my least favorite tennis events. The play always seem inconsistent to me, and I never get the feel that it is a 5th Grand Slam because of all the missing players and other oddities. In the “other oddities” category this time around are the spectators - most of whom seem to be experiencing their first tennis matches based on the behavior I’ve seen. I am so in favor of having audience involvement - anyone who has been to tennis with me knows that I push the line on spectator participation as much as possible in between play - but I don’t understand why the Olympic attendees are able to mill about during play or move into walkways to shoot photos. I watched Roger Federer (during his loss to Blake) actually wait for about a minute for a fan to sit back in his seat instead of the aisle, and with little to no help from the ushers. I don’t think we need to be extreme and demand that this tournament be perfect, but I do want to see some really great play, and simple things like that should be taken care of. I’ve also been watching the tennis.com commentary available on the NBCOlympics.com video feeds, and it becomes obvious right away that some of this stuff is just strange - they’ve pointed out the fans crawling all over, laughing during rallies like it is a comedy show, empty stadiums, and more.
Maybe it isn’t as bad as I think, but all of this makes the Olympics a lesser event in my mind.
Of course, my mind is badly battered after staying up all night to watch James Blake lose to Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, so maybe I am being a bit too cranky. I’m a big Blake fan - while I am convinced he generally cannot compete with top players, seeing him beat Federer (finally) was huge. I really thought he could get a handle on Gonzo, but instead, opportunity after opportunity passed him by. Then I became really disappointed when I read this:
“I’ve spoken all week about how much I’ve enjoyed the Olympic experience, how much I love the spirit of it,” Blake said. “That’s a disappointing way to exit the tournament, when you not only lose the match, but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor.”
The incident that upset Blake occurred with Gonzalez serving at 8-9 in the final set. On the first point, Blake hit a backhand passing shot long but contended the ball ticked Gonzalez’s racket before landing, as TV replays confirmed.
Blake appealed in vain to the chair umpire, and said Gonzalez should have conceded the point. Blake went on to lose the game to make it 9-all.
“Playing in the Olympics, in what’s supposed to be considered a gentleman’s sport, that’s a time to call it on yourself,” Blake said. “Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn’t call it.”
Gonzalez said he was uncertain whether the ball hit his racket.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, it’s just one point. There is an umpire. If I’m 100 percent sure about it, I mean, I will give it. But I’m not sure.”
Blake described Gonzalez as a great player who does everything in his power to win, “usually” within the rules.
“Whatever he wants to say is fine,” Blake said. “Whatever is going to get him to have some sleep tonight, then that’s fine.” NBC Olympics
The facts are that Blake squandered opportunity after opportunity. If he had capitalized on the match points he had, he wouldn’t have to be upset about a single point. My guess is that he is really mad at himself for missing the opportunities, and was uncharacteristically whiny about one incident to vent that anger, but it still sucks to hear this coming from him.
Olympic tennis results always surprise me to some extent, but I don’t think Blake has a great shot at the bronze. He’ll either be play Nadal or Djokovic, and probably has the best chance with Nadal, but it’ll be a tough match no matter what. I’ll admit I’m not a Gonzo fan, so I’ll put him in the silver spot. If I had to pick gold, my guess is going to Djokovic. This is now your cue to put money on Gold - Gonzalez, Silver - Nadal - Bronze - Blake.
Oh, and a message to NBC for their tape-delayed Olympics showing on the Pacific Coast: you suck.