2004 and 2008
ATP awarded players with ranking points for the first time in Athens… The biggest surprise taking into consideration both Olympics is the fact that the best player in the world prior to both events, Roger Federer didn’t get a medal in singles competition (he consoled himself winning unexpectedly the gold doubles medal at the Beijing games). In Athens he was stunned by a teenager Tomas Berdych (6-4 5-7 5-7) in the second round. For the 18-year-old Berdych it was just 12th main-level tournament and the first one in which he won two matches in a row, thanks to that sensational victory! Four years later Federer came to Beijing without confidence after two failed American ‘1000’ tournaments, admittedly he avenged a defeat to Berdych in the third round, but in the quarterfinals was beaten by James Blake, who arguably played a match of his life… The tournament in Athens was absolutely special, I would call it “the Chilean miracle”. Greece is a country without tennis tradition, no tournament is held there, so in some sense all players have equal chances at the start at the Athens Olympic Tennis Centre. All of a sudden it turned into a dream place for Nicolas Massu. The 25-year-old Chilean came to Athens having lost all his seven hardcourt matches in 2004, it wasn’t an obstacle for him to win six straight matches in singles and all matches in doubles too (although he had not won a doubles title before!), giving Chile the first two Olympic gold medals in history! And it all happened in a very special place – the city where the idea of the first Olympic games had been born many centuries B.C. and where the first competitions of the modern times were held in 1896… Fernando Gonzalez became the first man to win two medals in singles, Andrei Pavel became the first man to participate in four Olympics as a singles player in Athens (a nightmarish 0-4 record in singles, 0-3 in doubles); in Beijing doubles specialists Mark Knowles and Leander Paes notched their record-tying 5th Olympics, however is worth mentioning that Paes got the only medal for India in singles (Atlanta 1996)!
…Athens (Greece), 2004… XXVIII Olympic Games
August 15-22; 64 Draw; Surface – Hard
Quarterfinals: Bill Ward
Taylor Dent  just needed his serve. It comes off his Wilson and turns and twists and races 140-plus mph and often leaves its skid mark on the Olympic Tennis Centre courts. The serve, which the Huntington Beach player unloads with a grunt, is nasty. It is also reliable. It gives him confidence. The American won his quarterfinal match in 58 minutes Thursday with a mix of serve, volley and return. Dent beat the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych , 6-4 6-1, to advance into tonight’s semifinal against No. 10-seed Nicolas Massu of Chile. “I’m getting more and more confident with each win,” said Dent, 23. “That’s kind of the way it goes. If I can keep winning some more, then hopefully I’ll be unstoppable.” The 22-year-old Mardy Fish  continued his remarkable run through the men’s singles tournament with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Mikhail Youzhny  of Russia on Centre Court. If he gets past Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in tonight’s semifinals, Fish, who moved to Tampa from Vero Beach to train at Saddlebrook, will play for the gold medal Saturday. A loss would put Fish in position to win a bronze medal. But from the way Fish talks about the meaning of the Olympic tournament and from the looks of his sizzling serves and backhands – he seems poised for the gold-medal showdown. When pressed to choose between a U.S. Open title like the one his best friend, Andy Roddick, won last year or an Olympic gold medal, Fish pauses. Then a smile comes as he thinks of wearing one of the olive wreaths medal winners receive on the podium. “I’ve always said I think it would be really cool to stand on the podium with a gold medal around your neck, playing the national anthem,” Fish said. “It’s right there, right there in front of me“. Carlos Moya , the highest ranked player after the departures of world top two Roger Federer of Switzerland and Andy Roddick of the United States, lost 2-6 5-7 to Nicolas Massu  who started the tournament by beating triple former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten  of Brazil. Moya, who saved three match points to beat Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist in three hours in the first round, saved five match points before going down. Countryman Fernando Gonzalez  also progressed into the semifinals with a 6-2 2-6 6-4 victory over eighth seed Sebastien Grosjean  of France ensuring Chile of at least a bronze medal. Massu and Gonzalez are also into the last four of the men’s doubles.
Semifinals: Charean Williams
Mardy Fish has never advanced past the third round in a Grand Slam tournament in singles or doubles. He has never ranked in the top 10. He has won only one pro event – at Stockholm, Sweden, last year. Yet, because Andre Agassi chose not to compete in the Olympics, and Capriati and Serena Williams withdrew, and Roddick, Venus Williams and the doubles team of Navratilova and Lisa Raymond were upset, Fish is the only American guaranteed a medal. Fish defeated No. 16 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 3-6 6-3 6-4 in a singles semifinal Friday afternoon. His American teammate, Taylor Dent, lost to another Chilean, No. 10 Nicolas Massu, 7-6(5) 6-1 in the other semifinal. Since tennis returned to the Olympics as a medal sport in 1988, Agassi’s gold medal in 1996 is the United States’ only gold in men’s singles. But the Americans have dominated women’s play, winning all four doubles golds and three of the four singles golds. Fish will try to add to the U.S. stockpile Sunday, when he plays Massu for the title. Dent plays Gonzalez for the bronze today. “I didn’t expect to be here, so I don’t have anything to lose,” Fish said. “… At the end of the day, I think I can settle for a silver medal, but I definitely want the gold.” On an uncomfortably hot day, Fish got a little help from the tennis gods. Gonzalez twisted his right ankle at 2:2 in the second set, and a trainer was called to attend to the injury. Gonzalez was hardly the same after that, helping Fish win the biggest match of his career. “I gave him a couple of gifts in a couple of games and luckily got out of them,” Fish said. Gonzalez held serve to go up 4:3, but he wouldn’t win another game as Fish held serve to get even, broke for a 5:4 lead and, seizing the moment, closed out the match with two aces and two service winners. “I’ve been waiting for this kind of performance from Mardy at a huge event for a while,” U.S. coach Patrick McEnroe said. “He’s been playing well every match and getting better. It’s nice to see that he is starting to believe and coming out in a big event like this. I know how much this means to him.” Dent could have made it an all-American final, but he blew a set point in the first set. It was over quickly after that, with Massu dropping to the ground in celebration. Chile has never won a gold medal in any sport in any Olympics, and it has a chance for two. Massu and Gonzalez will play in the doubles final today against Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany.
Final: Bill Briggs
Fernando Gonzalez was on court for a total of 7 hours, 8 minutes Saturday, with only the all-too-brief interlude of the women’s final and medal ceremony. Before, he outlasted Taylor Dent of the United States 6-4 2-6 16-14 to win the bronze in singles. After, he and Nicolas Massu claimed Chile’s first gold in any sport, at any Olympics, by beating Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany 6-2 4-6 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4 in a doubles final that ended at 2:39 a.m. Sunday. “What a day for Chile. What a tremendous amount of emotions in one day,” Gonzalez said. “At the beginning of the (doubles) match, I was very tired, and I’m still tired. It was difficult to move.” When it was over, Gonzalez somehow had enough energy left to swat tennis balls into the stands, a souvenir of thanks to fans chanting, “Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le! Vi-va Chi-le!” Gonzalez, who upset Andy Roddick in the third round, saved two match points. “I can’t believe I lost,” Dent said. “It was longest match I’ve played in terms of a set. It was 16-14, is that it? It was a good match. It was a shame I lost, but it was fun to be a part of.” Dent came back from *3:5 (30/40) in the 3rd set only to blow two match points leading 14:13 (Gonzalez saved them with service and forehand winners). In the doubles final, Gonzalez along with Massu, saved a quadruple match point in the 4th set tie-break!
It will be a Chile day in Greece before Team USA completely whiffs on Olympic tennis gold. Forget the 82-degree (28 Celsius) sizzle here Sunday; it was flat-out Chile from morning to night as Nicolas Massu survived buckling legs and a surging Mardy Fish to snatch the men’s singles title – his second gold medal in less than 17 hours. Fish, the last American standing after Team USA’s big fat Greek shedding on the hard court, had the weary Massu slumped on the net and sucking air from the ball boy’s chair in the second set. But it was Fish who hurled his racket and glared at the world near the end of a five-set, four-hour masterpiece packed with crowd chants, fist pumps and more twists than both players’ ponytails. In an ancient city of sport, this is one for the ages: 6-3 3-6 2-6 6-3 6-4. The men didn’t shake hands at the bitter end. They hugged. And then, wearing a silver medal, Fish cried while Massu stood higher on the podium and sang of Chile. “I felt like if I heard the (U.S.) national anthem, some tears would come,” a gloomy Fish said well after midnight. “Sure enough they came, but it was during a song I’d never heard of.” Massu said, “Now, I can die happy.” The epic was delivered in three parts. The sleepy-eyed Massu, who seized gold in men’s doubles at 2:40 a.m. Sunday in a four-hour thriller with partner Fernando Gonzalez, slept until noon, then returned to center court at 7:30 p.m. with a ferocious assault of baseline blasts and a 126-mph serve. Fish, better known as Andy Roddick’s best buddy, was down five games to love and looking bewildered before the game was barely 30 minutes old. After hitting into the net, he punched his racket head. After a double fault, he slammed the racket on the court. But early in the second set, staying up late began to catch up with Massu. He began squatting between shots and grabbing his ankles to stretch his thighs. He hung on the net for five seconds after one volley. Between games, he drained a sports drink and tore open an energy bar. Reading the body language – and the wrapper on the court – Fish began pasting shots into the left and right corners, forcing Massu to dig and stretch and pivot. He faded further. In a flash, Fish was in control, winning the second and third sets and spurring chants of “U-S-A.” “I was so tired,” Massu said in halting English with a Spanish accent. “When I lost the third set, I thought I was going to lose my match because I could not move. But you always have faith in yourself.” After the third set, Massu left the court, apparently to use the bathroom. When he returned, Fish noticed the player seemed to have regained a little jump in his step. “All of the sudden, he’s fresh again. I’m not sure how that happens,” Fish said, who fired 26 aces. Pressed further, he added, “I just don’t understand how he keeps getting less and less tired… and those were all long games we were playing.” But Massu said it’s not uncommon to begin regaining energy after a fifth or sixth hour of tennis. He played eight between the two evenings. From that moment, though, Massu’s explosive pop returned, and he put Fish on the run, controlling the final two hours of the grueling match. The partisan crowd erupted in chants of “Nico, Nico.” “I felt like it was an away Davis Cup match in South America,” Fish said. “The public supported me throughout,” Massu said. “Even though they were from Greece, they loved me as if I was Greek.”
…Beijing (China), 2008… XXIX Olympic Games
August 10-17; 64 Draw (16 seeded); Surface – Hard
Roger Federer  directed an angry scream toward his feet. He swatted a stray ball in frustration. He slapped his thigh, hung his head and stomped behind the baseline. And as a last resort, he questioned calls, something he hates to do. That merely made him madder: he went 0-4 on replay challenges. For Federer, it was that kind of night. It has been that kind of year. Federer’s bid for his first Olympic singles medal ended Thursday night when he lost to American James Blake . With the sort of lackluster performance once unthinkable for Federer, he was eliminated in the quarterfinals 6-4 7-6(2). The eighth-seeded Blake had been 0-8 against Federer going into Thursday’s tennis quarterfinal match at the Olympics. “It was one of the goals of the season for me to do well here,” Federer said. “This obviously is a big blow, because I expected more.” Federer said he may have made a mistake this year by playing too much and not practicing enough. But he blamed his latest defeat largely on Blake. “I’ve played him on many occasions, but I think this was the best I’ve seen him,” Federer said. “I’m happy for him. He’s a good guy. I hope he can go all the way now.” Federer seemed off his game from the start. His forehand – once the sport’s most feared – was unreliable, and he repeatedly struggled to hold serve. Blake earned the first break in the final game of the opening set. On set point, Federer left his feet for a spectacular backhand save that extended the rally, but with his next shot he floated an easy backhand into the net. His shoulders sagging, he was broken again two games later and fell behind 3:0 in the second set. Federer finally showed life by breaking back in the fifth game and holding the rest of the way to reach 6-all. But Blake played a flawless tiebreaker, while Federer made two unforced errors and popped up a volley. When Federer sailed a return long on match point, Blake screamed “Yeah!” Federer ripped off his headband and walked head down to the net. “In a lot of the other matches, it has been a point here or there,” Blake said. “That’s why he was No. 1 in the world – he played those points better than everyone. Today I played them well.” Blake’s semifinal opponent will be No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez  of Chile, who defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu  of France 6-4, 6-4. A few contrariness went against the upset trend. No. 2 Rafael Nadal beat the rain and Jurgen Melzer , 6-0 6-4, in a match that ended at 1:08 a.m. Nadal’s semifinal opponent will be No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who rallied to defeat Gael Monfils 4-6 6-1 6-4.
Semifinals: Wayne Coffey
One night after perhaps the most exhilarating experiences of his tennis career, James Blake had one of the worst. He didn’t just fail to convert three match points, or lose a semifinal match in the Olympics. He lost respect for a competitor. It all left him feeling hurt, angry and betrayed. “I’ve spoken all week about how much I’ve enjoyed the Olympic experience, how much I love the spirit of it, how much I love the other athletes, what they’ve sacrificed,” Blake said after his 4-6 7-5 11-9 loss Friday night to Fernando Gonzalez, a 12th-seeded Chilean. “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.” Blake – the No. 8-seeded American who had reached the semifinal by beating top-seeded Roger Federer for the first time in his life one night before – could’ve been off the court, and in the gold-medal match, far earlier, but he failed to convert three match points at 0/40, 5:6 in the 12th game of the final set, missing a makeable forehand that would’ve ended it. He was annoyed at that, and annoyed that Gonzalez smacked him with a point-blank shot earlier, but his true distress came in the first point of the 18th game of the third, Blake leading 9:8. He hit an approach that replays showed nicked off Gonzalez’s racket and went long. The chair umpire missed it. Gonzalez won the point and went on to hold, and took the match two games later. “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. He’s too good of a player to do something like that and to act like that.” Gonzalez, who won a bronze in singles and the gold in doubles four years ago, insisted that he was uncertain whether the ball hit his racket. “I didn’t feel anything,” said Gonzalez – who will play No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the gold after Nadal clinched his first Olympic medal with a 6-4 1-6 6-4 victory over No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Djokovic had two games points to level at 5 games apiece in the decider, but facing a match point he missed an overhead from the easiest possible position! “I wasn’t 100% sure. If I’m 100% sure about it, I mean, I will give it.” Blake blamed himself for letting the point stay in his head, and acknowledged that Gonzalez’s potent serving and big groundstrokes were the biggest factors in the defeat. In the final game of the match (the Olympic format does not allow for a third-set tiebreaker), Blake fought back from 0/40 to save three match points, but finally succumbed when he netted a forehand return. Blake still has a chance to win bronze, when he plays Djokovic Saturday. But he wasn’t ready to start thinking of that. He was still having a hard time with an opponent’s ethical lapse. “Whatever he wants to say is fine,” Blake said. “Whatever is going to get him some sleep tonight, then that’s fine.”
Novak Djokovic of Serbia won a bronze in singles by beating American James Blake 6-3 7-6(4). A jubilant Djokovic ripped off his shirt and threw it to the cheering crowd, along with two rackets, and waved a Serbian flag as he jogged around the court. “To win any medal in the Olympics is a huge achievement,” Djokovic said. “Not many of the athletes get a chance to win a medal.” Blake said. “I felt like I competed hard, I have to take something positive from the way I was playing this week.”
As Rafael Nadal stood in front of the medal podium, his nation’s flag draped across his back like a cape, he looked a little like a Spanish Superman. In tennis, he is. Already assured of the No. 1 ranking, Nadal was No. 1 at the Olympics. He won a gold medal Sunday, overcoming two set points in the second set and holding every service game to beat Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-3 7-6(2) 6-3. The gold medal was the first ever for Spain in Olympic tennis, and another milestone in an astounding summer surge by Nadal , who will officially end Roger Federer’s 4½-year reign atop the rankings today. Nadal has won 38 of his last 39 matches, including victories over Federer in the finals at the French Open and Wimbledon. “Nowhere in my best dreams I can imagine something like what I did this year,” Nadal said. “I know how difficult it is to win these things, and especially here, because you only have one chance every four years.” Men’s singles has traditionally been an upset-filled event at the Olympics, and Nadal is the first player ranked in the top five to win the gold. He stayed in the athletes’ village and said the experience rejuvenated him. “I arrived very tired,” he said. “The reason probably I won this title is because I have a fantastic time here enjoying a lot in the village. That was amazing experience for me. Always was a pleasure to know new people, no?” He took charge against Gonzalez from the start, breaking serve in the second game. Nadal didn’t face any break points until the 12th game of the second set, when he was down, 5:6, 15/40. Gonzalez failed to convert the set points, pushing a volley wide and putting a forehand in the net. The Chilean made five unforced errors in the tiebreaker to give Nadal a commanding lead. Nadal ripped a backhand passing shot to break at love for a 3:1 lead in the final set, and erased two more break points to hold for 5:2. He needed four match points to close out the victory, ripping one last Olympian forehand that Gonzalez could barely reach. Nadal collapsed to his back in jubilation. “I think I played almost perfect match,” he said. Gonzalez settled for a silver medal after winning a gold in doubles and a bronze in singles four years ago in Athens. “I have chances in the second set, and I didn’t take it,” Gonzalez said. “After that, Rafa was dominating. He was making me run a lot. “He’s a great champion, because he has been winning every important tournament in the past months.”