Checking in on U.S. players at Olympics
What began as a scratchy Olympics for the Americans settled down a bit by Day 4. Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Christina McHale all took their exits on Saturday, the first day of competition. After a rain-plagued Day 2, the Americans went 6-0 on Monday, when Andy Roddick, Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko won their first-round matches and Serena Williams and John Isner eased into the third round. Serena and Venus teamed up later in the day to win their opening doubles match.
But it hasn't all been sunshine and Pimm's Cups for Team USA. No, really, it rained on Sunday and Pimm's is not an official sponsor of the Olympics, so you'll have to enjoy your Coca-Cola instead. Here's a roundup of the American buzz at the Olympics so far.
The Good: So far, so good for Serena, who has picked up where she left off a few weeks ago. After she sleepwalked her way to a title at Stanford following Wimbledon and then pulled out of World TeamTennis a week later, citing a bad back, questions crept up regarding her physical and mental fitness. Not to worry, though, as one step back onto the grounds of the All England Club seemed to have rejuvenated her. Quick and quiet wins for her over Jelena Jankovic and Urszula Radwanska bode well, as she tries to manage her energy level through the nine-day tournament.
Meanwhile, Venus has shown that she's not just happy to be here. Given her much-ballyhooed efforts just to qualify, a letdown would have been predictable, particularly after she drew French Open finalist Sara Errani in the first round. But Venus hasn't dropped a set in two matches, beating Errani and Alexandra Wozniak.
As for Roddick, his Olympics was put to a quick and merciless end by an in-form Novak Djokovic, who needed just 54 minutes to oust the American 6-2, 6-1 in the second round on Tuesday. Yes, the score was lopsided, but Roddick is playing with confidence again and, most important, he's playing some clean tennis. It's still baby steps for him, as he didn't face the stiffest competition during his 12-1, two-title, pre-Olympic tear (his three-set victory over Isner in Atlanta was his only top 20 win).
And how about a nod to Isner? The 27-year-old has already accomplished a first for him: win two consecutive matches in a tournament held at the All England Club. That's right, he had never won more than one match at Wimbledon in four tries, a surprising statistic given his big serve. But this is where the best-of-three format helps Isner. The matches are shorter and he won't get ground down in five-set epics every time. He'll have a tough match against Janko Tipsarevic next.
In doubles, two teams of American siblings are top contenders to take gold, and they haven’t disappointed. Serena and Venus are on track for their third gold medal, reaching the quarterfinals with Tuesday's win over Germans Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber. And remember: The Williamses aren’t even the highest-ranked American duo. Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, the top seeds, have moved into the quarterfinals without dropping a set as well. On the men’s side, top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan survived a little scare from the Brazilian team of Thomaz Bellucci and Andre Sa in the first round before advancing to the quarters on Tuesday.
The Bad: Donald Young has already received enough stick about his horrendous season, though he played one of his best matches of the year in his 6-4, 6-4 loss to Andreas Seppi in the first round. He still hasn't won a match since February and has a load of points to defend coming up, including a round-of-16 appearance at the U.S. Open and the finals in Bangkok.
I've received a few emails and tweets that called for Young to do the stand-up thing and step aside, but what good would that have done? At the time of the ranking cut-off, the next highest-ranked American, Sam Querrey, was ranked too low to qualify for the Olympics. Declining to play would have meant the Americans sending three men for singles instead of four. Besides, as professional tennis players, aren't you trained to think your luck could turn in any given week? I can't fault Young for wanting to give it a shot.
The other men’s U.S. doubles entry, Roddick and Isner, made up an intriguing team with their monster serves, but they weren’t clicking and bowed out in the first round to Brazilians Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in straight sets.
The Ugly: In losing his Olympic debut to No. 44 Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 7-5, 6-3, Ryan Harrison let his temper get to him again. I thought the occasion (the Olympics) and the venue (Wimbledon) would serve to check Harrison's behavior, but as the match slipped away, he became a racket-smashing machine. After double-faulting on match point, he spiked his less-than-trusty Babolat once again, snapping the racket in anger. For a young man who is lauded for his off-court maturity, his on-court petulance is getting old. It's not entertaining a la John McEnroe or Marat Safin, and it's turning Harrison into a cliche: the petulant young American who throws a fit when things don't go his way. Not exactly an image anyone wants to be sculpting.
Perhaps that's what he and his team thought when they decided to have Harrison give an interview with Pat O'Brien on the Bravo network on Sunday. Flanked by Justin Gimelstob, who seemed to be acting more as a Harrison apologist/defender than a neutral interviewer, Harrison gave a heartfelt (in my opinion) and sincere apology for his conduct.
"I feel terrible, and I wish that I could take it back," he said. "Especially when it was for something much bigger than just myself.
“My actions were in no way trying to represent the country poorly. I feel terrible. I wish I could take it back. I am sorry to everyone I offended. I hope you can see the improvements from before." Was such a public apology necessary? The interview itself was awkward, with O'Brien immediately telling Harrison that he slammed him for his behavior the day before and Gimelstob, who is commentating for NBC, jumping in and asking leading questions to help Harrison through his apology. The whole thing felt staged and the only thing sincere about it seemed to be Harrison's remorse. But what was the point of going on television to issue an apology that few people saw (and is not available on YouTube or the NBC site)? Why not just issue a statement, post it on Facebook or even tweet about it? There was no need for O'Brien or dramatic close-ups from the camera. In this case, the medium got in the way of the message and it made for some cringe-worthy television.