This week, we’re joined for #SmashTalk by guest panellist Nick McCarvel!
The American tennis writer, content producer and host is USA Today’s lead tennis correspondent at the Grand Slams as well as a frequent contributor to our very own Australian Tennis Magazine, and he joins our editorial team of Paul Moore and Matt Trollope to recap the Olympics and look ahead to the US Open.
How much notice do we take of Olympic singles performances going forward, especially those by unexpectedly high performers like Monica Puig and Juan Martin del Potro?
NM: To me it’s what the Olympics are all about, and while I loved them being played at Wimbledon four years ago, I think the tennis event recaptured its true Olympic identity in Rio. Look at the reactions of Del Potro and Puig as they made their runs. Hard to mirror that even in a Grand Slam, right? And Puig… Olympic gold medalist! My hope is that she uses this as a springboard. We all know she’s talented, but one of those players who hasn’t quite broken through – until Rio.
PM: A lot. Of course, there were no rankings points on offer. But confidence is arguably as valuable as rankings points, and players like Monica Puig and Juan Martin del Potro (not to mention Rafa Nadal) will have bucket loads of that coming off the back of the Olympics. What’s more, with conditions in Rio not entirely dissimilar to New York (warm and heavy), anyone who has done well will most certainly be buoyed going into Flushing Meadows.
MT: I really hope we see the form of players like Puig and del Potro continue. This is not always a given – Nicolas Massu was one who bobbed up to win Olympic gold only to return to obscurity. Yet del Potro is already a proven performer; his form is more dependant on his health. Should his wrists hold up, his Olympic silver medal-winning run is confirmation of just how devastating he can be. Plus he’s rounding into form at just the right time – the US Open is his best Grand Slam event. Puig has always been an incredible ball-striker – here’s hoping the Olympics imbues her with the confidence that she can beat the best in the game on a regular basis and improve her ranking. She’s a pleasure to watch when she’s on.
Andy Murray has achieved tennis history by become the first player ever to win back-to-back Olympic singles gold. How does this contribute to his legacy?
NM: The last last six weeks have been the best of Murray’s career, haven’t they? He finally won a third Slam, some three years later, and then follows that up with a hard-earned gold medal. I think there were some people inside the sport who were starting to wonder if he was going to be a perennial runner up after his Australian and French Open second-place finishes. Now, the discussion has turned to him as chief challenger for Djokovic moving forward.
PM: I think this is a huge deal. Murray has always stood in the shadows of his more decorated peers Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. That he has carved out his own bit of history – a bit of history that those three cannot possibly replicate – will stop him from being remembered as the ‘nearly’ man of the greatest era in men’s tennis.
MT: Murray is building quite the CV. He’s already cemented himself as a British sporting immortal with his second gold, just a few weeks after he notched his second Wimbledon title. Now, as a three-time major champion, twice Olympic gold medallist and a Davis Cup winner, the No.1 ranking is all that’s missing for Murray to achieve every major milestone in tennis and revive the notion of the “Big Four”, which six months prior felt more like the “Big Three”.
Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were widely tipped to sweep the Olympic singles gold medals, yet both flopped. Was this a temporary aberration, or a sign that their dominance is waning?
NM: That is such an interesting question to me because it’s so hard to tell. Djokovic has looked so human in the same span in which Murray has dominated, so it will be fascinating to see how he pulls up for the US Open. And Serena… Man, it’s hard to know. I think her drive for 25 – to top Margaret Court’s all-time Slam record – will keep her going for the next week or two, but it was shocking to see her go out so early in the singles and the doubles.
PM: The two are very different. In my mind, I think Serena is on the wane. She hasn’t looked her dominant self on a number of occasions this year, and her opponents are playing with increasing freedom against her. That doesn’t mean she’s done (for what it’s worth I think she’ll win the US Open), just that she’s not the force she once was. Djokovic is a different beast. He’s definitely more prone to a blip than usual, but Querrey and Delpo were always dangerous opponents. Such is his supremacy, it’s hard to see anyone consistently challenging him in the coming months.
MT: I’d need to watch Djokovic compete a little more to know for sure – I’m more inclined to think he was simply unlucky to draw a rampaging del Potro in the opening round in Rio. Should he lose at the US Open, I’d be more convinced of a Roland Garros hangover and a chink in the armour. Serena’s continuing injury woes and scratchy performances – Wimbledon aside – are more concerning. Just a month from her 35th birthday, is age finally blunting her enduring dominance?
Attention now turns to this week’s event in Cincinnati. What’s the biggest storyline for you as the US Open build-up continues?
NM: Cincinnati stars this week?! Ha… I kid, I kid, but I’m tired just thinking about it. I think Garbiñe Muguruza has to use it to right herself a little, after shocking displays at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Stan Wawrinka needs to get his feet under him after missing the Games, too, as do Milos Raonic and Simona Halep. My takeaway from Cincinnati is that each player is going to use it how they need to – whatever that means – to be ready for the US Open.
PM: Is anyone playing? The spate of withdrawals is probably the biggest story. Away from that, though, it will be interesting to see which player emerges on the men’s side (on the assumption the Big Four aren’t there). On the women’s side, can Angelique Kerber grab the No.1 spot from Serena? That would be a huge story. (Full disclosure: I originally speculated whether Serena could bounce back, then she withdrew).
MT: I must admit I’m feeling a little tennis fatigue! But the big events keep rolling out, and so we go on. It’s another depleted men’s field – no Djokovic or Federer – but in a way it will be nice to see some new names at the pointy end of an ATP Masters event. However, I think the biggest storyline is Serena’s No.1 ranking. She’s held onto it for 183 consecutive weeks, but since pulling out of Cincy with a shoulder injury, Angelique Kerber could snatch it with a title run. Compelling.
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