After the first three rounds of the men's singles tennis tournament at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, World No. 1 Roger Federer looks every bit the top-ranked player in the world. Coming off his dominating performance at Wimbledon a month ago to win his record-tying seventh title, he's trying to pick up where he left off at these Olympic Games.
Granted, he's not been the smooth, highly consistent performer he was in the final few rounds at Wimbledon in early July. In the first round against No. 51 Alejandro Falla (Colombia), he won 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. He should have won in straight sets but somehow allowed Falla to escape three match points in the second set. Perhaps the ghosts of Wimbledons past shook Federer a little bit. Fans may remember that Falla took the first two sets off Federer in their first round match there in 2010 (the only time he's ever won a set against Federer in their five matches against each other). It may have given Falla a bit more hope than most players of his rank would have had against Federer on grass, but in the end Federer dominated the third set to pull out the victory.
Certainly he shook that uneven performance off in his second round match against in a straight set (6-2, 6-2) victory against No. 32 Frenchman Julien Benneteau. This was a bit disappointing for Benneteau because at this year's Wimbledon he was able to also take the first two sets off of Federer in their fourth round match before losing in a five set heartbreaker. He had also managed a Masters 1000 victory over Federer at the Paris Open back in 2009.
Again in his third round match Federer won in straight sets, but this time he had a few shaky moments that could have potentially extended this match to three sets. His opponent was No. 35 Denis Istomin from Uzbekistan who has yet to defeat Federer and has never taken a set off of him. Now that he's made the quarterfinals, Federer's next opponent will be against a player with far less skill on this surface (the winner of No. 11 John Isner versus No. 8 Janko Tispsarevic). While Isner is not particular feared on grass (never had much success at Wimbledon and I don't expect him to win this match), Tipsarevic has only advanced as far as the fourth round twice at this venue and won't be expected to put up much of a challenge for Federer either.
Despite a few hiccups along the way this week, Federer still seems to be as relaxed and confident as he's been since his semi-final victory over No. 2 Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. That's truly the moment when his tennis took off to heights not seen for years. From his demeanor on the court to his relaxed attitude in interviews, Federer is clearly at home in London. Regaining the top ranking in the world is where Federer feels like he belongs, and he clearly plays his best tennis from in front. With the weather being a bit dodgy over the past few days, this only helps Federer more. The grip he seems to have on the court with his shoes is far better than most other players. Where you will see most of the rest of the field slip and fall throughout their matches (see Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic yesterday), Federer has some sort of uncanny cat-like agility on this surface that enables him to stay upright virtually all of the time.
I still see Federer as the favorite to win his first ever Gold Medal in men's singles. As long as the weather cooperates and Federer can maintain his current level of play, there's few that can stop him. If the center court roof ends up being used in these last rounds, it will be truly a gift from the heavens for Federer. No one can approach his record when he plays indoors. It's a major reason why he dominated like he did at Wimbledon. Combining his love and skill on grass with the perfect conditions of being indoor and Federer is truly a tennis machine that can not be stopped.
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