August 5, 2012

The Missing Link

We knew that by the end of today's Gold medal match we would make history -- either world #1 Roger Federer would walk away with the elusive Golden Slam, or Britain's son Andy Murray would finally rise to the level his country has been expecting from him since he burst on the scene some four years ago. Chances to grab Olympic Gold don't come around often, and for two of the most decorated players in the sport winning this match would raise either to a most rarefied strata, and hopes for a fierce battle on Sunday ran high.

Roger, with seven titles at the All England Club already, was the clear favorite against the man who'd never beaten him in a best-of-three match, much less at Wimbledon. But after Federer's record breaking win over eventual Bronze medalist Juan Martin Del Potro in the semis, it was the Scot who came to this game more rested. The fact that the crowd was so clearly on his side might have helped too.

But I don't know that anyone would have predicted such a one-sided performance as the one we got today.

Murray, whose performance in his fourth career Slam final last month was easily his best so far, seemed to finally have taken a lesson from that defeat. He struggled to hold serve in his first game, but broke not long after and closed out the set in just over a half hour. He took an early lead in the second, built a shocking 5-0 lead and before you knew it was up two sets. Roger held a little tougher in the third, but still couldn't make a dent on his opponent's serve -- he won just a single point when receiving. On the court he's excelled on for the better part of a decade, Roger Federer had suffered his first straight-set loss since 2002 and was denied the one prize still missing from his trophy case. And after dominating all afternoon, Murray had finally given Great Britain the champion they've longed for.

Importantly, Sunday's performance from Murray finally proved he can play with the big boys. Yes, his first five matches in London were only three sets, but solid wins over Roger, Beijing Bronze medalist Novak Djokovic in the semis and even Stanislas Wawrinka in his opener remind us of the talent that's earned him an impressive eight Masters titles. Murray's Olympic Gold gives him that rare honor most of the sport's greats have never achieved, and as he gets ready to make another go for that first Grand Slam in less than a month, he may never have been in a better position.

For Roger, on the other hand, his failure to complete the medal run leaves him one accomplishment short of uber-rival Rafael Nadal, who won Gold in Beijing -- and with four years to go before Rio, the almost thirty-one year old may not have another opportunity to catch up. We know better, of course, than to count him out for good -- after all chasing the dream is what drives all great champions.

And both these men certainly have more to aspire to.

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