There is no place more hallowed for Williams, nor for tennis as a whole, than the grass on which she easily dispatched Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak Tuesday afternoon. This may have been the second round of the Olympic tournament, but it is the most familiar ground for the sport’s most luminous stars. Less than a month after Wimbledon closed, Williams and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova all graced the well-worn grass of Center Court, trying to win an important, yet undeniably different, tournament.
“It’s very special, because I dreamed about the Olympics when I was a kid, and now it comes true,” Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said. “And it’s maybe better than my dreams.”
Tsonga can say such things, because he authored the definitive match of the tournament thus far, wearing the blue for France rather than the whites of Wimbledon. He swapped the first two sets with Canada’s Milos Raonic on Court 1. He endured a rain delay. And then they locked in. In Wimbledon, the men’s matches are best-of-five sets, and if they reach a fifth set, there are no tiebreakers. In the Olympics, they play best-of-three, but when they get to a third, there are still no tiebreakers.
So on Tsonga and Raonic went to 10-10, to 15-15, to 20-20, each time Tsonga winning on his serve to take the lead, then Raonic countering with his own booming serve to pull even.
“Point after point, game after game,” Tsonga said, “you don’t think any more.”
The rest of the day’s supposed featured matches went quickly. Williams, Murray, Djokovic and Sharapova all advanced in straight sets. So there had to be something else that showed how meaningful this tournament can be to those who are here. When Tsonga finally broke Raonic in the 48th game of the final set, there it was: 6-3, 3-6, 25-23.
Maybe it wasn’t John Isner over Nicolas Mahut, 70-68, in a Wimbledon fifth set two years ago. But the bellows Tsonga let out afterward, and the way he galloped around the court nearly ripping his shirt from his back, showed he was every bit as satisfied winning the longest three-set Olympic match in history by taking the longest set in Olympic history.
“I’m really happy that there are some good matches in the Olympics like this,” Tsonga said. “It’s good for tennis, and it’s good for sports.”
Though London has hosted the Olympics before, Wimbledon has never hosted the Olympic tournament. “It’s the best tennis venue in the world,” said American Andy Roddick, a three-time Wimbledon finalist. “It’s a no-brainer.”