In keeping with the strict branding policies of the Olympic Games, all Rolex clocks and scoreboard logos have been covered at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. The word Sony is hidden with black tape on all TV sets in the media center, and the popular Pimm’s Cup drink for these 17 days has to be sold unbranded, so it has been renamed the “No. 1 Cup.”
The familiar green banners have been replaced with purple five-ringed signage, and players have ditched their whites for their national colors. Otherwise, the Olympic tennis tournament isn’t a whole lot different from the Wimbledon that was hosted on these hallowed grounds last month.
Strawberries and cream are still for sale. Henman Hill is still packed. Serena Williams is still cruising through the draw. And Roger Federer is delighting the audience — especially true Friday, when the crowd included Kobe Bryant.
Anybody who thinks Olympic tennis doesn’t matter to multimillionaire athletes didn’t see top-ranked Federer and No. 8 seed Juan Martin del Potro battle for nearly four and a half hours on Centre Court before the Swiss finally outlasted the Argentine 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 19-17 in a grueling and thrilling semifinal match. Del Potro sobbed at the net afterward, was consoled by Federer, and then struggled to keep his composure in the postmatch interview area.
“To be honest, to lose this way hurts a lot; it’s very hard to talk about it right now,” del Potro said. “I have to go take a shower now and try to do my best in the [mixed] doubles out of respect for Gisela [Dulko], but this one will be hard to get over. Someone has to win these matches; [Friday] it was his turn to win. At the U.S. Open it was my turn. That’s the way it goes.”
It was the longest three-set men’s singles match in the Open era, surpassing the 4:03 it took for Novak Djokovic to beat Rafael Nadal in the 2009 Madrid Open semifinal. Olympic tennis doesn’t use a tiebreaker to decide matches, so the third set dragged on for 163 minutes.
“Emotionally, I’m extremely drained,” Federer said. “The level of play throughout was amazing, especially from Juan Martin. I’ve never seen him play so well, to be honest, from start to finish, particularly on grass. He should be very proud of his performance. I felt very bad for him at net. It was an emotional hug we gave each other. I hope he can make the turnaround and play a good bronze-medal match.”
Federer, who won his seventh Wimbledon title here last month, will play for his first singles medal Sunday. He faces No. 3 Andy Murray of Great Britain, who beat No. 2 Djokovic of Serbia 7-5, 7-5 in the other semifinal.
“I hope it’s a great match,” Murray said, “because the way the matches went today, I think the tournament deserves a great final. I hope we can provide that.”
Federer and Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka won the gold in doubles at the 2008 Beijing Games. But 17-time Grand Slam title winner Federer has failed to win a singles gold in three tries, just about the only thing missing from his résumé. He is guaranteed at least a silver.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Twelve years ago, I lost the semis against Tommy Haas and lost the bronze-medal match. That was rough. I’m happy I took it a step further.”
On the women’s side, Williams will play Maria Sharapova in the final Saturday. Sharapova advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Kirilenko, and Williams had little trouble knocking off No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 in 63 minutes.
“I really look forward to playing Maria,” said Williams, a Palm Beach Gardens resident. “I haven’t played her in a while. We always have good matches. She has improved so much. It will be interesting. She’s ranked higher than I am, so I have nothing to lose. It will be a good battle.”
In men’s doubles, American twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan advanced to the final with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet of France.
“A gold’s a gold, and we’re going to focus all our energy on that,” said Bob Bryan, who lives in Sunny Isles. “It’s all sinking in. Every sports fan in the world knows what an Olympic medal is.”
Federer said he noted two differences on Centre Court during the Olympics: fewer ties in the box seats and more babies crying.
“I do hear more babies scream, makes me feel right at home,” the father of two said. “That’s what struck me most this last week, kids screaming in the stands. It’s actually been good for me.”