Roger Federer and Andy Murray guaranteed themselves of getting a medal at the 2012 London Olympics, but both men did so in completely different matches. Federer defeated Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-5(5), 19-17 in 4 hours and 26 minutes, while Andy Murray impressively dispatched Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5.
First up was the Federer/Delpo clash. Juan Martin started very well and Roger was not sharp, and thus the Argentine broke midway through the set, winning it in fine fashion. The second set was even testier for Federer, as he he hit many unforced errors, but was getting by on the strength of his ever-accurate serve. The tiebreak came, and after racing to a 4-1 lead, Roger gave back the mini-break. At 4-4, he mini-broke again, however, and on his second set point at 6-5, he hit a perfect ace to send the match to a deciding set.
The third and final set was a marathon. There are no tiebreaks in 3rd sets at the Olympics, and we'd already seen a 25-23 final set between Tsonga and Raonic a few days before. Both Federer and del Potro kept holding serve with various degrees of difficulty, until 9-9 when Federer broke. This was it, right? No. Federer got broken to love after a brilliant game from Delpo.
It looked like the tide may turn and Federer's chance had come and gone but he kept his head in the game and showed the mental strength that has brought him back to World #1 in 2012. At 11-11, Fed got down 0-30 but hit an ace and then three straight service winners to escape trouble. Skip ahead to 17-17, Roger finally broke for only the second time of the match, and this time he would make no mistake, winning the match on his second match point.
It was the longest 3-set match in the history of tennis in the Open Era, and the longest Olympic tennis match ever. After Delpo sent the final backhand into the net, Federer, elated but calm, kissed the Swiss flag on his polo, indicating how much getting a medal for Switzerland (their first of these games) means to him. At the net, he embraced del Potro, who was understandably in tears after the heartbreaking defeat.
As if Roger Federer needs any more accolades, he will have the chance to become the third man ever to win all four Slams plus the Olympic Gold medal (the other two being Agassi and Nadal). A few days away from 31, the Federer Express is picking up speed.
In the second semifinal, Andy Murray put on a brilliant display of grass court tennis with a straights sets win over Novak Djokovic. The Scot broke once in each set and was not broken. This will be the first medal Great Britain has won in tennis in 100 years - the only question is what colour it will be.
Djokovic and del Potro will battle for the bronze before the Wimbledon final rematch gold medal showdown.
Quite simply, Federer's mental strength is just ridiculous. He held serve 12 times when serving to stay in the match, and 13 if you count the 3-4 game where a loss of serve would have meant losing the match very likely. I have never seen a player as clutch on their serve as Fed. When he needs to hit a big serve, he hits it. Going down 0-30 at 11-11 and then hitting four straight serves where Delpo couldn't get the ball back into play was special and "vintage" Federer.
It was crucial for Roger to serve extraordinarily well because the conditions were windy and his baseline and net game were pretty poor for his standards. Still, being able to hit a great serve under pressure time after time after time is so incredibly hard. It is a physical battle as much as a mental one, as the body tends to rush or tighten up in tense situations. With Roger, he's just calm, cool, and collected at all times - it really is like he has ice in his veins.
Federer's fighting spirit has shown so many times thus far in 2012. His 12-1 record in deciding sets and 16-1 record since that devastating loss to Djokovic at the US Open is proof of that. Whatever happens in the gold medal match, I have never been prouder to be a Federer fan than in these days, where the entire world is getting to see the qualities of a true champion.