Only 22 of the top men’s singles tennis players made the trip to Tokyo for the Olympics, a reflection of the confusing place of competition in a sport that is already teeming with major tournaments every year. What has always been clear, however, is that most of the top participating players arrived determined to come away with a medal.
Few enjoy him as much as two-time singles gold medalist Andy Murray, and alongside formidable Joe Salisbury, the British pair rose to the occasion in their very first game together, dismantling second seed Pierre -Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut of France 6-3, 6-2.
As players continue to adjust to the uncomfortable heat and humidity, several struggled on the first day of play, including Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and second seed Daniil Medvedev, despite the two wins in two sets. Murray and Salisbury, however, got by with minimal fuss.
“We’re obviously very happy with the way we played, but we felt great before we started,” said Salisbury. “We just had a good attitude, we had good energy together. I didn’t feel like it was our first game together. I think we gelled really well and completed each other’s games, and I’m just happy with how we competed there.
There was no doubt that Murray and Salisbury, who are currently part of the No.3-ranked team in 2021 alongside Rajeev Ram of the United States, could be a good fit. From the start, both were extremely alert. Murray picked up where he left off for extended stretches at Wimbledon, serving with precision and providing a platform for Salisbury to demonstrate his silky touch around the net.
The game, however, was a serious disappointment for one of the greatest teams of the generation. Mahut and Herbert won it all together. They have won all four Grand Slam titles, including a second Roland Garros title at home this year, in addition to titles in the World Tour and Davis Cup finals. Only the Olympics escaped them, where they never even won a game.
Jamie Murray followed his brother with a much more grueling victory alongside Neal Skupski. The pair recovered from a set against Andrés Molteni and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina to win 6-7 (3), 6-4, 13-11, saving a match point at 10-11 in the tie-break of the final set on the way to victory. They will face Japanese players Kei Nishikori and Ben McLachlan in the second round.
Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic started his quest for a gold medal this week by easily defeating Hugo Dellien of Bolivia 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic himself didn’t always seem comfortable in the heat, but he passed without incident against the world No.139. As they met at the net, the Bolivian asked Djokovic for his T-shirt and told him it was a dream to face him there. . Djokovic said he would oblige in the locker room.
After his 6-4, 7-6 (8) victory over Alexander Bublik, Medvedev was the most outspoken player when it comes to conditions, which he called the worst heat he has ever seen. Medvedev argued that the matches should start in the evening and that the 1.50 minute break between points is insufficient.
“But you have to play, it’s the Olympics, you’re aiming for the medal,” he said. “You are not here to cry because of the heat. It was really hard for both of us. We talked about it after the game on the pitch. It was unbelievably hot. But we have to get out of it. “
In the women’s draw, Heather Watson, the only British representative after the withdrawal of Johanna Konta, was beaten 7-6 (5), 6-3 by the German Anna-Lena Friedsam, world number 119. Watson is hoping to make the mixed doubles with Salisbury, but their combined standings are unlikely to be high enough to qualify for the 16-team draw.
One of the last images of opening day was sad. Former Dutch world No.4 and Roland Garros semi-finalist Kiki Bertens ended her singles career at the age of 29 after Marketa Vondrousova beat her 6-4, 3-6 , 6-4 in the first round. Bertens, seeded 16 in Tokyo, underwent Achilles heel surgery at the end of 2020, from which she still has not fully recovered. Last month, she said her motivation had waned.
Bertens is a shy and late one who climbed into the top five in 2019, then had the heartache of arriving at Roland Garros that year as one of the tournament favorites before having to retire to cause of illness in the second round. It was the last Roland-Garros that she played in full health.
An emotional Bertens bowed her head as she left a singles match for the last time in the eerie silence of an empty arena. She will play alongside Demi Schuurs in the doubles competition and then move on.