Published August 06, 2012
Midway through the Olympic tennis tournament at Wimbledon, a fan watching a doubles match was chattering in support of his nation's team, to the annoyance of a man seated several rows closer to the court.
"I don't want to sit here the whole time with you talking like that," the vexed spectator said in a thick British accent.
The chatty out-of-town fan sneered.
"It's not Wimbledon," he said. "It's the Olympics."
The Olympics changed Wimbledon, which became a more lively, colorful place, from the purple backstops to tennis outfits of every hue.
And Wimbledon changed Olympic tennis, too, raising the profile of an event that has long operated in the shadows of the games' more traditional sports.
The tournament drew big crowds and made big headlines, especially during the final weekend that included a gold medal for Serena Williams in singles, another for the Williams sisters in doubles and a breakthrough victory by Britain's Andy Murray, who won the singles title to ease the sting of an 0-4 record in Grand Slam finals.
"It's probably the most fun I've had at a tennis tournament," Murray said -- and that was before he won gold.
Crowds weren't exactly rowdy, but they were more festive than at Wimbledon, and quicker to chant and cheer for their own country. There were fewer neckties in the Royal Box; there was also more crying in the stands.
"I do hear many babies scream," said Roger Federer, a father of two. "Makes me feel right at home. I don't think kids are allowed during Wimbledon."
Andy Roddick added: "I always said it was going to be a little weird. It's Wimbledon, but it's not. It's like Olympified Wimbledon."
Players mostly loved Olympified Wimbledon. Besides Rafael Nadal, sidelined by recurring knee trouble, virtually all the top pros took part, and many fared well.
Serena Williams completed a Golden Slam in singles, winning the gold to go with her titles in all four major tournaments. Williams teamed with sister Venus to win the gold in doubles for the third time, and they now share the tennis record with four golds each. Their U.S. teammates, Bob and Mike Bryan, completed a Golden Slam in doubles.
"We've won the Grand Slams. It's great," Bob Bryan said. "But the Olympics is something special. There's no feeling to describe what it's like when that flag is going up and the national anthem's playing at an Olympics. It transcends any tennis event."
Doubles players like Bryan especially enjoy the games, where their event tends to draw more attention than at other tournaments. Murray found that the case en route to a silver medal in mixed doubles, part of the Olympics for the first time since 1924.
"You take a mixed doubles match in the first round of a Grand Slam, there will be very few people watching," Murray said. "You get a mixed doubles match in the Olympics, you were looking at packed crowds throughout."
Still, the focus was on singles, and the men's final created the biggest buzz of any Olympic tennis match since the sport rejoined the games in 1988 after a 64-year hiatus. Murray thrilled British fans by drubbing four-time Olympian Federer, who settled for a silver as his first singles medal.
Players are already looking forward to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Bryan brothers said they'll try to make it at age 38. Federer, who turns 31 Wednesday, hopes for another shot at a gold.
"It's not impossible that I could take part in Rio," he said, adding with a laugh, "I could retire and come back. It's that long of a break.
"It's a fascinating country. I've never been to Rio. Obviously I'd like to be part of it."
Tennis at the 2016 Games will be much different from this year's event. Officials in Brazil plan construction of a tennis complex projected to cost more than $40 million, with hard courts the likely surface -- a big change from the hallowed grass courts of the All England Club.
The 2016 Games will test whether tennis can retain a more prominent Olympic profile. As for 2012, the Olympics and Wimbledon were a good match.