Tennis Wrap: Team dynamics propel Aussies

Published 24 August 2016 (AEDT)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Samantha Stosur of Australia hits during the women's third round singles match against Angelique Kerber of Germany on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © 2016 Getty Images

TENNIS: The Australian Tennis Team was spearheaded by four-time Olympian Samantha Stosur and contained seven Olympic debutants – Daria Gavrilova, John Millman, John Peers, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jordan Thompson, Arina Rodionova and Sam Groth – along with dual Olympians Anastasia Rodionova and Chris Guccione.

The original team of seven grew to 10 in the days before the competition, with Groth and the Rodionova sisters gaining late entries the week prior to the event due to withdrawal of entries from other countries.

Whilst no medals were won, there were many highlights and moments including the centre court battles between Daria Gavrilova and world number one Serena Williams (USA), as well as John Millman and number four seed Kei Nishikori (JPN). Millman also created Olympic history when he became the first man to not concede a game in his opening round encounter against Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, which he won 6-0 6-0.

The team’s most successful member was Stosur, who achieved her best Olympic result in reaching the third round of the singles competition where she was defeated by world number two and eventual silver medallist Angelique Kerber (GER) having defeated Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) and Misaki Doi (JPN). Stosur contested three events as she partnered Gavrilova in the women’s doubles and John Peers in the mixed.

Coaches Mark Draper and Alicia Molik were pleased with the performance of each team member and praised their efforts.

“I thought that the week was a success from the point of view that I thought everyone played close to their potential given that some of them had some injury problems coming in and some had tough draws,” said Men’s Coach Mark Draper.

“I thought for the most part the guys who played singles played really well and they came together really well as a team which is important.

“John Millman played really well, he played two great matches wining the first without dropping a game and made Nishikori the fourth seed fight for the match,” added Draper. “Grothy (Sam Groth) had been struggling coming into the tournament and was a late call up but he was happy with his performance and I thought he played well against the number eight seed David Goffin.

“Thanasi probably exceeded expectations given that he hasn’t played a match in ten months and even though he didn’t quite get across the line, I thought that he played well and really had his chances. Then Thommo had a bit of a leg strain that hampered his movement a little bit but he showed great signs, so all in all I thought the guys performed well.

“In the doubles we were hoping for better, but we didn’t quite execute at the right time when it was needed but their effort can’t be faulted and there was some good tennis played.

“Argentina was a tough draw straight up and John Peers was struggling with his wrist more so in that one than what he was in the mixed doubles so it was always going to be a tough one to get through a close match. But the Argentinians came through with some great returns at the right time late in the second set when they needed too.

“I felt like the mixed was the same – Sam and John played a great game. They had a draw that was tough against the Indians but it was like a 50-50 match up, but the Indians probably just came up with the goods at the right time."

“I was really pleased when Dasha (Daria Gavrilova) played Serena Williams in the first round, where I think she proved that she is right at the level, I thought she was great,” said Molik.

“To be honest with you, Dasha made Serena work extremely hard and she had to play at an incredibly high level to beat Dasha and I think that the fight that Dasha put up against her was part of the reason that Serena lost in the following round because it was a pretty demanding and physical match.

“Sam played well getting into the third round where Angelique Kerber played like the number two in the world that she is,” said Molik. “However, in saying that, Sam wasn’t without her opportunities.

“Overall I think it is pretty positive for both women moving forward, it gives them both great confidence, especially in the lead up to the US Open which is their next major event."

Molik was also happy with the efforts of Stosur and Peers in the mixed and both women’s doubles pairings, who were defeated in the opening round by the eventual gold and silver medallists.

“The mixed doubles was such high level tennis, the Indian team were superb and John and Sam made them play at their best level. It was amazing, that is what the Olympics does, it brings out the best in everyone and everyone just rises to a new level."

“It was tough for the Rodi’s (Rodionova sisters) 48 hours outside of the Olympics starting, getting a call up but it was exciting at the same time,” said Molik.

“They played a great pairing it was always going to be difficult, as they are right up there with the best pairs in the world in the Russians Vesnina and Makarova, who ended up winning the Gold Medal. So that was always going to be an uphill battle for Anastasia and Arina, but again I am sure they understand there are areas that they can work on and improve.

“Sam and Dasha played well against the Swiss pair who won silver, I would like them to pair more often because I think they are a valuable combination for Fed Cup in the future,” added Molik. “Sam’s experience and Dasha’s enthusiasm could be very valuable."

Draper and Molik also praised the team spirit within the group throughout the tournament.

“We spoke about it a lot this week, that we all felt very comfortable, that the feel of the team in general was very good and that just makes it a more pleasurable experience and a more productive experience,” said Draper.

“When you know that the people on the side of the court are genuinely there for support, have your back and are cheering for you it makes it easier to execute out on the court.

“It has been great for us, we have all really enjoyed the opportunity to get out and see a few different sports and it was an opportunity that I wasn’t sure we were going to get. But everyone has taken the opportunity to get out and have a bit of a look around and have fun and this entire Olympic experience is something that I’m sure we will all never forget."

“All in all I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve here,” added Molik. “It was probably our biggest team and we have to commend everyone on their team spirit and unity, which is sometimes difficult to get in an individual sport.

“In tennis, it is really only a couple of weeks a year where you are fortunate enough to have team mates around to celebrate, commiserate, to spend time with and again this is quite a unique situation because it is men’s and women’ teams coming together as one to support each other.

“I am happy and proud of the effort from every player, they all loved playing for their country and represented our country with distinction on and off the court,” said Molik.

“We may have fallen short off a medal but everyone gave their best, played fair and absolutely embraced the Olympic spirit."

Jo Banning

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