As the Summer Olympics get underway on Saturday, July 28, at the All England Club, tennis is one of 30 sports that award gold, silver and bronze medals at the conclusion of nine days of rigorous competition.
A total of 205 nations are expected to compete in the Summer Games with all participants taking part in the opening ceremony on July 27—including tennis players.
Each nation’s flag will be carried by an athlete representing his or her country in the Olympics. Bearing the flag is awarded to an athlete whose nation feels is highly deserving of such honor.
Previously, in 2004, Roger Federer carried the flag for Switzerland, joined by Claudine Schaul of Luxembourg, Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand and Abdo Abdallah of Djibouti—four tennis players altogether.
In 2008, Federer, as his nation’s No. 1 tennis player, again carried Switzerland’s flag in the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. Fernando Gonzalez did the same for Chile. Gonzalez was being rewarded for his gold medal win in doubles in 2004 as well as for the Chilean's distinguished tennis career.
In all, there were only two tennis players chosen for the distinction in 2008.
So far in 2012, however, eight tennis players have been selected to carry their nation’s flag. Included are Max Mirnyi of Belarus, Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, Horia Tecau of Romania, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland and Maria Sharapova of Russia.
Rafael Nadal was going to carry the flag for Spain before he withdrew from the Games with knee problems. More tennis names might be added to the roster like China’s Li Na and perhaps Venus Williams of the United States. Those announcements come daily.
To have so many flag bearers selected from the tennis pool signals the growing importance of the sport on the world stage. This is in contrast to numerous years of being shut out by the Olympic governing body.
Since 1988, when tennis returned to the Olympic program, the prestige of sport has grown in importance to fans and players alike.
Following are the reasons why the Olympics as a sporting event is nearing parity with tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments in the eyes of fans and players alike...