10 Reasons Why Olympic Tennis Rivals the Four Grand Slams
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...
Olympic Ceremonies Reward More Than the Finalists
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The award ceremony at any Grand Slam tournament is very special. It can be the culmination of a very long, exciting battle or mark the end of a match whose outcome was never in doubt.
Regardless, the winner is ecstatic to win a Grand Slam trophy whether at the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.
The runner up is also recognized and given a symbolic second place trophy plus a chance to offer a few words of praise for the winner. But no other player receives any public accolades at the ceremony, which focuses almost exclusively on the winner.
At the Summer Olympics, however, the winners are more plentiful.
The consolation match for the bronze medal provides another exciting match at the end of the tournament.
Standing on the podium are three medal winners. They take home gold, silver and bronze medals in a distinguished ceremony. Offering bronze extends the winners circle and rewards all players who have performed well.
Perhaps Grand Slam tournaments should consider a similar expansion to its award ceremony.
Olympic Participation Encourages Construction of New, Improved Tennis Arenas
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With the addition of tennis on the official program, tennis stadiums have been erected around the globe to accommodate the sport at the Olympics.
For example, the Athens Olympic Tennis Centre was built for the 2004 Olympics held in that city.
Previously, Stone Mountain Park was constructed to host tennis events at the Olympics in Atlanta. The Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre needed to be added for the Summer Games awarded to Sydney in 2000.
During the past decade, with the increased popularity of tennis at the Summer Games, especially in China and other Asian countries, new stadiums have been built to house tennis courts and player facilities.
Tennis, even beyond the Grand Slam venues, enjoys a new surge of interest as the Asian fanbase expands.
First and foremost is the National Tennis Center in Beijing erected for the 2008 Summer Olympics, hosted by China. The facility covers almost 42 acres of ground.
Currently, this upscale tennis arena is used for the China Open, which is played during the fall as a Masters Series 500 event on the ATP tour and a Premiere tournament for the WTA.
Also constructed in Shanghai in 2003 is the Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena. With a retractable roof, indoor and outdoor tournaments can be hosted at this venue.
The arena was constructed to host the ATP World Tour Finals, which it did from 2005-2008. Now it serves as the home of the ATP Shanghai Rolex Masters typically held in October.
The Dominique Perrault Olympic Tennis Centre in Madrid, Spain, was built in anticipation of becoming an Olympic venue for the 2016 Olympics. Madrid, however lost the bid. Those games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Even so, the arena now hosts the Madrid Open.
The Summer Games, plus the added interest in tennis they generate, have helped to add several modern tennis facilities that aid the growth of the sport worldwide.
Adulation of Tennis Stars at Olympics Inspires Youngsters to Enter Tennis Ranks
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The sight of Li Na of China taking the court during the Summer Games or Li Ting and Sun Tiantian winning Olympic gold in doubles prompted an influx of new, young players from China into the tennis ranks—hoping to follow in the footsteps of their new national heroes.
The adulation Roger Federer prompted in Asia during his many appearances there created a wave of young Asian men who try to emulate the Swiss on the tennis court. The world No. 1 has attracted many youngsters from many nations into the game.
Rafael Nadal of Spain, with his aggressive style of play and his never-say-die attitude, has won over many fans from numerous nations. Nadal has managed to make himself a hero to youngsters who wish to be just like him on the tennis court.
Recently, Novak Djokovic's invigorated style has increased the Serb's own legion of fans.
As the Olympics grow and more people watch, the young people, especially young ladies, will try their talents out on the tennis court.
Olympics Promotes 'Team' Aspect of Tennis as Davis Cup Popularity Declines
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Although Davis Cup competition is still widely respected by the tennis world, it is a relatively unknown and unheralded event for the general public who stay away from it in droves.
Like the Olympics, the Davis Cup competition originated at the turn of the 20th Century—the year 1900 to be exact.
In 1900, the USA competed against Great Britain for the honor of winning the Davis Cup. Despite lofty expectations, it was the USA which opened with an insurmountable 3-0 lead, seizing the inaugural victory.
Unlike the Olympics, held once every four years, Davis Cup competition is held every year during four weekends spread across the annual tennis calendar.
Because of the frequency and the travel distance involved, many top-ranked players, like world No. 1 Roger Federer, often choose not to compete.
Davis Cup is team competition with singles and doubles components adding to the five-match total. The equivalent event for the women is the Fed Cup.
The spirit of Davis Cup, however, is revived at the Olympics when countrymen and countrywomen team together in doubles—and now in mixed doubles—to compete for their respective countries.
You need only review the joy of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka as they won a gold medal in Beijing in doubles to see the immense joy and pride these competitors took in winning for Switzerland. The same can be said of the Williams sisters for Team USA also winning gold in doubles at Beijing.
Team competition and playing for your country is what the Olympics are all about. These Summer Games are often the only time outside Davis Cup and Fed Cup that tennis players get to experience that.
Olympic Participation Gains Tennis Players the Added Respect of Other Athletes
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As tennis has become a worldwide sport and coverage of tennis events continues to increase on television and on the Internet, the tennis athlete has grown in stature.
Athletes in other sports have a great deal of admiration and respect for an athlete who can endure intense physical competition for four or five hours at a stretch during an extraordinary five-set match.
Tennis is no longer regarded as a “country club” sport or a pastime for snobs as it once was regarded before the average person understood the extreme athleticism required to play the game.
Billie Jean King and Jimmy Connors brought the game alive back in the early '70s while the rivalry between Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova as well as that of John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg attracted millions of fans to the game.
But it took time for tennis to become important to fans and athletes at the Summer Games. The Beijing Olympics seemed to change all of that.
Tennis pros like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were often mobbed by other athletes during their time in the Olympic Village in Beijing.
Olympic competitors sought autographs or a chance to visit with these two tennis superstars. Well known athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps speak glowingly of Federer and Nadal, respectively.
The Olympics Has Gained Buy-in by the All of Top-Ranked Players
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It is expected that 190 players will participate in five separate tennis competitions at the upcoming Summer Games in London. The events will include men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
The field is limited to 64 with the top 56 players in the world gaining entry—but only four from each country allowed. The Committee will seed the top 16 players in singles competition. Not much has changed regarding numbers of participants or the format of the matches.
What has changed is the world ranking of the majority of the participants. For example, in 1988 Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander were fighting it out for the No. 1 world ranking but neither of these players entered the Olympic field in 1988. The first year returning to the Summer Olympics saw the top ranked men in tennis opting out.
By 1992 that improved—but even if they did make the trip, in Barcelona most of the male top seeds were gone by the third round.
Despite the grumbling concerning the absence of the top players, their numbers have continued to grow throughout the seven summers of Olympic competition.
This year, world No. 1 Roger Federer and his WTA equivalent Victoria Azarenka will compete in the draw along with the majority of the top ten in both the men’s and women’s game in singles and in doubles.
Missing in 2012 is the No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal for the men and the No. 10 seed Marion Bartoli for the women.
The other top nine are entered in the field eager and excited to be in London where they will battle mightily to win, since the opportunity to win a medal only happens once every four years.
Tennis at the Summer Games Now Includes All Events Played at Grand Slams
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Tennis during the first Olympics played in 1896 had only two events—men’s singles and men’s doubles.
In 1900 in Paris, that program expanded to add women’s singles and mixed doubles. When the Olympics moved to St. Louis in 1904, women’s singles and mixed doubles were missing from the list of tennis Olympic events.
Remarkably in London in 1908, tennis was played outdoors and indoors each with their separate set of medalists.
That lasted until 1920 in Antwerp where the locations merged and women’s doubles was added for the first time, giving tennis at the Olympics all five events at one setting—men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles plus mixed doubles.
That lasted for one more Summer Olympics held in Paris in 1924, which was the last time tennis was listed on the regular Olympic program.
When it returned in 1988 during the Summer Games in Seoul, the program listed men’s singles and doubles and women’s singles and doubles. No mixed doubles appeared until 2012.
The U.S. Open has featured mixed doubles the longest, beginning in 1887. Wimbledon began in 1913, with the Australian Open jumping on board in 1922. The French Open was the last to include mixed doubles competition in 1925.
Although the Australian Open dropped this event from 1970-1986, the other majors continued to offer competition in mixed doubles except in Europe and Australia during World War years when the entire event was not held.
For the Olympic tennis athletes, there are now as many events offered in which to compete as there are at the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.
ATP & WTA Have Increased Rankings Points for Participation at the Olympics
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In an effort to encourage participation in the Olympics by tennis athletes, the governing bodies of tennis, the ATP and WTA, decided to grant ranking points for for singles competition.
It was often a tempestuous battle within the IOC, ITF and the ATP and WTA to find a way for all parties to reach an amicable agreement on rules of entry, the number and seeding of players and the ranking points awarded for participation.
When competitive tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988, the top players were not always eager to participate with schedules already very full. Without prize money and without receiving ranking points, Olympic competition, many deemed, was just not worth the effort.
In 2008, the gold medal win was worth 400 points for men and 353 points for women, each determined by their respective governing bodies.
The WTA awarded ranking points for women participating in the Olympics for the first time in 2004 in contrast to the men who were awarded points back in 2000.
The men’s total points did not change from 2000-2008, remaining at 400 for a gold medal win. For the women, the 2004 Olympics awarded 248 points to the winner, Justine Henin-Hardenne, increasing the gold medal total points to 353 in 2008.
But after the highly successful tennis competition in Beijing, the ATP and WTA have once again increased ranking points for the Olympics. They are as follows:
750 Gold medal, 450 Silver medal, 340 Bronze medal, 270 Fourth place, 135 Quarterfinals, 70 Third round, 35 Second round, 5 First round.
685 Gold medal, 470 Silver medal, 340 Bronze medal, 260 Fourth place, 175 Quarterfinals, 95 Third round, 55 Second round, 1 First round.
Players are all eager to participate in the Summer Games. The ranking points given play a role in that change of attitude.
The Olympics Promotes Tennis as a World-Class Sport
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According to reports, over a billion people around the globe watched the Opening Ceremony in Beijing. It was a spectacle worthy of such rapt attention.
According to USA Today, over 211 million people in the USA alone watched Olympic coverage on their televisions.
The London Evening Standard reported that 17 million people watched the Wimbledon final as Andy Murray of Great Britain lost to Roger Federer at the All England Club.
Six million watched the women’s final as reported by The Telegraph as Serena Williams defeated Agnieszka Radwanska for the championship. According, to the All England Club, approximately four million viewers tuned into ESPN’s live coverage in the United States.
The point being that the Olympics attracts exponentially more viewers and as a sporting event has grown in stature as live coverage continues to be a staple of the Games.
That is not to suggest that a billion people will watch tennis but tennis coverage will be complete with television and live streaming. The potential viewing population is enormous.
As it gains more exposure at the Olympics, tennis grows in stature, attracting more worldwide fans and more youngsters who wish to become tennis stars of the future.
Countries who have never before shown an interest in the sport, now promote tennis and enrich its player population.
Tennis has arrived.
Olympic Gold Medal Increasing in Prestige for Winners
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Winning the gold medal in tennis today is huge for players—for many equal to the status of winning a Grand Slam.
Jennifer Capriati remarked as much after she won Olympic Gold in Barcelona in 1992 as did Lindsay Davenport achieving the gold in Atlanta in 1996.
No doubt the fact that Rafael Nadal has already won his gold medal had much to do with the fact that he withdrew from the Olympics. The Spaniard was content with his singular gold, refusing to further damage already tenuous knees.
Brilliant players of the past like Miloslav Mecir and Elena Dementieva managed to win gold to emblazon their potent games on the record books without ever winning a major tennis tournament.
Roger Federer enters his fourth consecutive Olympic competition still seeking an elusive gold medal in men’s singles, as does Serena Williams of the United States.
Mining for Gold has become a major preoccupation for many top-ranked tennis stars, almost equal to winning a Grand Slam trophy—almost...