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Tennis at the Olympics: the acclaim, preparation and the favourites

Tennis at the Olympics: the acclaim, preparation and the favourites
Tennis was a recognised Olympic sport at the inaugural Athens Olympics back in 1896 and carried on through to the Paris games in 1924. After a dispute, tennis did not find its way back to the games until it was a demonstration sport at the 1968 and 1984 games. Official reinstatement was realised in 1988.
 
But does tennis at the Olympics really matter? This is a topic of intense debate amongst fans and players alike. Some cite the glory of being able to appear for their country, where others look at it more sceptically. The Olympics doesn’t offer the ranking and pay advantages that other elite tournaments offer.
 
Also, legacy is an issue. Due to the inconsistent nature of tennis appearing at the Olympics, it is not seen as the pinnacle of the sport when compared against success in track and field events, swimming or cycling.
 
Sweatband caught up with ex-professional Chris Wilkinson, a competitor at the 1992 Olympics Barcelona and ex-British number 1. Chris shared his thoughts on the burning questions relating to the delayed Tokyo Olympics, perceptions of tennis at the Olympics and the medal favourites. 
 
 

How is tennis at the Olympics seen by the players? Is it seen as a serious competition?

 
Tennis at the Olympics is taken very seriously, however I do believe that players regard the 4 Grand Slams as the major priority followed closely by the Olympics.
Tennis is different to many of the other sports as with tennis each year there are 4 majors to contend with players looking to play their best at these Majors, many of the sports at the Olympics they are looking to peak every 4 years.
 
Obviously for the top players such as Rafa, Federer and Djokovic winning the Olympics will add to their winning Portfolio.
 
This year is especially important for Djokovic as he has the chance to win all 4 major grand slams and the Olympics in the same calendar year known as the Golden Slam, a feat that has never been achieved in Mens tennis. Steffi Graf did achieve this in 1988 (ex-German professional tennis player with 22 Grand Slam titles).

 

Do players approach tennis Olympics differently than the main slams?

Players will prepare for the Olympics as they would do when preparing for the Slams. They will practice on a surface similar to the one that they will be playing on in Tokyo, the difficulty this year is that the turnaround from grass to a hard court is shorter and players will have to adapt quicker.

 

Can the Olympic competition be seen as a disruption or a bonus for players?

So much depends on the individual player and what their schedule and priority might be. Obviously if you end up winning a medal then it is a huge bonus, but as a one off event in Japan it can make scheduling for a player more challenging.

 

What playing style has generally been suited to winning Olympic competitions?

Andy Murray has won the last 2 Mens singles Olympics, one being on grass in Wimbledon and the other on hard in Rio. Tokyo is being played on a hard court and lends itself to an all court player to do well.

 

What will be the difference in Tokyo compared to previous competitions?

 Obviously the big difference this year will be the COVID effect, no spectators and the risk of  players having to isolate. It will be interesting to see how players adapt to these different scenarios.

 

Who are the favourites?

Djokovic is hot favourite in the mens and has an added incentive of trying to add a gold medal to his amazing collection of grand slam titles and of course winning in Tokyo would take him one step closer to capturing the Golden Slam. Watch out though for World no 2 Dani Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev
 
The ladies could be very interesting with both Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka. These two players would be my favourite with Aryana Sabalenka potentially pipping the other 2 players.

 

How do you rate Andy Murray's chances of going for a 3rd gold medal?

Andy Murray is amazing and an inspiration to all, to be playing at such a high level with a new hip is an incredible achievement, however I do feel that it will be a real struggle to win his 3rd gold medal. Physically he is not the player he was, but hey, you can never write Andy Murray off.


What were your memories of competing at the Barcelona games?

I was very fortunate to have played in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. It was such an amazing experience to be involved in. My fondest memories were being part of the opening ceremony and general daily life in the Olympic village. It was great mixing and hanging out with all of the other athletes from around the world.