Tennis Elbow: The Olympic Dream
July 30, 2012 · Print This Article
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders how much historical weight the Olympic tournament should carry.
The 2012 London Olympic Games got underway this weekend to the tune of the $42-million opening ceremony on July 27. Until August 12, all athletes will vie for a medal in their respective sport.
And that includes tennis, where these Olympics feel a little bit like Wimbledon part deux. Indeed, the Olympic tournament is played at the same pristine All England Club that hosts every year the Wimbledon Championships. Both the men and women will crown their world champion who will reign supreme on the sport for the next four years, until the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games crown another two, and so on and so forth…
Well, not really. In tennis, a Roland Garros title still means much more than a gold medal. But should the Olympic tennis tournament matter and mean something–anything?
It’s tough to say, but let’s go with ‘not much.’ The Olympic Games unfold only once every four years, but that’s not what is most noteworthy. Rather, it’s that the Olympic tennis tournament in its current form is so recent. The sport was included in the Olympics from 1896 to 1924 (i.e. but not in 1904 for the women), and it was then thrown out after the 1924 Paris Games.
The sport came back much later, at the 1988 Seoul Games. Finally, professional tennis players could compete. That means there have only been seven Games where professional tennis players have been allowed to compete in the Open era–that makes this a very small sample.
That said, this still means that there have been seven gold medalists. On the men’s side, the list is fascinating–Miloslav Mecir, Marc Rosset, Andre Agassi, Yevgeni Kafelnikov, Nicolas Massu, and Rafael Nadal in that order. From that list, Agassi and Nadal are players with a lasting resume, and maybe you can add Kafelnikov to that group. But the others are middling players that had a few highlights. This year in London, one of the top players will probably win gold–judging by recent history on the ATP World Tour, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic are much more likely to add their names to this list than, say, Milos Raonic is. But still, the list remains modest.
Interestingly, the women’s list is much less odd–Steffi Graf, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Elena Dementieva. Other than the Russian champion from Beijing, these champions are players who dominated the WTA Tour for some period of time. Of course, if recent history holds, the 2012 London tournament is wide open as seems to be every tournament on the WTA Tour.
Also, because the Olympics happen only once every four years, not every player might get the chance to compete at his peak. Not only have very few of the greatest players in the history of the sport have had the opportunity to partake in the event, but few can do it at their peak.
Finally, this Olympic tournament makes even more busy a calendar that is already just about at capacity–so busy already, in fact, that the Citi Open is currently held in Washington, D.C. This year, Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out of the Olympic tournament because he made it all the way to the final of the bet-at-home Cup Kitzbühel tournament that ended a day after the beginning of the Olympic tournament. Oops.
Interestingly, perhaps Kohlschreiber’s decision shows where the players’ priorities really are–there’s no prize money at the Olympic Games and there never will be. Tennis is one of a few Olympic sport where professionals are allowed to compete, and the amateur dream of the Olympics is long gone when the Roger Federers and Maria Sharapovas compete, and when corruption runs rampant within the International Olympic Committee. But that’s all I’ll say on that topic.
It seems like the Olympics are little more than a footnote. For some, it can serve as the icing on the cake to cap off an all-time career while it’s the crown jewel of other players who might have enjoyed a little less success. That’s to say that the Olympic tennis tournament doesn’t mean much–but you can still watch it.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG