Tennis at the Olympics
It seems strange this summer to see the sacred turf of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, a venue renowned for its stipulation of all-white attire, accommodating players in multi-colours, whether it is the green and gold of Australia, the red and white of Switzerland or the blue and white of France. But this is the Olympics and the imperatives of national symbolism prevail. For British tennis fans used to seeing the tour move on from grass to hard courts after the conclusion of Wimbledon each year, the Olympics represents a chance for another bite of the delectable cherry that is grass tennis. Eager to showcase Britain at its best as the eyes of the world are trained on the nation over the coming weeks, the British public could not have a better showcase than the temple of world tennis that is Wimbledon. It may also give grass as a playing surface on the tour a boost if, as several top players in the game have called for recently, more opportunities for tournament practice on grass pre-Wimbledon are introduced.
Tennis has had an interesting if erratic history at the Olympics. It formed part of the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896 and remained so until 1924 after which it was dropped as an event. It was only re-instated as late as the 1988 Seoul Olympics (it had been a ‘demonstration event’ since 1968) and has remained part of the summer Olympics programme since.
Such is the allure of the Olympics that the best players in the world, who bust their gut each year seeking to win one of the four Grand Slam events on the tour, see an Olympic title as the ultimate prize of their career. Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are primed and eager to seize the singles title this year (will we see a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon Final?) and Rafael Nadal is known to be distraught at having to withdraw from the event this year through injury. A title conveys not only personal but also national prestige and is as eagerly fought for as are the titles at Melbourne, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow. In fact, both the men’s and women’s events count for points on the respective tours, another factor to inspire competitive spirit. This year will be the first time that mixed doubles will have been part of the event.
We are still in the early stages of the event with the finals due to conclude on August 5th. Sitting beside the ‘blue riband’ events of athletics and swimming, tennis has not attracted quite the same levels of attraction – it obviously cannot command the exclusive attention it does during Wimbledon fortnight. For all that, popularity and name recognition among the public for players remains high and betting on the tennis events is among the highest of all this year’s Olympic sports.
British players have kept the flag flying so far. Andy Murray has progressed to the third round and Laura Robson and Heather Watson are both safely in the second round of the ladies’. Robson is faced with the challenge of Maria Sharapova on 31 July which will clearly test her mettle. All the ‘usual suspects’ have progressed so far in both Singles events, laying the ground for some interesting encounters at the later stages of the event.
Let’s hope that the positive glow of the Olympics notwithstanding, tennis won’t get crowded out by the mass appeal of the athletics and swimming events. It is hard to achieve ‘top billing’ in such a competitive sporting marketplace, but tennis has the international players and the impressive venue to surely hold its own. Let’s hope too that the event lives up to its potential by delivering an exciting product for tennis’s many fans.
Paul McElhinney 31 July 2012
Date published :
31 Jul 2012 - 16:32:14