Tennis At The Olympics: Who's In, Who's Out, And Does It Even Matter?
Every four years, lesser-known sports and their athletes at the Olympics are suddenly thrust into the consciousness of casual fans, and for a brief time, the general public recognizes these athletes for their accomplishments. Gymnastics, track and field, swimming, diving, and more are finally given a platform to show off their years of training and hard work. For these sports, the Olympic Games are the pinnacle. For tennis, the Olympics have become a burden.
Yes, it's a proud moment to represent your country in international competition. But tennis players do this at every tournament (hence the little flag icons next to their name on every draw and order of play sheet). Yes, it's an event that only happens every four years, and should be treated as special. Yet, it's been placed in the middle of two Grand Slams (Wimbledon and US Open) and is causing major issues for the meticulous planned schedules of professional players. To top it off, there aren't any ranking points awarded for the Olympics, providing even less of an incentive to play.
Add this to the health concerns at this year's Rio games, and we are seeing many top players dropping out of the Olympics.
On the men's side, the following have already said they will not be playing: Dominic Thiem, a 19-year-old rising star from Austria who is ranked No. 8, reached his first major semifinal at Roland Garros this month, and beat Roger Federer on grass just last week. Also staying away: the top American man, John Isner, who is ranked 17th; Australia's two best players, No. 18 Nick Kyrgios and No. 19 Bernard Tomic; No. 21 Feliciano Lopez of Spain; and No. 24 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
On the women's side, Caroline Wozniacki is appealing her disqualification from the Games since she missed a Fed Cup match due to injury; Sharapova is appealing her ban from the sport due from WADA.
The qualifying process for tennis is a bit convoluted. The main qualifying criteria for the Olympics are the ATP and WTA ranking lists, as of June 6, 2016. The International Tennis Federation then formally submits the players entering. Players must also be part of a nominated team for three Fed Cup (women) or Davis Cup (men) events between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and be in good standing with their National Olympics Committee. Each NOC can enter 6 male and 6 female athletes, with a maximum of 4 entries in the individual events, and 2 pairs in the doubles events. Any player in the world's top 56 is eligible, and NOC's have the option to enter players of a lower rank. Athletes are able to compete in both singles and doubles events. Doubles players within the top 10 rankings are eligible to bring any player provided that player has any doubles or singles ranking, and the number of players of the same country do not surpass the total of six.
For American players like Bob and Mike Bryan, the Olympics is something that they value just as much as a Grand Slam title. "It's playing for your country. It's playing for the glory of the Olympics," Mike Bryan said. "I'm a little surprised there are some big names skipping it."
Although Novak Djokovic is still slated to represent Serbia in Rio, he says that awarding points would provide incentive for top players to go and potentially prevent them from dropping out.
"That was one of the debates, whether or not we should have points in the Olympic Games, and to be quite frank, I don't see a reason why not," Djokovic said. "We have the best players in the world participating in arguably the fifth Grand Slam. It's of that importance for all of us, even more, because it happens only every four years."
For now, winning the Olympics in tennis is more of a footnote to a player's career than a defining moment. When people look at Serena's accomplishments, the first thing that is said is that she has won 22 Grand Slam titles. Then, further down the list, there might be something along the lines of, "Oh yeah, and she won the 2012 Olympics."