Tennis in the Olympics
Although this is just the fourteenth edition of a tennis tournament played at a summer Games, tennis was actually one of the original nine sporting disciplines to feature in the first modern Olympic Games taking place at Athens in 1896. The game of tennis played over a hundred years ago was dramatically different to the one we’re familiar with now, but due to its historical significance it was a sad occurrence when tennis went out of the Olympics following the 1924 Games.
Although athletes were no longer participating in competitive tennis events during the summer Games that took place between 1924 and 1988, tennis was played at two separate Games during this period but in the form of exhibition and demonstration events. The most well known of these to tennis insiders was the 1968 Mexico Olympics tennis exhibition, where there was an all-Spain final during the men’s event and Manuel Santana eventually triumphed over team mate Manuel Orantes.
It’s not just the male players who have gone down in history by competing in rare tennis Olympic events, Suzanne Lenglen established herself as one of the all-time greatest women’s players in 1920 when she won 3 medals at the Antwerp Olympics. Winning gold medals in both singles and mixed doubles in a remarkable feat; she also won the bronze medal in the women’s doubles event. And it was just four years later that the final mixed doubles event of the century was played and won by US players Hazel Wightman and Richard Williams, but 2012 marks its return as an official competitive event.
The 2012 Wimbledon Olympics
Although this year’s Olympic tennis event is taking place in a familiar environment, in 2012 we will be treated to a tournament at the AETC the likes of which we may not see again during our lifetime. Although this isn’t the first time that Wimbledon has been the venue for Olympic tennis, breaking with the long-held tradition of white clothes only being allowed on the lawns during the 2012 event players are actively being encouraged to wear the colours of their home country. Based on a single-elimination format, the tournament itself will also be unfamiliar to many players as the outcome will be decided by best of three sets instead of the usual best of five sets.
As far as the players in the event go, it is likely to be familiar faces all-round as the top 56 players in both the ATP and WTA rankings will qualify for completion. The world’s best including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and the Williams’ sisters are almost guaranteed to be competing, but they could be joined by some virtual unknowns on court. There are eight wildcard slots, six of which are granted by the ITF and the remaining two granted by the IOC, which will be given based on both rankings and the spread of nations represented in the games. The final two are given only to players from small nations, so we’re likely to see some plucky underdogs coming up against those big name players!