The Rise of the Olympians
It’s strange. Every four years, it seems, the world goes crazy for sports that for the rest of the time it more or less ignores. For a fortnight or so, canoe slalom, handball, archery, and trampoline gymnastics capture attention and headlines normally reserved for one of the larger, international variants of football. There’s something undeniably special about seeing the best in the world convene in one location, seeing four years’ worth of dreams and a lifetime’s grueling training being reduced to one routine, one race, one moment. Because of this, perhaps, the discipline doesn’t matter so much. What matters is that the Games provide the most brilliant, the most precious, and yet the most cruelly brief opportunity for the best in the world to shine.
But can this really be said for tennis? Is tennis not an Olympic sport for which the Olympic event is not the pinnacle? The case for the grand slams being more important is fairly convincing, after all. Tennis wasn’t even played at the Olympics between 1924 and 1988, as a full event. It’s worth far fewer ranking points than a major (685 for the women’s gold and 750 for the men’s, versus 2000 for a slam), and for good reason. The difficulty of winning the event is clearly less, with a smaller draw and a weaker field as a consequence of caps on players per country. The very fact that tennis wasn’t an Olympic sport for so long disconnects it from the many powerful, collective memories of the sport’s illustrious past. Would Wimbledon matter as much if names like Lenglen and Tilden, Laver and Court, Navratilova and Borg were absent from the winner’s roster? Wouldn’t it be just another tournament, on an obsolete surface?
Would Wimbledon matter as much if names like Lenglen and Tilden, and all the other greats had been absent from the winner’s roster?
Of course, there’s more to the Olympics than points and purely tennis pedigree. For a start, the athletes compete as much for their country, and for their team, as they do for themselves. Tennis can be a lonely sport, so being part of a team and having the chance to do something that matters for their country can mean a lot, particularly to those who love Davis and Fed Cup, and thrive in that context.
Just as importantly, the Olympics capture the popular imagination in a way that no tennis event could. They represent the summit, the highest achievement in sports in general. Everyone knows what it means to be a gold medalist. From Iraq to Mongolia, from Guatemala to Cyprus, children dream of the Olympics, of standing atop a podium with a medal around their necks. The fact that the Games transcend in this way, and mean so much to so many people, enables tennis players to connect to and be part of something bigger than tennis.
It is possible also, that the Olympics touch upon something else, something deep and forgotten within our sport’s psyche. Athletes at the Olympics play only for medals, not money. For today’s professional tennis players, this is the only real opportunity they get to play a big amateur event. This may not seem so important, at first glance, in the modern world, but remember that amateurism was central to the culture of tennis for a very long time.
Roger Federer seemed genuinely delighted with his silver medal.
The famous words from Kipling’s ‘If’, above the players’ entrance to Wimbledon Centre Court — “if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same…” — reflect the Victorian sporting ethos in much the same way as these from Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics: “the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”
There was always more to amateurism, in tennis and in other sports, than simply not playing for money. To be an amateur was literally to play for the love of sport, and to place decency, respect and fair play at the heart of the sporting life. Crucially, it was to place these things above winning. In essence, the amateur philosophy was about sportsmanship.
While the Olympic Games may not always witness the greatest in sportsmanship (see the match-throwing debacle in Badminton), it remains the ideal, and as such sportsmanship and the Olympics are still intimately connected. This might not be as important to everyone, but it would be nice to think that it is still part of the reason why athletes of all disciplines value the Olympics so highly.
Of course, it’s obvious that not everyone has caught the Olympic bug in the past and, from the reinstitution of tennis as an Olympic event in 1988, this quadrennial upstart has been unable to challenge the supremacy of the slams in most people’s minds. Indeed, there can be no greater illustration of this than the fact that top players (Roddick in ’08 being the most notable in recent times) often chose not to play at the Games at all, in order to better rest and prepare for the US Open, only a few weeks later.
After crushing Sharapova, Serena bounced around the court with unbridled exuberance.
Lately, however, something seems to have changed. The allure of those lustrous medals seems to have become stronger and stronger. Top players haven’t stayed away, at least not voluntarily. In fact, many of them have been talking for a long time about how getting a medal was one of their most significant goals for this year, right up there with winning a major.
It doesn’t appear they were exaggerating. Just look at the reaction of Serena Williams after crushing Maria Sharapova to claim her first singles gold medal (she also won doubles gold with sister Venus for the third time). Williams was bouncing around with unbridled exuberance, a broad smile beaming from her face. “I didn’t think there could be anything better than winning Wimbledon.” She later said.
The men’s singles champion, Andy Murray, had a somewhat more muted response, which surprised many. After all, the world had witnessed and shared his heartache only one month before, when tears flowed in the post-match interview following his defeat in the Wimbledon final. There were no tears this time though, on the occasion of his greatest achievement so far. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise. Murray is, after all, not the most comfortable in the limelight. He doesn’t like interviews and press conferences. He doesn’t like his emotions to come under the microscope, which often leads him to appear tetchy and defensive. The fact that he was under control upon winning takes nothing away from the undoubtedly immense emotional significance of the win.
It wasn’t just the winners for whom this meant a lot. Roger Federer, for instance, who was badly defeated in the final, and who has seen his dreams of completing the career ‘Golden Slam’ thwarted, seemed genuinely delighted with his silver medal, kissing it and saying later that he felt he’d won the silver rather than lost the gold.
That the Olympic Games have assumed a greater importance to tennis, an importance that comes close to rivaling that of the slams, seems undeniable. So why the change? The most obvious answer is the choice of venue. Rather than being played in some brand new, purpose built facility, tennis at the Olympics has come home to Wimbledon, the sport’s greatest stage. Winning on Centre Court, with its unparalleled history, can’t be anything other than special.
Today's players saw Graf win in Seoul, Capriati in Barcelona, and Agassi in Atlanta and they were inspired.
It is perhaps equally significant that tennis has been an Olympic sport now for 24 years. This is no small thing. Unlike previous generations, today’s tennis players were among those children dreaming of Olympian glory. They saw Graf win in Seoul, Capriati in Barcelona and Agassi in Atlanta. Is it any wonder that they would grow up wanting to be a part of the magic of the Games?
I think it is safe to say that, in London 2012, tennis has had its most successful incarnation yet. Perhaps it won’t be surpassed, at least until another of the grand slam venues is able to host the event. Whatever happens, Olympic tennis now clearly matters in a big way, a way that far exceeds the attribution of points that success there brings. In fact, I’d imagine that the great majority of those who went to London to compete would have done so anyway had it been worth no ranking points whatever, and that Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Murray, the Bryan brothers, Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi would still have been every bit as delighted with their medals and their achievements.
Exactly how much it matters compared to the grand slams will surely vary from individual to individual, and will continue to do so. It is, however, undeniably good for the sport of tennis that it has been able to commune with the special magic of the Olympiad, that so inspires the athletes of today and the stars of tomorrow.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Monfils, Hewitt and the Two-Handed Backhand
Just 25 years ago, the two-handed backhand was still somewhat of an oddity on the pro circuit, especially on the men's side. Today it is the dominant stroke in the game. Dave Smith explains the reason for this shift, then zeros in on the fundamentals and mechanics of the two-hander. Using Lleyton Hewitt and Gaël Monfils as his models, Dave examines the key position points of this stroke.
Certainly this is not a shot you see everyday, however, since Roger Federer stunned Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the US Open a couple of years ago by hitting a tweener passing shot to set up a match point, we get more requests for this than just about any other stroke. In response, Christophe Delavaut, who as a kid on the red clay courts of Casablanca spent hours playing with this shot, brings you Roger Federer and the tweener heard round the world.
Can Agnieszka Radwanska Reach Number One?
These days women tennis is really unpredictable. Each week there seems to be a different winner, with out a real favorite (with the possible exception of the reemergence of Serena). It means everybody can beat each other on any given day. It may be interesting from a spectator's standpoint, but it also signals that the level of play on the women’s tour is not as high as it should be. So, Polish pro coach, Marcin Bieniek, asks the question, can Agnieszka Radwanska Reach Number One? His answer is yes but it will take a lot of work and some major changes to her game.
ProStrokes 2.0 — Grigor Dimitrov, Serve and Net Game
Grigor Dimitrov, is the most successful Bulgarian male tennis player, both in terms of ranking and prize money. He enjoyed a very successful junior career, in which he held the World No. 1 ranking and won the boy's singles titles at the 2008 Wimbledon Championships and the 2008 US Open, but he is still looking for a breakout year on the ATP tour.. Dimitrov plays right-handed and has a single-handed backhand. His game has been compared to Roger Federer's (earning him the nickname "Baby Fed") due to the similarity in their ground strokes, particularly off the backhand side but he has a long way to go before that name has relevance. New this issue, Dimitrov's serve and net game.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- Click here to see all the benefits of a TennisOne Membership.
- Click here to sign up for a risk-free, TennisOne 30 day free trial membership.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation. If trouble unsubscribing, simply email us with a request to unsubscribe at: email@example.com