3 August 2008 :Since tennis returned to the Olympic Games as a full medal sport in 1988, it has consistently attracted the world’s best players, but there has probably never been a line-up to match what Beijing has to offer this summer. With nine of the world’s top 10 scheduled to take part in both the men’s and the women’s singles, it is enough to satisfy the appetite of even the most demanding sports fan.
Sharing top billing following their epic Wimbledon final will be Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal. Should world No 1 Federer win, it would be a case of third time lucky after finishing fourth in Sydney and going out early in Athens. There is a precedent for Swiss men’s singles success at the Olympic Games, as Marc Rosset was the surprise winner in Barcelona in 1992. For Nadal, who played doubles four years ago, it will be a first Olympic singles appearance.
A real threat to the world’s top two is Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion and US Open runner-up. The three top men will all play doubles. In the women’s section the pressure will be on Djokovic’s compatriot Ana Ivanovic, the new world No 1 following her victory at the French Open. But one of the Willliams sisters, Serena or Venus, the double gold medallist at Sydney 2000, may start as favourite and they also come together for the US in the doubles.
Well known champions
Tennis was among the original sports when the modern Games began in 1896, and from then until 1924 it produced a number of well known champions, particularly among the women. Suzanne Lenglen of France, one of the greatest women’s players of all time, won gold in Antwerp in 1920, while four years later in Paris the winner was 18-year-old American Helen Wills, better known as Helen Wills Moody, who won eight Wimbledon titles.
Gold for Agassi
Since 1988, when Germany’s Steffi Graf was the winner, the women’s gold medallists have continued to make more headlines than the men; the current title holder is Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne, now retired but then world No 1. Perhaps the most ceberated men’s victory was that of American Andre Agassi on home soil in 1996. Agassi and Graf would later marry.