The pristine lawns of Wimbledon. A dominating Serena Williams. Britain’s first home-grown champion in more than 70 years. In 2012, it seemed tennis was truly embraced at the Olympics.
Or, was it?
In the months since the closing of the 2012 Games, some of the game’s top players have committed themselves to Rio in 2016: Serena has set her eyes on trying to repeat in South America, as do the men’s doubles gold medalists, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, and Rafael Nadal, who was forced to pull out London because of injury, wants badly to reclaim the singles gold he won in Beijing.
But there’s part of the sporting world that thinks tennis should keep to their own “Olympic” events – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open – and stay away from the actual Games.
“Tennis shouldn’t be a part of the Olympics,” says two-time U.S. Open champ Patrick Rafter. “We have our four gold medal events every year in the Slams. For us, winning a Grand Slam is like winning a gold medal for a swimmer. But they only get to do it once every four years. We get to do it four times a year.”
Rafter’s response is perhaps a generational one. Tennis players use to view the Olympics as just another tournament. Olympic draws have a smaller field (64 players) compared to the four majors (128 players).
But Andre Agassi, who won gold at Atlanta in 1996, thinks tennis will only become more a part of the Olympic experience in 2016.
“I think Wimbledon helped a great deal and we have a great platform now to catapult into Rio,” Agassi says. “The guys are taking it much more seriously… it seems like everyone tries to peak for it, which I think is great for the sport.”
Indeed, the Olympics has become a focal point for many tennis schedule makers – and as a career marker for those like Serena and Nadal.
For Pete Sampras, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, tennis only found a place in the Games this year because of Wimbledon playing host.
“The reason tennis was unique at the Olympics this year was because it was at Wimbledon,” Sampras insists. “In Rio, I’m telling you, it won’t be like it was this year. It’s not at the [All England] Club, so it won’t have the same feel.”
Sampras played in the Olympics just once, losing in the third round at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
“Tennis at the Olympics—when I was growing up—was an exhibition sport. For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal to play the Olympics as a tennis player. It’s just another tournament. That’s my humble opinion.”
But Sampras doesn’t agree with Rafter’s point that tennis shouldn’t be a part of the games whatsoever.
“I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand what [Rafter’s] saying. I just think it is what it is. When it comes to Rio, I just don’t think it will measure up to 2012.”