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Tennis’ return to Olympics in 1988 faced skeptics, too

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Like golf today, tennis’ return to the Olympics in 1988 was met with mixed reactions from top players.

Tennis was eased back into the Games for the first time as a medal sport since 1924. It had been a demonstration sport at the 1968 and 1984 Olympics.

Some top tennis players missed the 1988 Olympics for various reasons one week after the U.S. Open ended.

Start with the men. Eight of the top 10 in the ATP rankings the week of the Olympics did not play in Seoul, but most absences were forced.

Top-ranked Swede Mats Wilander reportedly pulled out due to shin splints two days after winning the longest U.S. Open men’s final in history, a near-five-hour, five-set win over Ivan Lendl.

There was further reason to doubt the seriousness of Wilander’s injury based on comments earlier in 1988.

“An Olympic gold medal wouldn’t be like winning the Davis Cup or a Grand Slam tournament,” Wilander said, according to The Associated Press, conjuring recent comments from Adam Scott, the world No. 7 golfer who is skipping the Rio Games.

Wilander returned from his injury to the ATP Tour during the Olympics, winning an event in Palermo, Italy.

Lendl, then No. 2, didn’t play in Seoul due to reported citizenship issues. He couldn’t get cleared to play for the U.S. in time and wouldn’t play for Czechoslovakia.

The U.S. men’s team was actually chosen in December 1987. It did not include Andre AgassiJimmy Connors or John McEnroe.

“There wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm in the U.S., and that kind of hurt the Olympic effort in general,” longtime tennis reporter Peter Bodo said. “On the other hand, the Europeans, as usual, were more Olympic conscious. The U.S. was a little more lukewarm. The Americans were a lot like the golfers are today.”

Agassi was ranked No. 4 the week of the Olympics but was outside the top 20 in December 1987, not high enough given nations could enter a maximum of three singles players per gender in Seoul.

Agassi could have been placed on the U.S. team later on in 1988, as Chris Evert was controversially, but that didn’t happen.

Agassi, Connors and McEnroe “all said they were not interested in participating in the Olympics,” according to The New York Times. McEnroe later said he regretted not playing. Agassi later won gold at Atlanta 1996.

Excluding Lendl, Connors and McEnroe were two of the top three U.S. men in December 1987.

The U.S. men’s singles team in Seoul instead included the other top-ranked U.S. men, Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert, and doubles star Robert Seguso, who was ranked in the 130s in singles in December 1987.

Two more top 10 players in 1988, Australian Pat Cash and Frenchman Yannick Noah, missed the Olympics with no widespread reports of injury.

Cash cited family and tournament commitments in July 1988 for backing out of the Olympics, according to The Associated Press, conjuring the recent Rio withdrawal of South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen.

Noah was indifferent toward the Olympics and said tennis players don’t belong at the Games, according to the AP.

In all, seven of the ATP top 20 the week of the Olympics played in Seoul. Most of the absences were due to injuries or ineligibilities, such as the three-players-per-nation rule that limited Americans and Swedes.

Fifth-ranked Boris Becker reportedly said after losing at the U.S. Open with a foot injury that he would go to Seoul “with a broken leg” if he had to. Becker later withdrew due to injury but still planned on attending the Games as a non-participant before that idea was reportedly quashed.

Two more top-20 players — Argentina’s Guillermo Pérez Roldán and Austrian Thomas Muster — played other ATP tournaments instead of the Olympics.

No. 3 Stefan Edberg was the only player in the top nine left to compete in Seoul. He was upset by Czechoslovakia’s Miloslav Mečíř in the semifinals. Mečíř went on to beat Mayotte for gold.

“I don’t really know whether we should be here in tennis, but it is worth giving it a chance,” Edberg said in Seoul, according to the book, “Olympic Tennis — An Historical Snapshot.” “It needs some time. … Now here, all the top players aren’t competing so that hurts it a little bit. Plus, we have all the Grand Slam events we play in, and those are the most important right now to us. But this is only played every four years, so there’s nothing wrong with trying it.”

On the women’s side, all but one player ranked in the WTA top 20 the week of the Olympics played in Seoul if they were eligible.

The omission was No. 2 Martina Navratilova, who said it wasn’t essential and that Olympic sponsorship rules made it like the star tennis pros were being treated like children, according to the Chicago Tribune in 1988.

“I don’t think of tennis as a real Olympic sport,” Navratilova said, according to the newspaper. “It has to establish itself.”

Navratilova later did play in the Olympics, falling in the doubles quarterfinals at age 47 at Athens 2004.

Rival Evert wasn’t named to the initial U.S. team in December 1987, even though she was No. 3 in the year-end rankings.

Evert declined then because of a “tense political situation” in South Korea and a scheduled wedding in the fall, according to The New York Times.

Evert, who was engaged to U.S. Olympic Alpine skier Andy Mill, changed her view after watching the Calgary 1988 Winter Games.

”I watched the gold medals being hung over the athletes’ heads in Calgary and tried to relate to that,” Evert said, according to the newspaper. ”I imagined what it would be like for me. I know what it feels like to hold up the Wimbledon plate and the U.S. Open trophy — it’s a great thrill — but no one in tennis knows how it will feel to get a medal in the Olympics.”

Evert was controversially placed on the U.S. team in July 1988, moving up her wedding date and replacing Elise Burgin, who had fallen in ranking from the 60s in December 1987 out of the top 100 due to knee surgery.

Evert joined Pam Shriver and Zina Garrison, all ranked in the top 10, as the U.S. singles players in Seoul. Four more Americans in the top 20 couldn’t play because of the three-per-country rule.

But German Steffi Graf would take gold, completing a calendar Golden Slam after sweeping the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. No other singles player has accomplished that feat in one year.

“I’ve been trying to think about it, to decide whether I really feel included in this Olympics,” Evert said in Seoul, according to “Olympic Tennis — An Historical Snapshot.” “So many of the other athletes here — well, for four years, their goal is the Olympics. They have other meets, but all their training is essentially for the Olympics. … We just finished the U.S. Open a week or so ago, and that makes me look around at the other athletes in other sports — they are so hungry for this — and wonder just how many of the tennis players are really that hungry.”

Tennis’ place in the Olympics is now secure, even if it is not seen as equal with the Grand Slams.

Roger FedererRafael NadalNovak Djokovic and Andy Murray all played at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, save Nadal’s health problems that kept him out of London. All are expected in Rio.

Serena Williams has said she would save her Olympic medals first if her house caught fireVenus Williams rushed her return from Sjögren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping autoimmune disorder, in 2012 to qualify for her fourth Games.

“It was a brilliant stroke to have tennis at Wimbledon [in 2012],” Bodo said. “It’s become legitimate.”

VIDEO: Nicklaus, Player concerned about stars skipping Rio

NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the Tokyo Olympics’ effect on the league’s schedule planning for 2021 is unclear, but that it’s possible that Olympic participation may be limited.

“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver told Bob Costas on CNN on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics from other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through. I just say, lastly, these are highly unique and unusual circumstances. I think, just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. We’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”

Silver said his best guess is that the next NBA season starts in January with a goal of a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. A schedule has not been released.

In normal NBA seasons that start in late October, the regular season runs to mid-April and the NBA Finals into mid-June.

The Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. If an NBA season is pushed back two or three months to a January start, and the schedule is not condensed, the Olympics would start while the NBA playoffs are happening.

The current NBA season is in the conference finals phase in an Orlando-area bubble after a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a factor in our planning,” Silver said of the Olympics. “It would be tough for us to make a decision in January based on the Olympics happening on schedule when that’s so unclear.”

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Monday was the 29th anniversary of the announcement of the first 10 members of the original Dream Team on an NBC selection show (hosted by Costas).

Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

MORE: When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to Paralympian

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2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

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Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final