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Rafael Nadal on final entry list for Olympics; what to watch in Rio

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Rafael Nadal is on the final entry list for the Rio Olympics.

The 14-time major champion hasn’t played since pulling out of the French Open because of an injured left wrist and needed the International Tennis Federation’s Olympic Committee to approve his appeal because he hasn’t played Davis Cup.

Nadal won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.

While there were no surprises on the list released Friday by the ITF, two top-10 players – one on the men’s side, one on the women’s – later announced they were withdrawing from the Olympics, and both mentioned concerns about the Zika virus.

Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 7 in the men’s rankings, said in a statement that “I am making this decision for a variety of health concerns including the uncertainty around the Zika virus.”

Romania’s Simona Halep, the world’s fifth-ranked woman, posted on Facebook: “After several talks with doctors and my family, I concluded that the risks are too high for my career and for my health, especially as a woman. Family is much too important for me and I can’t risk not being able to have one of my own after my career in tennis is over.”

Still, unlike golf, nearly all the world’s top tennis players plan to go to Rio next month.

The only other unexpected announcement Friday came from sixth-ranked Victoria Azarenka, who posted on Twitter just as the Olympic roster was about to be released that she is pregnant and will miss the rest of the season. The two-time Grand Slam champion’s name was on the ITF’s list.

A handful of top-30 men had pulled out of the Rio Games; they mostly cited tennis reasons and not Zika. But the Big Four of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer are all on the list – for both singles and doubles.

Murray is the reigning gold medalist, while Djokovic and Federer are each seeking a first Olympic singles title. Federer won silver in 2012 and Djokovic bronze in 2008.

Britain’s Murray is set to play doubles with his older brother, Jamie, who won this year’s Australian Open title with Brazil’s Bruno Soares. Federer will again team up with fifth-ranked Stan Wawrinka for Switzerland – they won gold together in 2008. Nadal is on the list with Marc Lopez, who won this year’s French Open championship with fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, one of the top-30 men skipping Rio. Djokovic is on the roster for Serbia with Nenad Zimonjic. The top singles players could later choose to pull out of doubles.

Overall, 13 of the top 15 men in the singles rankings are on the roster, with No. 9 Dominic Thiem the only other one missing.

Eighteen of the top 20 women are slated to go to Brazil, led by reigning gold medalist Serena Williams, who will also seek a fourth Olympic doubles title with sister Venus. Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova will miss the Rio Games because of her doping suspension.

There will be 64 players in the singles draws and 32 in doubles. Singles entries were based off the top 56 players in the June 6 rankings, with other ways to qualify for the final eight spots.

Each country is allowed a maximum of four singles players and two doubles teams for six players total on the men’s and women’s sides. Sixteen mixed doubles teams will be determined in Rio from players already in the Olympics.

‘BIG 4’ OF MEN’S TENNIS ALL IN

The “Big 4” of men’s tennis is enthusiastic about the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, unlike their counterparts in golf.

Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal all have participated in the Summer Games in the past, all own a medal, and all talk about that event’s importance to their sport every four years – even if it already has four Grand Slam tournaments every year.

Consider what Britain’s Murray said when he was asked about Brazil the day after winning Wimbledon for the second time.

“I’ve loved being in the two Olympics that I’ve been at,” said the No. 2-ranked Murray, who won a gold in singles at the 2012 London Games. “Rio is obviously a big, big goal of mine, and hopefully I can perform well there.”

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic won a singles bronze for Serbia at the 2008 Beijing Games, then came up just short of a medal four years ago.

No. 3 Federer won a gold for Switzerland in doubles with Wawrinka eight years ago, and a silver in singles four years ago.

No. 4 Nadal won a singles gold for Spain in Beijing, missed London because he was hurt.

Even if this quartet owns a combined 46 Grand Slam titles, the Olympics still matter to them. Much will be made of the contrast between this group’s interest in the Summer Games and what happened in golf, which will be missing Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in Rio.

“Olympic Games are the most renowned and most prominent sports event in the history of sport. No question about it. There is no bigger sports event than Olympic Games,” Djokovic said. “For me, as a professional athlete, it’s a huge honor to be part of it.”

Here are some more things to know about tennis at the Rio Olympics:

WHO’S MISSING

There are some noteworthy players who won’t be there: six of the top 20 men in this week’s ATP rankings. That includes Wimbledon runner-up Raonic of Canada; the top American man, John Isner; Australia’s best two tennis players, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic; and Thiem, who would have given Austria a chance at a medal.

MIXING IT UP

No one will know exactly who is competing in mixed doubles until everyone is in Rio. That’s because the sign-in happens there. It’s limited to 16 teams, and the possibilities are intriguing. The expectation is that, if he’s healthy, Federer will team with Martina Hingis. And Nadal – if healthy – will partner French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. The bad news: It sounds as if the Williams sisters will not enter that event.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

If 34-year-old Serena Williams or 36-year-old Venus Williams wins a gold medal, either would be the third-oldest woman to collect an Olympic title in tennis. Winifred McNair was 43 when she won women’s doubles for Britain all the way back in 1920, and Hazel Wightman was 37 when she won the same event for the U.S. four years later. Each Williams already owns four medals (all gold), so adding two more – they’re both entered in singles and doubles – would put either in first place for most tennis medals in Olympic history. Kathleen McKane won five medals (one gold) in the 1920s.

MOST APPEARANCES

India’s Leander Paes will be appearing in his record-extending seventh Olympic tennis competition, pairing in men’s doubles with Rohan Bopanna. Paes owns one medal, a bronze in singles at the 1996 Atlanta Games. In Grand Slam action, he has won eight titles in men’s doubles, and another 10 in mixed doubles.

BACK-TO-BACK?

No player has won two consecutive gold medals in singles. Murray and Serena Williams will try to change that this time.

MORE: U.S. Olympic tennis team official; 546th-ranked singles player goes to Rio

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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