Olympic tennis: Key questions for the Tokyo Games in 2021

Serena Williams, Roger Federer
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With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021, OlympicTalk is taking a sport-by-sport look at where things stood before sports were halted and how global circumstances could alter the Olympic picture …

Where did Roger Federer stand on the Olympics?
Federer, whose biggest resume hole is an Olympic singles title, was publicly noncommittal about the Tokyo Games until declaring intent at an Oct. 14 press conference, fittingly at an exhibition in Tokyo. Though Federer hasn’t met the requirement of recent Davis Cup participation, he can still be added to the Olympic field through exceptions.

Federer’s best Olympic singles finish was silver at the 2012 London Games, though he took doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008.

“It’s not my No. 1 goal, or my No. 2 goal,” Federer said of an Olympic singles title in 2016, four months before withdrawing due to injury from what would have been his fifth Olympics in Rio. “It’s just something I’ve said, maybe I can reach that tournament and then see how it goes.”

Federer, 38, would break Swede Jonas Bjorkman‘s record as the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport was readded to the Games in 1988. Several players in their 40s played Olympic tennis in its previous iteration between 1896 and 1924, according to Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

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Serena Williams is primed for another Olympics, but Venus is a question.
If Federer doesn’t break Bjorkman’s age record, Serena will. Venus, 39, would beat both of them, but when sports were halted, she ranked somewhere around 15th in the U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. Only four can go to the Olympics per country in singles.

However, Venus has a safety net: doubles. The U.S. can send two more doubles-only players per gender. Given Venus is the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history, and has a natural doubles partner in her little sister, it would make sense.

However, the U.S. Tennis Association has several strong doubles options. Its highest-standing doubles player in Olympic qualifying, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, plays with Sofia Kenin, who is the highest-ranked U.S. singles player. Under the 2020 Olympic qualifying rules, if a nation has any players ranked in the top 10 in the world in doubles after the French Open, the highest-ranked one automatically gets an Olympic doubles spot.

Then there’s Coco Gauff 

Coco Gauff likely wouldn’t have made the Olympic singles team in 2020, but in 2021?
Gauff, the 16-year-old American who became a household name last summer, is an interesting case. She ranked sixth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying when sports were halted with half the points of Madison Keys, who was occupying the fourth and final U.S. spot. If Gauff played for any other nation, she would have been a near certainty to make the Olympics in 2020 in singles. For the U.S., it was a long shot.

But Gauff would have also been an intriguing doubles candidate for the USTA (and still could be in 2021). If Mattek-Sands gets one doubles spot, either Venus or Gauff could get the other. Or, if Mattek-Sands and Venus aren’t chosen, the doubles team of Gauff and Caty McNally would be an option.

Everything could be turned upside down, though. Olympic qualifying could be overhauled depending on when tennis resumes and how the International Tennis Federation alters qualifying. It’s possible that 2019 tournaments that were included in Olympic qualifying might no longer be counted for a Games in 2021. If more tournaments are added to Olympic qualifying, Gauff could benefit from the fact she will be older and have less restriction on the number of tournaments she can play.

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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