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.

2021 Olympic Capsules: Track and Field | Swimming | Gymnastics
Beach Volleyball | Diving
| Basketball

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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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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