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Olympic tennis: Key questions for the Tokyo Games in 2021

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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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French Open classic finals air on NBCSN on Monday

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Andre AgassiSerena Williams and Roger Federer‘s breakthrough French Open titles air on NBCSN on Monday night as part of “From the Vault” week.

All three Roland Garros finals also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

It starts with Agassi’s epic in 1999 at 7 p.m. ET.

He came to Paris on the worst Grand Slam run of his career — no quarterfinals in his last nine majors. Agassi was seeded 13th.

He came back from trailing by a set in three of his first four matches, including an upset of defending champion Carlos Moya in the fourth round, after which he attended a Bruce Springsteen concert.

In the final, Agassi rallied past unseeded Andriy Medvedev of Ukraine 1–6, 2–6, 6–4, 6–3, 6–4 to become the second man to win the career Grand Slam in the Open Era after Rod Laver.

“I will always have one regret,” Agassi wrote in his autobiography, “Open,” “that I can’t go back and relive that 1999 French Open again and again.”

At 10:30 p.m., Serena plays older sister Venus in the only all-Williams French Open final. Venus had won their last three Slam meetings, but Serena swept her 7-5, 6-3 to begin what would be the first of her two “Serena Slams,” winning four straight majors (though not all in the same calendar year).

Finally, at 12:30 a.m., Federer completes his Grand Slam by beating giant slayer Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 in the 2009 French Open final.

The Swede Soderling, seeded 23rd, paved the way for Federer by stunning four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. To date, Nadal is 93-2 in his Roland Garros career.

This year’s French Open, originally scheduled to start May 24, was postponed to Sept. 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE: Novak Djokovic’s career regret — the Olympics

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Coco Gauff tops Venus Williams at Australian Open; Serena sweeps

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament?

“I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone was a bit shocked.”

Gauff, 15, played Williams, 39, to begin her first appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park, just like they matched up to start things off at Wimbledon about six months ago.

And, just like at the All England Club, the youngest woman in the field got the better of the oldest woman in the field, with Gauff beating Williams 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I definitely was more confident this time. I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the crowd — I guess the size of the crowd didn’t startle me as much as last time,” Gauff said. “Definitely a bit more positive coming into this match.”

It was the most anticipated contest of Day 1 at the first major tennis tournament of the decade, and it did not disappoint. The first set, in particular, was intriguing, with Gauff repeatedly pulling ahead, only to have Williams — who already had won four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies by the time her foe was born — rebuff her.

It wasn’t until her fourth set point that Gauff finally pulled it out. She quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second and never let that edge go.

Gauff already has demonstrated all sorts of terrific qualities on a tennis court, from her big, gutsy serves to an ability to track down opponents’ shots. Now you can add stick-to-it-iveness to the list.

The match was held in Margaret Court Arena, one of three stadiums with a retractable roof, and that was a good thing.

The air quality was fine, but a heavy storm that arrived in the afternoon suspended nine matches on outside courts in progress and postponed more than 20 others entirely, creating a jam-packed schedule for Tuesday. The start will be a half-hour earlier than usual, and three courts have seven-match programs.

Among the players who got a chance to play — and win — were Roger Federer, 2019 semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, defending champion Naomi Osaka, 23-time major champion Serena Williams, No. 1 Ash Barty and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, who is retiring after this tournament.

Barty got off to a rough start, dropping her opening set, before asserting herself and coming back for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Lesia Tsurenko.

Serena, who is 38, did what her older sister couldn’t: defeat a teen.

Other than a brief second-set blip, Serena had very little trouble getting past 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia 6-0, 6-3 to begin her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles championship.

Serena took the last three games of the match, then declared with a laugh: “I started out well today. Ended well.”

Her most recent major trophy came in Australia in 2017; that also had been her last title of any sort until this month, when she won a hard-court tuneup in Auckland, New Zealand.

Gauff beamed Monday while discussing a dance routine she did with Serena that went viral on social media.

There were laughs about her love of TikTok and her self-deprecating discussion of a propensity for procrastination when it comes to schoolwork.

She is, after all, still just a 15-year-old.

One with lofty goals, though.

“I mean, my mission is to be the greatest. That’s my goal, to win as many Grand Slams as possible,” said Gauff, whose best friend and doubles partner, 18-year-old American qualifier Caty McNally, upset 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia 6-1, 6-4 at night.

“But for today,” Gauff added, “my mission was to win.”

She and Venus Williams combined for far more unforced errors, 71, than winners, 42.

One key was that Williams ended up with 41 of those miscues, 11 more than Gauff.

Another was that Williams, long one of the most feared servers on tour, was outdone in that category by her opponent on this day. Not only did Gauff face only two break points, saving one, but she often came up with the goods at the most crucial moments, pounding an ace at 115 mph, say, or hitting a risky second serve at a high velocity to the perfect spot to draw a no-good return.

All the while, Gauff was not shy about celebrating the biggest of points with a loud “Come on!” and a series of fist pumps.

Otherwise, she had her game face on, betraying little emotion, including when she walked out onto the court with earbuds in place after getting a pre-match peck on the cheek from her father, Corey, who also serves as Gauff’s coach.

Gauff is ranked 67th, and Williams, a former No. 1, is 55th. Williams was playing in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the 85th time, a record for the professional era, but this also was her first match of 2020, because of a hip injury that sidelined her at the start of January.

This is Gauff’s third major, but she sure is precocious.

“She clearly wants it and works very hard and is extremely mature for her age,” Williams said. “The sky’s the limit for her.”

Ranked 313th, Gauff became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, then made it all the way to the fourth round, generating a ton of buzz, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep. She backed that up with a run to the third round at the U.S. Open, then won her first WTA singles title later in the year.

The forehand that might have been the biggest question mark with her game after her breakthrough, seemed improved, yes, but still was a weakness Williams could test.

Another question entering this season had to be how Gauff would handle being someone everyone gears up for, someone everyone knows about, and someone who might need to deal with the pressure to perform and live up to the ever-growing and enormous expectations.

So far, so good.

“I guess I came to the realization that I need to play my game, not worry about what people think of me,” Gauff said.

“I still have a lot more to, I guess, become like one of those ‘big names,’” she continued, making air quotes with her fingers. “I feel like I still have a lot to improve.”

MORE: Top U.S. male tennis player to skip Tokyo Olympics

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