prior to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Park on February 1, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Tennis | Wimbledon 2024 | Olympic excitement is met with concerns over scheduling and surface changes

By Tony Fairbairn at Wimbledon

  • The Olympics is approaching but not everyone will be making the trip to Paris as concerns are raised over changing surfaces
  • Players such as Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka, Madison Keys and Andrey Rublev have already withdrawn but some players are still feeling the excitement over the Olympics
LONDON, ENGLAND – The Olympic excitement has reached Wimbledon but there are some players who will miss the event in Paris due to concerns over scheduling and surface changes.

 

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One of the most exciting times of the season is approaching as the Olympic Games is a few weeks away.

Normally the Olympics are every four years but three years after the COVID games in Tokyo, the biggest sporting event of the year is back this time in Paris.

That means 12 years after Wimbledon hosted the Olympics, it will now be the turn of Roland Garros to host the games.

Although there has been much contention over tennis’ place in the Olympics in the past, the event is one that gets all the players excited as it’s a rare experience to represent their countries while mixing with athletes from other sports.

The event has gradually lost its meaning in terms of ranking as points are no longer offered at the games but the prestige in terms of tradition and history has remained.

However, this year poses a slightly different problem which is that the players have to change surface again as they will have to go from grass to clay.

This change has already meant that a number of players have decided to withdraw already including Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur, Madison Keys and Andrey Rublev.

Furthermore, a number of injuries have occurred more notably during Wimbledon with Hubert Hurkacz, Grigor Dimitrov, Keys and Alex De Minaur all doubts for the Olympics after suffering injuries at SW19.

In order to solve the dilemma players like Jannik Sinner and Cameron Norrie are playing an ATP 250 before the Olympics.

In general, , there are concerns about player safety due to the change in surface as Sabalenka outlined before the tournament.

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“I mean, yeah, in sports you cannot predict anything obviously. It’s really sad to skip Olympics this year. But really, I’m really looking forward for the next one. I really hope that I’ll be able to, yeah, play my next Olympics,” Sabalenka said when talking about her decision to withdraw from this year’s games.

“The main thing that I made this decision was that the scheduling was really tough. Recently I’ve been struggling with a lot of things health-wise, injury-wise. My body is kind of, like, showing that I have to take care of myself. Yeah, I just decided to sacrifice Olympics for my career, for my health actually.”

Another player who withdrew was Keys who decided to prioritize preparing for the US hard court season over the Olympics.

Speaking after her first round win at Wimbledon, Keys admitted the decision was a hard one to take but the fact that the American had to change surface from grass to clay was a contributing factor in the decision.

“It was really hard. I kind of sat on it for a while and was really just trying to decide what was the best decision,” Keys started off by saying.

“I have always loved playing for my country and representing the flag and playing in events like that, but it just felt like at this point in my career many, many years on tour it just felt like I almost had to kind of take the safer choice. The surface change and then going straight into what we now have as back-to-back extended Masters, going into the US Open, it just felt like there were a lot of factors that made the decision to play it a lot harder to say yes.

“Then I thought for me the other thing was to have to figure out, do you go home after and then go back. And it’s a six-hour change and you go straight into Canada, it’s just really hard. I was lucky enough to be in one of the medal matches in Rio, and it honestly killed me. Like, the rest of the year I was exhausted. I think from an emotional point of getting fourth place, it was really hard to get over, but also, there were so many more matches.

“It just really made the rest of the season a lot harder to get through. So it really just kind of became a what’s the safest choice for me to be able to have a good rest of the season since I missed the beginning.”

 

 

Olympic excitement remains strong despite scheduling concerns

Despite the clear challenges that face players ahead of the Olympics, it still is one of the most exciting events on the calendar.

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One of the most excited players ahead of the Olympics is world number one Iga Swiatek who spoke about how much it means to represent her country despite feeling stressed in Tokyo.

“It means a lot. I remember coming to Tokyo, I was pretty stressed out about this whole event because it’s so much different than any other tournament that we play,” Swiatek stated.

“We have kind of an Olympic tradition in my family. Olympics were always this kind of tournament that was the most important, kind of above everything else. From my side as a professional, I’m going to treat it as any other tournament, to keep my routines, be able to perform my best. But it would mean obviously a lot.

“I’ll really work hard to achieve that. But it’s tennis, so you never know. We don’t get many chances. I’m going to compete in singles and mixed doubles basically. I’ll just do my best.”

Another former Grand Slam champion in the form of Naomi Osaka shared Swiatek’s passion for the games as she got to light the Olympic cauldron in Tokyo.

“For me, the Olympics, well, they mean so much to me,” Osaka explained.

“Growing up as a kid, that’s like the one event I remember just pooling around the TV with my sister. We mainly loved watching track. Basically all the sports were fair game. I just love being around other athletes. I love I guess the team spirit of it all, so…”

 

Olympic experience overrides ranking points

It’s not just the competitive side of the Olympics that people are looking forward to as the experience as a whole is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

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This is as players get to meet other athletes from other sports and that is something that Coco Gauff is looking forward to.

“It’s kind of a unique thing. I think this tournament, like I’m good ’cause it’s a normal part of our schedule. It will be interesting how everything feels playing such a big tournament with the Olympics, walking in the opening ceremonies – arriving, I guess it’s on a boat – and then having to play the next day. Yeah, I’m very interested,” Gauff said about the Olympics.

“I’ve been trying to put myself in the mindset of just enjoying the experiences because you’re only going to have your first Olympics once. Yeah, for me, with Wimbledon, I’m really relaxed going into this year. I did not have a great Wimbledon last year. It’s like it couldn’t get any worse, it can only get better or the same.

“It’s probably Simone Biles, Sha’Carri Richardson. Actually, I was going to say two people, but I already met them. I’m looking forward to seeing Gabby Thomas and Sydney McLaughlin again.”

The last Olympics saw many players not getting the full Olympic experience due to the COVID pandemic.

That is enough motivation for Jessica Pegula to return to the Olympics as she’s looking forward to a more social experience this time around.

“Coming from playing the Tokyo COVID year, it definitely was not an Olympic experience. Several other Olympians that went were like, This is not the Olympics, you need to come back and try again,” Pegula emphasised.

“I’m really excited to play I think something that’s special. Maybe tennis, it’s a little bit different. But to me it’s even cooler that we get to kind of play an event that feels so much different compared to the slams. Again, I’ve said many times I always love team events. I love watching all of them. I love learning from them, the men, the women.

“Hopefully I can at least take the experience and energy, the positivity from that week of being all around a really great group and kind of use that to help me get better and hopefully do well into the hard court season. Yeah, it’s not the greatest prep. At the same time, I mean, I’m super excited.

“I think it will be really fun to be around especially other athletes and hopefully talk to some of them, see what they go through. For them, that’s the biggest thing, right, in their sport. It’s pretty cool and special to be around.”

Meanwhile Danielle Collins, who is experiencing her final year on the tour, has described the Olympics as a ‘bucket list’ moment.

“I think a few different bucket list items for me. Playing Olympics was one of them,” Collins admitted.

“I haven’t played on the Olympic team before, and to get to do so with so many women that I have known for so long, it’s been so fun getting ready and putting together little surprise gifts and the things we want to do when we’re there and getting to go to the village together. I was talking with Emma Navarro about how we’re going to go around and collect the little pins. That’s a huge bucket lister for me.”

 

‘One of the biggest things in sport’

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Finally, it’s time to finish with a player that knows what it’s like to win the Olympics having won it in Tokyo.

That of course is about Alexander Zverev as the German is the reigning champion and he proclaimed that winning the Olympics is one of the biggest things in sport.

“I was actually practicing with Berrettini yesterday who works with Rafa’s ex-coach now. He said one funny thing to me. He said, The Olympics is probably the most difficult trophy to win in tennis for us because we have that tournament once every four years,” Zverev claimed.

“If you’re not performing during that week, you have to wait another four years. Where at Grand Slams or other events, we have multiple per year. Of course I’m not saying the Olympics is more important than a Grand Slam or vice versa.

“In terms of obviously pressure and in terms of expectation, especially playing for your country, it is for me one of the biggest trophies and for me one of the biggest things in sports.”

The Olympics will start on the 27th of July and concludes on the fourth of August.

 

 

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