Olympic tennis is for the players, not the fans


Last week, Rafael Nadal said that he ranked claiming gold at the Olympic Games as a bigger achievement than winning a Grand Slam.

Tramlines has no problem with his opinion, because it is just that - his opinion.

If that is how Nadal truly feels then why should he not express it honestly? It is also an understandable viewpoint. The thought of winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games and hearing your country's anthem played is one of those 'every boy's dream' clichés that actually rings true.

However, when we tennis fans think of Nadal, we don't think of the Olympics. We remember the dominance at Roland Garros, the Wimbledon victories, the epic battles with Federer and Djokovic.

His victory in Beijing seems like a bit of an afterthought. A nice image, sure, a magical day for Nadal personally no doubt, but tennis players' legacies are not assured nor ruined on the Olympic battlefield.

Nadal will go down as a sporting great, as will Federer, as will Djokovic, whether they win Olympic gold or not.

But how much would an Olympic gold medal mean to the career of James Willstrop? You may not know who he is, but he is the number one-ranked squash player in the world.

However, he will not taste Olympic glory because despite the best efforts of his sport's governing body, squash is not an Olympic sport.

Two new sports will enter the Games in 2016 — golf and rugby sevens — but squash remains absent from the list.

The reason why golf has been added to the Games — a sport that has much in common with tennis — is quite easy to figure out: it rhymes with 'honey' but tastes even sweeter to the men in suits.

It means that the IOC gets to welcome more international superstars to the Games. Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy at the same event as Nadal, Federer and Djokovic? Not hard to sell that idea to sponsors now, is it?

Tramlines is not saying that the Olympics should be for amateurs, that ideal is irreversibly antiquated, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't remain the pinnacle of a certain sport.

Sports like athletics and swimming have their own big competitions away from the Games but the Olympics is *the* event that the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps fine-tune their careers to win.

If a sport like squash came into the Games then the Olympic tournament would instantly achieve that status, but tennis is just too big of a leviathan away from Games for it to ever truly matter in quite the same way.

You just have to look at its history since it returned to the Games after a 64-year absence in 1988 to see that the sport hasn't always treated the Olympics with much respect.

Sure, all the big names were in Beijing, but it took the tennis community years to truly see the merit of the Games. It wasn't until Athens in 2004 that ranking points were awarded to players and it was only when the game's stars were able to have their cake and eat it that they fully started to embrace the idea of an extra week's work every four years.

At the Seoul Olympics, Stefan Edberg was the only men's player who would finish the 1988 season in the world's top eight who bothered to compete at the Olympics. To be fair to the women, they have always held it in higher regard, with three of the top four travelling to South Korea.

A look at the men's Olympic finals since 1988 hardly reads like a catalogue of the sport's greats over the last 20 years.

1988 — Miloslav Mecir beat Tim Mayotte

1992 — Marc Rosset beat Jordi Arrese

1996 — Andre Agassi beat Sergi Bruguera

2000 — Yevgeny Kafelnikov beat Tommy Haas

2004 — Nicolas Massu beat Mardy Fish

2008 — Rafael Nadal beat Fernando Gonzalez

Meanwhile, among the players who have won bronze medals are Andrei Cherkasov, Leander Paes and Arnaud Di Pasquale — three players who haven't a single appearance in a Grand Slam semi-final between them.

It is hard to get excited about Olympic tennis because it just doesn't feel like an Olympic sport. It is nice that the players get to represent their countries, but is that not what the Davis Cup and Fed Cups are for?

The Olympic tennis tournament seems to have manufactured importance. The great tennis memories are forged at Wimbledon, at Flushing Meadows, at Roland Garros and at Melbourne Park — not some arbitrary venue every four years.

Tennis doesn't need the Olympics the way other sports do. It seems like it is there to reinforce already powerful brands and that leaves a queasy feeling.

Sports like golf and tennis at the Olympics provide a great experience for sporting superstars and through the additional global exposure help to enrich the coffers of already very wealthy sportsmen, women and administrations.

However, it is hard not to feel they cheapen the Games' ideals a bit too.


Quote of the week: "This is a clay-court event that is least like a clay-court event. There is always a chance of playing worse here. I only speak my mind for the good of the tour and the players, so that we have a clay tournament with few problems." Seems safe to say that Rafael Nadal is not a fan of the blue clay in Madrid.


The blue clay has been a hot topic in the Spanish capital this week — Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki gave us their thoughts on the matter. Watch below:


One last thing: Things will be different at Wimbledon this year — and not just because they are also hosting the Olympics. According to the Daily Mail, the traditional purple and green hydrangea displays have been deemed 'too thirsty' in drought conditions and gardeners are introducing 'prairie' and 'Mediterranean' themes to the venue instead.

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