Rafael Nadal on final entry list for Olympics; what to watch in Rio
Rafael Nadal is on the final entry list for the Rio Olympics.
The 14-time major champion hasn’t played since pulling out of the French Open because of an injured left wrist and needed the International Tennis Federation’s Olympic Committee to approve his appeal because he hasn’t played Davis Cup.
Nadal won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
While there were no surprises on the list released Friday by the ITF, two top-10 players - one on the men’s side, one on the women’s - later announced they were withdrawing from the Olympics, and both mentioned concerns about the Zika virus.
Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 7 in the men’s rankings, said in a statement that “I am making this decision for a variety of health concerns including the uncertainty around the Zika virus.”
Romania’s Simona Halep, the world’s fifth-ranked woman, posted on Facebook: “After several talks with doctors and my family, I concluded that the risks are too high for my career and for my health, especially as a woman. Family is much too important for me and I can’t risk not being able to have one of my own after my career in tennis is over.”
Still, unlike golf, nearly all the world’s top tennis players plan to go to Rio next month.
The only other unexpected announcement Friday came from sixth-ranked Victoria Azarenka, who posted on Twitter just as the Olympic roster was about to be released that she is pregnant and will miss the rest of the season. The two-time Grand Slam champion’s name was on the ITF’s list.
A handful of top-30 men had pulled out of the Rio Games; they mostly cited tennis reasons and not Zika. But the Big Four of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer are all on the list - for both singles and doubles.
Murray is the reigning gold medalist, while Djokovic and Federer are each seeking a first Olympic singles title. Federer won silver in 2012 and Djokovic bronze in 2008.
Britain’s Murray is set to play doubles with his older brother, Jamie, who won this year’s Australian Open title with Brazil’s Bruno Soares. Federer will again team up with fifth-ranked Stan Wawrinka for Switzerland - they won gold together in 2008. Nadal is on the list with Marc Lopez, who won this year’s French Open championship with fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, one of the top-30 men skipping Rio. Djokovic is on the roster for Serbia with Nenad Zimonjic. The top singles players could later choose to pull out of doubles.
Overall, 13 of the top 15 men in the singles rankings are on the roster, with No. 9 Dominic Thiem the only other one missing.
Eighteen of the top 20 women are slated to go to Brazil, led by reigning gold medalist Serena Williams, who will also seek a fourth Olympic doubles title with sister Venus. Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova will miss the Rio Games because of her doping suspension.
There will be 64 players in the singles draws and 32 in doubles. Singles entries were based off the top 56 players in the June 6 rankings, with other ways to qualify for the final eight spots.
Each country is allowed a maximum of four singles players and two doubles teams for six players total on the men’s and women’s sides. Sixteen mixed doubles teams will be determined in Rio from players already in the Olympics.
‘BIG 4' OF MEN’S TENNIS ALL IN
The “Big 4" of men’s tennis is enthusiastic about the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, unlike their counterparts in golf.
Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal all have participated in the Summer Games in the past, all own a medal, and all talk about that event’s importance to their sport every four years - even if it already has four Grand Slam tournaments every year.
Consider what Britain’s Murray said when he was asked about Brazil the day after winning Wimbledon for the second time.
“I’ve loved being in the two Olympics that I’ve been at,” said the No. 2-ranked Murray, who won a gold in singles at the 2012 London Games. “Rio is obviously a big, big goal of mine, and hopefully I can perform well there.”
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic won a singles bronze for Serbia at the 2008 Beijing Games, then came up just short of a medal four years ago.
No. 3 Federer won a gold for Switzerland in doubles with Wawrinka eight years ago, and a silver in singles four years ago.
No. 4 Nadal won a singles gold for Spain in Beijing, missed London because he was hurt.
Even if this quartet owns a combined 46 Grand Slam titles, the Olympics still matter to them. Much will be made of the contrast between this group’s interest in the Summer Games and what happened in golf, which will be missing Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy in Rio.
“Olympic Games are the most renowned and most prominent sports event in the history of sport. No question about it. There is no bigger sports event than Olympic Games,” Djokovic said. “For me, as a professional athlete, it’s a huge honor to be part of it.”
Here are some more things to know about tennis at the Rio Olympics:
There are some noteworthy players who won’t be there: six of the top 20 men in this week’s ATP rankings. That includes Wimbledon runner-up Raonic of Canada; the top American man, John Isner; Australia’s best two tennis players, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic; and Thiem, who would have given Austria a chance at a medal.
MIXING IT UP
No one will know exactly who is competing in mixed doubles until everyone is in Rio. That’s because the sign-in happens there. It’s limited to 16 teams, and the possibilities are intriguing. The expectation is that, if he’s healthy, Federer will team with Martina Hingis. And Nadal - if healthy - will partner French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. The bad news: It sounds as if the Williams sisters will not enter that event.
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
If 34-year-old Serena Williams or 36-year-old Venus Williams wins a gold medal, either would be the third-oldest woman to collect an Olympic title in tennis. Winifred McNair was 43 when she won women’s doubles for Britain all the way back in 1920, and Hazel Wightman was 37 when she won the same event for the U.S. four years later. Each Williams already owns four medals (all gold), so adding two more - they’re both entered in singles and doubles - would put either in first place for most tennis medals in Olympic history. Kathleen McKane won five medals (one gold) in the 1920s.
India’s Leander Paes will be appearing in his record-extending seventh Olympic tennis competition, pairing in men’s doubles with Rohan Bopanna. Paes owns one medal, a bronze in singles at the 1996 Atlanta Games. In Grand Slam action, he has won eight titles in men’s doubles, and another 10 in mixed doubles.
No player has won two consecutive gold medals in singles. Murray and Serena Williams will try to change that this time.