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No Rio Olympics glamour for tennis lovers

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Switzerland's Roger Federer returns the ball to Germany's Alexander Zverev during the ATP Tennis Open tournament at the Foro Italico, on May 11, 2016 in Rome. / AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI

Switzerland’s Roger Federer returns the ball to Germany’s Alexander Zverev during the ATP Tennis Open tournament at the Foro Italico, on May 11, 2016 in Rome. / AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI

The thrill and glamour expected to characterize the tennis event in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games may have evaporated even before the commencement of the Games.

The Games will begin next week in Brazil, but several withdrawals of top athletes from different sports, particularly tennis, will no doubt, take some shine off the event.

Several players had cited the Zika virus as main reason for pulling out, but another factor that has worsened the situation for tennis players is that this year, the governing body of men’s professional tennis, the Association of Tennis Players (ATP), has said that players will not gain ranking points in the Rio Olympics unlike practice in the past.

The main interest of many top tennis players for the Olympics was the ranking and appearance fee, which the ATP has cancelled this time.

Since entries are based on rankings, countries with few players from their homeland will receive points over their counterparts from countries with more number of players like France and Spain.

The decision by ATP to take away the points left some players angry. Now, players would get zero ranking points, lose appearance fees at other simultaneous events and would only play at Rio for medals and country’s glory, a choice many players are unhappy with.

Before Swiss top tennis player, Roger Federer pulled out of all tournaments for the rest of the year including the Rio Olympics, due to recurring knee problems, Alexander “the Dog” Dolgopolov of Ukraine had publicly announced his withdrawal from the Games citing the Zika virus.

Another Swiss player, Stanislaus Wawrinka, is also unsure of participating in the Rio Olympics. America’s Sam Querrey, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Dominic Thiem of Austrian had announced their withdrawal from Rio over the Zika Virus. America’s John Isner is also among the players that will not feature in the Rio Olympics.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal is not likely to feature in Rio, since he has not issued a statement concerning his participation in Rio. He has been battling all manner of injuries since last year with the latest being a wrist injury that forced him out of this year’s French Open.

Nadal won gold at Beijing 2008 Olympics, but has not won a single slam since the 2014 French Open and recorded one of the worst seasons ever last year.

Maria Sharapova of Russia is still serving a drug ban handed her by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) earlier this year.

Viktoria Azarenka of Belarus, an archrival of Serena Williams, is pregnant and will be out of tennis action for a long while.

The biggest of it all, World no, 1 Serena Williams has not made a statement concerning her participation in Rio. The American pulled out of the on-going Canada Open in Toronto last week, citing injury. Her sister, Venus, has confirmed participation in the Rio Olympics, and has said she has no plans of retiring yet.

Unlike some others, who cited the Zika Virus as main reason, Isner was categorical. He wants tennis players to earn ranking points Rio and thought that the points offered at London 2012 Games were abysmal, a position world No1, Novak Djokovic and other players agree with.

Unlike past Olympics Games, players wouldn’t get a single boost to their rankings in Rio and this fact has left many tennis players rushing to appear in other tournaments such as the Atlanta Open, which will be taking place the same period of the Olympics.

However, ATP Executive Chairman, Chris Kermode said their hands are tied: “Players are independent contractors and are free to set their own schedules. The ranking points are a valuable currency to us. It is sort of what the tour is about. The Olympic Games does create some additional challenges for us in terms of scheduling.”

Other reasons given by ATP players for skipping the Rio Olympics, apart from the Zika virus, and appearance money, is the difficulty of winning a medal when the field features the world no1, Djokovic and defending gold medalist, Andy Murray.

The players have also cited that the Olympics would not give them enough time to prepare for the US Open, the final grand slam of the year, which starts on August 29.

To them, the hard court swing and the slam pays the highest appearance fee, just as they argued that in terms of importance, a slam trumps over the Olympics.

Former world no1, Roger Federer, who pulled out of all tournaments for the rest of the year, including the Rio Olympics, will not win a single trophy this year, the first in ten years.

Battling knee and back problems since the beginning of the year, the Swiss underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus after losing to Djokovic in the semi finals of the Australian Open in January.

For Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych, skipping the Rio Olympics Games is not the end of life. “I have five or six years left to play the game, and I have sixty or so more years to live. I am not going to jeopardize my life and health for games of less than two weeks.”

On their part, Isner and Querrey say they do not see tennis or golf as true Olympic sports. “For tennis and golf, the Olympics is not a top priority. We have four other grand slams, which are the main focus. To be sincere, tennis and golf shouldn’t even be in the Olympics,” Isner said during the week.

Australian duo of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic will also not be going to Rio, citing the virus and problems with the Australian Olympic committee. Another Australian, Lleyton Hewitt is also not participating in the Games, as he cited health concerns.

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and South Africa’s Kevin Anderson will also be missing in Rio over the Zika virus, same for Great Britain’s Dan Evans.

Tennis is not the only sport that will miss the services of great stars in Rio, as several NBA players and over 20 golfers have also withdrawn from the Olympics, citing the potential of contracting the dreaded Zika virus, which causes severe illness, birth defects, and in some cases, death.


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