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Olympics Doing Damage to U.S. Tennis

Since the Olympics became a venue for professionals to show off their supreme talents, rather than a celebration of amateur athletics, there’s been a decided – however unscientifically sampled - hard-to-articulate sense that the Olympics just aren’t as fun or as compelling as they once were.

And while one can point to TV ratings or money made or extraordinary accomplishments achieved during the Games, there does indeed appear to be a lack of palpable, sustained interest among the general public.

The tennis community generally supports the inclusion of its sport in the Olympics. And this year certainly brought thrills, with two epic matches (Roger Federer-Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga-Milos Raonic) and a final that, however dull and anticlimactic, was thrilling for the host country as Britain saw one of its own, Andy Murray, finally break through and grab a title that some consider as significant as a Slam.

But there is a decidedly vocal minority – myself included – that feels the Olympics are an unnecessary intrusion into an already crowded tennis calendar. Granted, it’s only every four years that this occurs, but the hangover from the Olympics has a deleterious effect on the North American swing during August and can have a disruptive impact on the U.S. Open as well.

This year, two Masters series, hard court tuneups for the U.S. Open have been greatly marginalized due to the spate of withdrawals from the tournaments. Federer elected to, understandably, pull out from the Toronto Masters after his stellar effort at the Olympics and Murray withdrew after his first match and will also not be playing in Cincinnati, which takes place this week.

Rafael Nadal didn’t play in Canada and will also not be playing in Cincinnati. But this is due to an injury he sustained while at Wimbledon and not the Olympics (Nadal didn’t play in the Olympics, either).

And then there’s Del Potro, who battled valiantly in London and earned a well-deserved bronze medal. He decided to play Toronto and will also play in Cincinnati. It’s hard to imagine the 2009 U.S. Open champion being in prime condition when the Open starts in two weeks.

Additionally, the Olympics renders the two United States hard court events contested during the Games almost irrelevant. Washington, D.C. and Atlanta often struggle to attract a field of players that contain any marquee names and this year the two tournaments seemed to fall into a black hole with hardly any coverage devoted to them. For the record, Andy Roddick won in Atlanta and Alexander Dolgopolov took the Washington title. Neither tournament received anything but a minor footnote in the sporting press, which is an affront to the champions and the tournaments themselves.

It’s also worth noting that, for the men, no Olympic gold medalist has ever gone on and reached the finals of the U.S. Open since tennis once again became an Olympic sport in 1988. Andre Agassi (1996) and Rafael Nadal (2008) are the only players to have reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open after their Olympic glory.

One can only hope that for the year’s final Grand Slam event in New York in a fortnight’s time that Federer, Murray and Del Potro will have rested enough to nurse their physical fatigue and that Nadal’s treatment for tendinitis on his ever-aching knees will subside enough to give the United States an exciting Open. Consider – there have only been two five-set men’s finals at the Open over the last 22 years (Agassi over Todd Martin in 1999 and Del Potro over Federer in 2009).

GASQUET IN TORONTO FINAL AGAINST DJOKOVIC

Speaking of the withdrawal-plagued Toronto event, Richard Gasquet, the man who many still consider the most naturally gifted tennis player on the planet (yes, even more than Federer, at least on the backhand side) continued his solid play of the last two years by reaching the final with a decisive 7-6, 6-3 victory over American giant John Isner. Gasquet didn’t face a break point on his serve and the win was his third consecutive over highly ranked opponents; he defeated Mardy Fish and Tomas Berdych in his two previous matches.

Gasquet, who hasn’t reached a Masters series final since this same event in 2006, will be taking on Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday. For those who have followed tennis with great interest over the last decade, there’s always been the what-if factor shrouding Gasquet; what if he had fulfilled whatever natural and assumed potential so many thought was his. Whatever the case it’s a joy to watch Gasquet in action and Sunday’s match should be greatly entertaining. 

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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