Tennis and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

8/5/2016 Around the World

Rio de janiero, Brazil

''The Olympics is now one of the most important events in tennis.  At the same time, tennis has become one of the most important events in the Olympic Games.''

-Francesco Ricci Bitti, Former ITF President & Member of the International Olympic Committee

From the International Tennis Federation: "Tennis was one of the original nine Olympic sports at Athens 1896, with John Boland becoming the first Olympic tennis gold medallist. The sport continued to be staged at the Games until 1924, with Laurie Doherty, Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills among the most notable champions.

The sport returned as a full medal event at Seoul in 1988 after a 21-and-under demonstration event in Los Angeles in 1984. Tennis at the Olympics has gone from strength to strength ever since.

At London 2012, played on the grass courts of Wimbledon, the competition attracted record participation by the top players and drew capacity crowds for every session. The singles gold medals were won by Andy Murray and Serena Williams, who will both look to be the first players to successfully defend an Olympic singles title in Rio."


2016 Rio - Learn More 

For the first time since the beginning of the Olympic Games, the Olympic and Paralympic tennis events will take place in South America. The continent has a rich history in tennis, represented by Hall of Famers Guillermo Vilas and Gabriela Sabatini (Argentina), Pancho Segura (Ecuador), Alex Olmedo (Peru), and Brazilian heroes Maria Bueno and Gustavo Kuerten. 

Located in Barra Olympic Park, the Olympic Tennis Centre will host the tennis event during the Games. The competition will be held on hard courts and include women’s and men’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.  Paralympic events will be men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and quad singles and doubles. With 5 ATP WorldTour events and 5 WTA events held annually in South America, tennis’s fastest-growing market is sure to draw fans from all over the world to see who will take home Olympic gold.

Click HERE to see the 2016 Olympic Draw


2012 London

The Games of the XXX Olympiad saw tennis return to Wimbledon’s hallowed grounds for the first time since the 1908 Olympics.  At the Opening Ceremony, tennis’ globalism was on display with eight flag bearers from the sport, including Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Maria Sharapova of Russia, and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.  Many players expressed their desire to win a gold medal for their country and treated the Olympics as a fifth ‘Major.’  The All England Club received a makeover and players were permitted to wear their country’s colors with pride, with the usual ‘tennis whites’ rule waived. 

The quality of tennis was indeed spectacular.  Records were broken as France’s Jo-Wilfred Tsonga outlasted Canada’s Milos Raonic 25-23 in the third set of their second round match, and Switzerland’s Roger Federer defeated Argentina’s Juan Martín del Potro 18-16 in the third set to earn a spot in the finals.  In a rematch of the Wimbledon final just four weeks earlier, Andy Murray bested Federer 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to win the first men’s singles gold medal for Great Britain since 1908.

American siblings had an excellent week, as Venus and Serena Williams won their third women’s doubles gold medal, and Mike and Bob Bryan completed the career Golden Slam in men’s doubles.  Serena Williams capped a dominating tournament by earning the career Golden Slam with a 6-0, 6-1 singles victory over Maria Sharapova.  Also, the mixed doubles returned to the games after an eighty-eight year absence.  Hall of Famers Richard Norris Williams II and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, the reigning champions, were dethroned by Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. 

The sixth Paralympic wheelchair tennis event took place from September 1-8 at Eton Manor in Olympic Park, with 112 athletes from 31 countries competing.  Esther Vergeer added two gold medals to her impressive wheelchair tennis résumé.  Shingo Kunieda of Japan successfully defended his 2008 gold medal in men’s singles, and Noam Gershony of Israel won the quad singles to secure his country’s first gold medal in Paralympic tennis.  In men’s doubles, Sweden’s Peter Vikstrom and Stefan Olsson took the gold medal; while Americans Nicholas Taylor and David Wagner won their third straight quad doubles gold.


2008 Beijing

The 29th Olympic Games in 2008 were held in Beijing and were quite a spectacle.  Russia dominated women’s singles, with Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, and Vera Zvonareva winning the gold, silver, and bronze medals respectively. Spain’s Rafael Nadal continued a glorious summer by winning the gold medal, thus capturing the world number one ranking. Venus and Serena Williams of the United States won their second gold medal in doubles. Switzerland’s Roger Federer and countryman Stanislas Wawrinka won the gold medal in men’s doubles. 

The Paralympic games of the next month featured Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands winning her third straight gold medal in women’s singles.


2004 Athens

The Olympic Games returned to its origins in 2004, and the tennis competition was played at the newly built Olympic Tennis Centre in Athens.  Chilean Nicolas Massu won the first gold medal for his country when he won the singles title.  Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez won the single’s bronze and teamed up with Massu to win the gold medal in doubles.  The Chinese pair of Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian shocked the field by winning the gold medal in doubles over Spain’s Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual.

The Paralympic Games of 2004 included mixed quad singles and doubles for the first time.  The addition was a great success.  Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands continued her dominance in women’s singles, beating compatriot Sonja Peters. 


2000 Sydney

The New South Wales Tennis Centre was the host to the tennis tournament at the 27th Olympic Games.  On the men’s side, Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov bested German Tommy Haas in the finals, while Venus Williams won the women’s gold, beating Russian Elena Dementieva. Canadians Sébastian Lareau and Daniel Nestor took down the defending champions, Australia’s “Woodies” in men’s doubles. Williams made her Olympic year twice as golden by winning the doubles with her sister Serena, beating Kristie Boogert and Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands.

One month later, the wheelchair tennis tournament of the Paralympic Games was held at the same venue, and attracted a larger crowd overall than the Olympic tennis event.  The Netherlands once again showed how strong its wheelchair players are, capturing all three medals for women’s singles, and gold medals in men’s and women’s doubles.  Wheelchair tennis legend Esther Vergeer captured her first gold medal over Sharon Walraven. Their countrymen Robin Ammerlaan and Ricky Molier won the men’s doubles, beating David Hall and David Johnson of Australia. Hall beat Stephen Welch, also of host-country Australia to take the gold. Vergeer and Maaike Smit won women’s doubles, besting Australians Daniela Di Toro and Branka Pupovac.


1996 Atlanta

Olympic tennis returned to the United States as a full-medal sport in 1996 for the first time since the 1904 games in St. Louis. The Centennial Games, which proved very successful for the United States, were played on the hard courts of the Stone Mountain Tennis Center. For the first time since its reinstatement, third-place matches were played to determine one bronze-medalist.

In the Paralympic games, seventy-two athletes from twenty-four countries competed in the wheelchair tennis competition.  Players from the Netherlands continued their dominance.


1992 Barcelona

The 25th Olympic Games were played on the red clay of the Barcelona Municipal Tennis Centre at Vall d’Hebron. The Games that year saw many parts of the former Soviet Union combined into one Unified Team, abbreviated EUN. In addition, Croatia participated as an independent nation at the Summer Games for the first time with double-bronze medalist Goran Ivanisevic as their flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony. This year also marked the last year that both Winter and Summer Games were played in the same year. One month later at the same venue, wheelchair tennis became a full-medal sport at the Paralympics.


1988 Seoul

Olympic tennis made its mark on the Seoul games when it returned as a medal sport after sixty-four years. Men’s world No. 3 Stefan Edberg was one of a few top players present. After reaching the semifinals without losing a set, Edberg lost to eventual gold medalist Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia. On the women’s side, Steffi Graf of West Germany made history by winning the gold medal after completing the Grand Slam, becoming the only player ever to win the “Golden Slam.” Two American doubles teams won gold medals—Pam Shriver and Zina Garrison for the women, and Ken Flach and Robert Seguso on the men’s side—to round out a successful tennis comeback.

Two and a half weeks later, wheelchair tennis took center stage as a Demonstration Event at the Paralympics. Eight competitors from five nations showed the world that wheelchair tennis should be an official Paralympic sport. Chantal Vandierendonck of the Netherlands came back from a 0-6, 0-3 deficit to win the gold medal, while Laurent Giammartini of France lost just two games on his way to victory.


1984 Los Angeles

The IOC recognized that the world of sport was changing as most sports were professionalizing; they could no longer hold an athlete’s professional status against tennis.  The ITF’s Philippe Chatrier and David Gray, along with Americans Jack Kramer, Joseph Bixler and Patricia Yeomans extensively lobbied the IOC on tennis’ behalf. The IOC offered tennis as a demonstration sport at the 1984 Games with the caveat that all competitors must be 21 years of age or younger. Two singles events took place, each with 32 competitors representing 34 nations; Sweden’s Stefan Edberg won the men’s event, and West Germany’s Steffi Graf won the women’s. The well-organized event that saw more than 6,000 daily spectators proved to be a great success and paved the way for tennis to re-enter the 1988 Olympic Games as a full-medal sport.


1968 Mexico City

By the early 1960s, the ILTF and its member nations were in favor of approaching the IOC to get tennis back into the Olympic Games as a full-medal sport. The IOC made the decision to include tennis as a demonstration (non-medal) sport at the 1968 Games held in Mexico City. Conceding to one point of contention from the 1924 Games, the IOC left determination of a player’s amateur status to the ILTF. Players from around the globe traveled to Mexico to play on red clay; the demonstration event took place over 300 miles away in Guadalajara, and an exhibition event was played in Mexico City. Despite the popularity and interest of tennis’ involvement in the Games, the beginning of Open Tennis and the mass professionalism of the sport brought the Olympic tennis movement to a swift halt.


Between 1968 and 1924 Tennis was not included in the Olympic Games.  


1924 Paris

The Paris Games signaled the acceptance of the Olympics as a major event with world-wide appeal. Twenty-eight nations featuring 82 men and 31 women competed in the five different tennis events, though Germany was still not allowed to participate. The world’s two best players, Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen, were absent due to a dispute with the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) and an illness, respectively. The stellar American team took gold in all events. However, the players’ treatment proved unsatisfactory.

A number of issues led to the dissatisfaction of the players.  Unfinished stands and courts at the Games’ start, cheering from the main stadium affecting concentration, a primitive ladies’ dressing room, and the half-mile distance the men had to walk between their dressing area and the courts was unacceptable. Even with the sport’s popularity, evidenced by the 6,000 spectators who watched the finals, the IOC and the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) could not see eye-to-eye. Subsequently the ILTF and its member nations chose not to partake in future games, and tennis would not be a full-medal sport at the Olympics for another 64 years.


1920 Antwerp

Awarded the games in memory of the victims of World War I, Antwerp, Belgium hosted the VII Olympiad (the VI Games scheduled for 1916 were cancelled), which witnessed the official unfurling of the Olympic Flag and the first recitation of the Olympic Oath. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Turkey were not invited to the Games due to egregious behavior during WWI, and the United States did not send any representatives because the Games conflicted with the U.S. National Championships. However almost 80 players from 13 countries participated. Competing in a tennis venue located in close proximity to the main athletic stadium where continual loud cheering proved to be a distraction, players also dealt with unsatisfactory dressing room accommodations that had no hot water or soap.


1912 Stockholm

Led by King Gustav V—a tennis enthusiast and future Hall of Famer—Stockholm, Sweden welcomed athletes from five continents to the V Olympiad in 1912. The well-organized Games featured several “firsts” including the use of electrical timing equipment, public address system, and the photo finish. Two different tennis events were scheduled; the first indoors staged in May and the second outdoors began in late June. The indoor event, with six nations represented, was played on two courts with wood floors painted black that only accommodated 400 spectators at a time; this indoor event would be dropped at future games. The outdoor event conflicted with the annual Wimbledon Championships, and many top players did not compete, though 13 nations sent representatives. This event featured four hard clay (“Adekvat”) courts that accommodated 1,500 daily spectators and proved to be more successful and popular.


1908 London

The 1908 Olympics were held in London, England, for the first time, and tennis had two competitions—covered courts and grass courts. The covered courts were held on wood at the Queen’s Club, West Kensington from May 6-11. The British players dominated with Arthur Gore winning the men’s singles, and then teaming with fellow Englishman Roper Barrett to win the men’s doubles. In women’s singles, Gladys Eastlake Smith won in straight sets over Elsa Wallenberg. Two months later, July 6-11, the grass court competition was held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, a week after the completion of the Wimbledon Championships. Again, the British dominated, sweeping the men’s singles, men’s doubles, and women’s singles. Mixed doubles was not contested at either the covered courts or grass courts competitions.


1906 Athens

The tenth anniversary of the Olympic Games saw a return to Athens, Greece, where tennis was contested April 23-26. These unofficial Games are known as the Intercolated Games. Tennis was played on the clay courts of the Athens Lawn Tennis Club, and women’s singles and mixed doubles returned to competition after their absence in 1904. France’s Max Decugis was the star of the Olympics, winning men’s singles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles. In men’s singles, Decugis defeated fellow Frenchman Maurice Germot in four sets before teaming with him to win men’s doubles. In mixed doubles, Decugis teamed with his wife to win his third event. In the women’s singles, Esmee Simiriotou defeated Sophia Marinou in three sets.


1904 St. Louis

The 1904 Olympic Games were held in St. Louis, Missouri, in conjunction with the 1904 World’s Fair honoring the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The tennis competition was held from August 29 to September 3 on three dirt courts at The Francis Field, near the main stadium. These Olympic Games only saw two events contested, men’s singles and men’s doubles, and one international player entered the field. The rest of the participants were Americans. American Beals Wright dominated the competition winning the men’s singles over fellow American Robert LeRoy 6-4, 6-4. Wright did not lose a set in the five matches he played. Wright paired with Edgar Leonard to win the men’s doubles. In an interesting side note, four additional tennis events were held during the Olympics but were not recognized as official Olympic events.


1900 Paris

The success of the 1896 Olympics bode well for the 1900 Olympics which were held in Paris, France. The tennis competition was held April 6-11 at the Puteaux Club, an exclusive club on L’ile de Puteaux. Changes were afoot.  Women’s singles and mixed doubles were added to complement the men’s singles and men’s doubles. The British dominated the games, taking first place in all four events. In men’s singles, Laurie Doherty defeated Ireland’s Harold Mahony 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. In the women’s singles, Charlotte Cooper, a three-time Wimbledon champion, easily won and became the first British lady to win an Olympic event. In men’s doubles, Laurie and Reginald Doherty won the men’s doubles, while Reginald Doherty and Charlotte Cooper teamed up to win the mixed doubles. No medals were awarded for tennis, but the winners received a money voucher. Laurie Doherty received a coffee and liqueur service table for his singles prize.


1896 Athens  

The modern Olympics returned to Athens, Greece in 1896 after Baron Pierre de Coubertin brought the idea forth in 1892. Compared to today’s standards, the games were primitive. Tennis was contested over a three day period, April 8, 9 and 11, in the center of the Velodrome Stadium in Phaliron. Play did not begin until 5:00pm each day, after the completion of the cycling events. There were three clay courts reserved for competition, two for singles and one for doubles. The only medal events were men’s singles and men’s doubles. The first standout Olympic tennis player was Ireland’s John Boland who defeated Greece’s Dionysios Kasdaglis 6-2, 6-2 to win the men’s singles. Boland also won the doubles, pairing with Germany’s Freidrich Traun to defeat the Greek team of Dionysios Kasdaglis and Dimitrious Petrokokkinos 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

International Tennis Hall of Fame

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