With just days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis championship begins, the world’s top players are gearing up to compete on the global stage. Currently getting used to life in the Olympic Village, they are honing their skills on Ariake Tennis Park’s practice courts.
The Olympic tennis event begins on Saturday 24th July, continuing for nine days until Sunday 1st August. Media speculation had remained rife that the Olympics would have to be cancelled or postponed for the second year running due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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However, the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, said cancellation in 2021 was “never an option”, despite “sleepless nights” due to the pandemic. The IOC views the Tokyo Olympics as “giving hope” for the future.
How is Covid affecting the Olympics?
The opening ceremony for the delayed 2020 Games will take place on Friday 23rd July. The IOC has described these games as the “most complex” in history in terms of organisation. There have been protests from local people who want the games cancelled due to rising Covid cases.
The latest statistics show 58 people, including athletes, officials and members of the press, have tested positive. More than 56,000 people are entering Japan for the games, despite spectators now being banned due to the Covid state of emergency announced on 8th July.
The British Olympic Association has said six athletes and two staff members who are part of the athletics team are isolating due to a positive Covid-19 case on their flight to Japan.
The Olympic tennis tournament has already lost one of its big names, Coco Gauff, the US tennis sensation, who announced on Twitter she had tested positive for Covid.
Is tennis an important part of the Games?
Tennis has a long history in the Olympics. First contested at the Summer Olympics in the 1896 games in Athens, there were initially just two tournaments: men’s singles and men’s doubles. Women were permitted to start competing in the Olympic tennis event in 1900, when they played in the singles and mixed doubles tournaments.
However, the sport ceased to be part of the Games in a competitive format for more than 50 years. It did not return until the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, following a tennis demonstration event at the 1984 Games.
Despite the challenges of staging the Olympics during the pandemic, with an increasing number of athletes cancelling their attendance, or being forced into quarantine at the eleventh hour, it appears to be full speed ahead for the Tokyo games.
Who is in Team GB’s tennis squad?
Named on 20th July; the Team GB tennis squad includes Andy Murray, the defending men’s singles champion and fans’ favourite. After winning the gold medal in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, he will be going for the treble next week – he is also set to play in the men’s doubles event. British number one Dan Evans will also compete in the men’s singles. Heather Watson and Johanna Konta will be playing in the women’s singles and will team up in the women’s doubles event.
Winning his first gold medal in the Olympic singles by beating Roger Federer at London 2012 on Centre Court, Wimbledon, Murray went on to beat Juan Martin del Potro in the men’s singles final in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. However, he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, including having hip surgery. In an interview, he said it was a “massive honour” to compete at the Games again. It will be his fourth Olympics, as he first competed in 2008.
He led out Team GB at the Opening Ceremony in 2016 in Rio, later describing it as “one of the highlights” of his career.
Murray, 34, is currently ranked 119 in the world. The Olympics will always hold a special place in his heart. He will also play doubles with Joe Salisbury, the two-time Grand Slam doubles champion. In 2012, Murray also won a silver medal for the mixed doubles after teaming up with Laura Robson.
British men’s number two, Cameron Norrie, has decided not to go to Tokyo. He said he was going to focus on the ATP instead. Evans is making his Olympic debut. Recently, he rose to a career-high of number 25 in the world. He will partner Neal Skupski in the men’s doubles.
Konta and Watson have teamed up in the women’s doubles at the Fed Cup and the Olympics previously. They reached the second round at the Rio games. Watson and Murray reached the mixed doubles quarter-final in Brazil.
The Team GB Paralympics tennis team includes Dermot Bailey, who will be making his debut alongside more established players such as Alfie Hewett, Gordan Reid, Andy Lapthorne, Jordanne Whiley and Lucy Shuker. Between them, Team GB and Team GB Paralympics tennis players have won 14 medals to date.
Which players have pulled out?
Murray’s arch-rival Rafael Nadal of Spain has pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics. The 35-year-old said he had “listened to his body” and made the tough decision not to go. He cited the need to recuperate after a long season on clay courts.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams have also pulled out. Federer has cited injury and the pandemic as the reasons he will not be playing in Tokyo. Williams has not publicly revealed why she has decided not to go to the Games.
When does the tennis start?
Play starts at 11 am (local time) on the first six days of the Olympic tennis event, and at 12 noon for the final three days, when ten medal matches will be taking place.
Mixed doubles will be played from Wednesday 28th July to Sunday 1st August, featuring 16 teams. The mixed doubles entry list does not close until Tuesday 27th July.
There have been some changes since Rio 2016. In particular, for the first time, the gold medal match for the men’s singles will feature a best-of-three tiebreak-sets final. Previously, it had been best-of-five.
The Olympic Tennis event will have 193 players from 46 nations as it stands, although this may decrease if any further cases of Covid or quarantine occur before the event commences.
What are the Olympic tennis court specs?
Depending on the individual venues, Olympic tennis has been played on all three tennis court alternatives: grass, clay and hard courts. Apart from London 2012, which was played on grass courts, five of the last six Games were played on hard courts.
The Tokyo tennis championship will be played on hard courts too. According to the International Tennis Federation, the competitive courts must be 23.77 metres long. The width varies, as it is 8.23 metres for singles and 10.97 metres for doubles. The net must be 1.07 metres high and the service line must be painted 6.4 metres away from the net.
Hard courts are commonly made from synthetic or acrylic layers on top of an asphalt or concrete foundation. Rubber and resin are also used in some tennis court constructions. It is common practice to use special paints, with slip-resistant and anti-glare features.
The Dragon Courts team would like to wish Team GB the very best of luck. Here’s hoping our athletes can bring the country together in the same way our England football squad did in the Euros.