“This is an event that brings the whole world together despite any differences we all have,” said Williams, the 2000 Olympic singles champion and a two-time defending doubles champion with her sister Serena. “We’re a part of that great movement.”
Among Olympic sports, tennis doesn’t have the same cachet as track and field, swimming or gymnastics. One of the nine sports contested in the first modern games in 1896, tennis was dropped after 1924. But since it was reinstated at Seoul in 1988, it has come to mean a tremendous amount to the world’s top players.
“Olympic Games are pinnacle of all sports, in my opinion,” said Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 2 player, who wept over winning bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games. Serbia’s most famous athlete, Djokovic will carry his country’s flag in Friday’s Opening Ceremonies, an honor he has called “mind-blowing.” Russia’s flag will be borne aloft by world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, who reportedly was so shocked when informed of her selection that she had to re-read the text message multiple times, then read it aloud to friends, before believing it.
Former No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who won gold in Beijing in 2008, called it one of the saddest days of his career when he was forced to withdraw from the London Olympics earlier this month because of an injury. Like Djokovic and Sharapova, the Spaniard had been chosen to carry his country’s flag in Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.
The Olympics represent a rare sort of motivation for tennis pros, whose rankings, fame and earnings depend almost entirely on their individual performance.
“You’re playing for something different; normally we deal in very selfish terms as a tennis player,” said Andy Roddick, 29, who competed in the 2004 Athens Games.
“You can say you’re a tennis player, and that will resonate with some people. You can say you’re an Olympian, and that will resonate with everybody.”
Tennis at the London Games will have particularly special meaning for players, with the venerable All England club, which hosts Wimbledon each summer, staging the nine-day competition. It will be only the second time in Olympic history that tennis has been contested on grass.
The All England club is the sport’s most revered setting. It ought to make favorites of the Williams sisters, who share 10 Wimbledon singles titles between them and teamed for their fifth Wimbledon doubles titleless than three weeks ago.
It ought to look favorably on seven-time Wimbledon champion
Roger Federer, as well, who has won every significant title in tennis except Olympic singles gold. The London Games will be Federer’s fourth Olympics.