TOKYO - In five days the Tokyo Olympics' tennis tournament will see its first serve, but with many top players having withdrawn due to injury, concern over the pandemic and the Games barring of spectators, the competition has been shaken up.
Tennis at the Games starts on July 24, with 194 players from 46 countries and regions competing over nine days in the single-elimination tournament.
Andy Murray, who has faced a series of injuries in recent years, will return to defend Great Britain's title after winning gold in the men's singles in Beijing in 2008 and Rio in 2016; but Rio women's gold medallist Monica Puig will not be representing Puerto Rico due to a shoulder injury.
Swiss great Roger Federer is among the high-profile stars sidelined by injury.
"During the grass court season, I unfortunately experienced a setback with my knee, and have accepted that I must withdraw from the Tokyo Olympic Games," Federer told his Twitter followers. "I am greatly disappointed, as it has been an honor and highlight of my career each time I have represented Switzerland."
Tennis at the Games starts on July 24, with 194 players from 46 countries and regions competing over nine days in the single-elimination tournament
Other top players who have pulled out with injuries include Spanish ace Rafael Nadal, American four-time gold medallist Serena Williams, and Austrian world No.5 Dominic Thiem.
Many other big names have also withdrawn due to concerns around COVID-19 and related restrictions, including Canadians Denis Shapovalov (world No.10) and Bianca Andreescu (world No.5), and volatile Australian Nick Kyrgios, who said the absence of fans "doesn't sit right with me."
But tennis fans can still expect to see world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who confirmed on Twitter that he would compete at Tokyo. "With much pride I'm packing for Tokyo and joining our national team in the fight for the brightest medals at the Olympic arenas," Djokovic tweeted.
The decision has particular significance as it puts Djokovic in the historical running to become the first male to complete the "Golden Slam" of all four Grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.
Despite some last-minute dropouts, the men's singles will still see fierce competition. Russia's Daniil Medvedev (world No.2), Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas (world No.4), and Germany's Alexander Zverev (world No.5) will all appear on court in Tokyo.
In last month's French Open, Tsitspas beat both Medvedev and Zverev before losing the finals to Djokovic, the world No.1 still being other contenders' greatest roadblock to the top of the podium.
In the women's singles, Australia's medal hopes rest on the shoulders of 25-year-old Ashleigh Barty, who is set to make her Olympic debut.
"I'm extremely proud to be on my first Olympic team. I'm excited to do Australians proud," Barty told reporters.
While Barty has the momentum of her Wimbledon win in early July, her biggest roadblock on the path to gold is four-time Grand Slam singles champion Naomi Osaka, who has home advantage and is also vying for her first Olympic gold.
The world No.1 and No.2 have crossed paths just three times, winning one game each in 2018, and Osaka winning their most recent match in the finals of the 2019 China Open.
Potential disruptors include Polish up-and-comer Iga Swiatek (world no.8) who had a breakthrough year in 2020 winning the French Open at just 19, and Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka (world no.3) who beat Barty in the Madrid Open in May.
From quarantine procedures and the absence of supporting crowds to smaller support teams and careers disrupted by the pandemic, it will not be a question of if the athletes have been impacted but rather of how much, and how that will affect their play.
Copyright 1995 - 2021. All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily. Without written authorization from China Daily, such content shall not be republished or used in any form.
HONG KONG NEWS