Olympics, the fifth title of the Grand Slam

The greatest names in tennis played in this year’s Olympic Games: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davidenko, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, among others. The prestigious line-up perhaps proved that the Olympic title has found its place in the ATP and WTA calendar. The relationship between tennis and the Olympic Games has been somewhat less than a love affair. The Olympics haven’t really been seen as an important date on the tennis calendar, for several reasons. The games come just two weeks before the US Open, a tournament that is part of the sport’s Grand Slam. There is sometimes tension between the International Tennis Federation and the International Olympic Committee, so much so that tennis was absent from the games for 64 years. When tennis came back to the Olympics, in 1988 in Seoul, the best players snubbed the event, perhaps unsurprisingly, since they didn’t stand to win any prize money, only medals. What’s more, some players criticised the elimination format of the competition and would have preferred to play for their countries in a tournament of national teams. But 2008 was a pretty good year for Olympic tennis, with great players, a great show and some great matches.


"The medals count, too"

Christophe Dechaux, a tennis pro, offers his analysis of Olympic tennis.

It was Nadal's year! He won the French Open, Wimbledon and finally, the Olympics. On Monday, he became the world's number one player, and the tennis world is anxious to see his performance at the US Open.

Roger Federer did well also, taking away a doubles gold.

Olympic tennis is becoming more exciting because the best players are participating. This year, the world's top four were in Beijing: Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko (who lost to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France).

In 1988, when tennis came back to the Seoul Games - thanks to Philippe Chatrier, president at the time of the International Tennis Federation - the best players did not all attend. They preferred to prepare for the US Open (as did the United States' Andy Roddick this year).

But this year, for the first time, players participating in the Olympics will win ATP points for the next season. This new measure can only help draw the greats to the games, especially since there are other tournaments - in Washington and Los Angeles - at the same time as the Olympics.

In the end, the Olympic tournament was more exciting this time around. (In 2004, Nicolas Massu of Chile won.) The quality of the matches is improving.

On the other hand, there are fewer surprises, in the women's game as well as the men's. Russia is back, with Elena Dementieva's win. And the Williams sisters dominated the doubles.

Representing one's country every four years is important for the best players, such as Nadal and Federer; it really means something to them. Federer was a flag-carrier again this year, as he was in Athens in 2004.

Federer has shown the same attitude by adjusting his schedule to participate in the David Cup at the qualifying level. And Nadal is always there for it, too.

So the Olympic Games are important for the great players, and it's not just a question of image. The medals count, too. This year, the Olympics may be seen as the fifth tournament of the Grand Slam.

The games have also been an occasion for certain players to show what they can do. I'm thinking particularly of France's Arnaud di Pasquale, who hasn't achieved much in his career - just one title, in Palermo in 1999. But we remember him because he won the bronze in Sydney in 2000. There's also Amélie Mauresmo, also from France, who won a silver medal in Athens in 2004.

That's why the French doubles team of Arnaud Clément and Mickael Llodra were frustrated to finish fourth. It was their last chance at an Olympic medal. They don't think they'll make it to London in 2012."