The good news for the Olympic Tennis Event is that both World No 1s, Ash Barty and Novak Djokovic, have announced they will be taking part in Tokyo, but the bad news is that Simona Halep has become the latest high-profile player to withdraw as she continues to battle a calf injury.
Any opportunity you get to wear the green and gold, I wanted to grab it with both hands. I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m excited to play doubles with Storm [Sanders], she’s a childhood friend of mine and we’ve played a lot together. So to be able to live out this dream with her is really, really special. Ash Barty
According to reports, Barty is set to lead Australia’s 11-member tennis squad, which was announced on Tuesday just hours before the Aussie’s scheduled first-round match at Wimbledon against Carla Suárez Navarro.
Former US Open champion Sam Stosur was selected to play singles and doubles in her 5th Olympics, while Nick Kyrgios, Alex de Minaur and John Millman are among the men selected for the Australian team.
“I think making your first Olympic team, particularly as an Australian, we have such a rich history and the Olympics is something I’ve always dreamt of and, obviously, super excited to get out there and represent the green and gold,” Barty said in a statement. “It’s a massive united team and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
The Tennis Association of Serbia dismissed claims Djokovic could pull out, telling Sportski Zurnal that the 34-year-old is part of their Olympic team.
A statement said: “Novak has confirmed his desire to participate in the Olympic Games and we have already sent a list with his name on it to the Olympic Committee of Serbia. It will be forwarded from there.”
Some of the highest-profile players in the sport, however, won’t be contesting the Tokyo Games, where heavy restrictions will be imposed on athletes and foreign fans have been barred.
Serena Williams has announced she will not be in contention for the US team while, on the men’s side, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem also have said they are skipping Tokyo, where the Olympics open on 23 July 23.
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov also has decided not to compete due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The World No 12 said on Twitter: “Representing Canada means the world to me, but due to the current situation my team and I have decided this is the best decision for everyone’s safety.
“I can’t wait to represent Canada at future Olympic games.”
Meanwhile, Roger Federer is reserving his decision until after his campaign at Wimbledon.
The Olympics were last year postponed by 12 months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Barty won the French Open and the season-ending WTA Finals in 2019 but missed most of the 2020 season after her semi-final loss at the Australian Open to stay at home during the pandemic.
She returned in time for the 2021 Australian Open, losing in the quarter-finals, and then retired from her second-round match at the French Open because of an injured left hip.
In Tokyo, she is planning to play singles and partner Storm Sanders in the doubles competition.
“Any opportunity you get to wear the green and gold, I wanted to grab it with both hands,” she said. “I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m excited to play doubles with Storm, she’s a childhood friend of mine and we’ve played a lot together. So to be able to live out this dream with her is really, really special.”
Halep, however, who was hoping to go for gold in Tokyo next month, will not recover in time having also missed the French Open and Wimbledon because of the calf problem.
“Nothing brings me more pride than representing Romania, but sadly the recovery from my calf injury requires more time and I have made the decision to withdraw from the Olympic Games this summer,” she wrote on Twitter.
“After the disappointment of missing the French Open and Wimbledon, having to skip the Olympics is incredibly tough to digest, but I am determined to come back stronger.
“I will be watching and cheering on the Romanian athletes from home.”
Naomi Osaka has confirmed her participation after the 23-year-old opted out of Wimbledon following her withdrawal from the French Open because of mental health issues.
“I have never competed in an Olympic Games before, but I can say, as an athlete, I’m excited to be competing in the most prestigious athletic event in the world,” Osaka said. “Like most competitors, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my entire life, and the fact that they are being held in my birthplace of Japan, I just feel like I can’t stop smiling about it.”
While Osaka is filled with excitement about this year’s games, she also feels immense pressure to perform.
“You have to mentally prepare for these large-scale moments, and there are a lot of pressures associated with the Olympics because your country is looking up to you,” Osaka said.
She has recently spoken out about her mental health and how the scrutiny that comes with being in the spotlight as an elite athlete affects her.
While competing at the French Open in May and June, Osaka said she didn’t want to do post-match interviews because they triggered her anxiety, adding that she has struggled with depression since 2018.
Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping a press conference and then withdrew from the tournament, but the decision prompted a debate of how governing sports organisations treat athletes from a mental-health perspective.
“I get impatient at times and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy every moment,” she said. “This has helped me on the court to calm my nerves and dismantle some of the pressures that come with the stage.”
Monica Puig, the reigning Olympic gold medallist in women’s singles tennis will also be absent after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Puig, 27, became the first athlete representing Puerto Rico to win Olympic gold in 2016 when she defeated Angelique Kerber 6-4 4-6 6-1 in the women’s singles final at the Rio Olympics.
“About a week ago I underwent my second shoulder surgery to repair my rotator cuff and biceps tendon and this does put me in a very difficult position and having to sit out of the Tokyo Olympics this year,” Puig said on Instagram in early June. “It is very difficult and it was with a very heavy heart I took this decision.
“Obviously, my team and I are thinking long term and prolonging my career for as many years as possible and hoping to play in the Paris 2024 Olympics.”
The World No 168 last played at the 2020 French Open where she was knocked out in the first round.
The British Olympic Association (BOA) last week announced the squad of players who will travel to Tokyo this summer to represent Team GB.
The selected players are Dan Evans, Andy Murray, Johanna Konta and Heather Watson, who will play men’s and women’s singles while Dan Evans & Neal Skupski and Joe Salisbury & Andy Murray will pair up for men’s doubles and Johanna Konta & Heather Watson for the women’s doubles.
The mixed doubles players will be confirmed once the ranking cut off is known.
Jamie Murray has since been speaking about how missing out on selection for this summer’s Olympic Games feels like ‘a rejection’.
“You’ve just got to take it on the chin and move on,” he said. “To not be selected as part of the team feels like a rejection and you feel slighted by it.
“To not make one of the top four spots for the doubles team is obviously hard, especially after the career I’ve had.
“The selectors obviously felt there was better teams to go with. I don’t necessarily agree with that but that’s just the way it is. You just have to live with that.
“I’ve played three times before, had good experiences off the court, not so much on the court. It’s disappointing.
“If you told me I could win Wimbledon or Olympics, I would take Wimbledon so I’ll put all my efforts into that and see where we get.”
As for qualification, the rankings of 14 June determine direct acceptances into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis Event but as well as these, there is a further set of criteria that players must meet to make it to the Games:
– They have to be in good standing with their National Association and the International Tennis Federation.
– They have to have represented their nation enough times in Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup
– They have to be aged 14 or over for men, and 15 or over for women
Each nation may nominate a maximum of 12 players – 6 for the men’s draws, 6 for the women’s draws.
The singles events at the Olympic Games will both feature 64 players in the first round, with a maximum of 4 athletes per country.
For a nation like USA, who currently have 9 women ranked in the world’s Top 50, there will be players with high rankings that nonetheless do not qualify for the Games.
There are 56 direct acceptances to the singles draw based on the ATP and WTA rankings and 8 Final Qualification Places, of which there are three types:
1. Continental – based on performance at the Pan American Games, the Asian Games and the African Games, for which there are 2 men’s and women’s singles places are available from the Pan American Games, and 1 per singles event from the Asian and African Games.
In order to ensure geographical representation, there is one place per region for athletes from nations in both Europe and Oceania who otherwise would not feature.
Any athlete qualifying on a Continental Qualification place needs to be ranked in the ATP or WTA Top 300, and must also take into account the NOC’s quota of four athletes per country.
2. Gold medallist/Grand Slam champion – a place is available in each draw for any athlete who has previously won an Olympic gold medal in singles or a Grand Slam singles title that has not qualified by direct acceptance, provided they are ranked in the Top 300 and don’t push their NOC quota over that magic four-athlete threshold.
3. Host nation – If the host nation is not represented in either singles draw, then the highest-ranked athlete from the host nation will receive a Host Nation place.
Doubles is different, however, which will feature 32 teams, a team being a pair of athletes from the same nation with a maximum of 2 teams per nation.
There are 31 direct acceptance places and 1 host nation place.
Athletes ranked in the ATP and WTA doubles Top 10 on 14 June will get direct entry into the doubles event if they are nominated by their country but they need to be able to team up with a player from their country ranked in the Top 300 in either singles or doubles.
The deadline by which all entries need to be submitted to Tokyo 2020 is 5 July, but, all being well, the ITF says the final entry list should be announced by the end of June.