The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic is proving a bit of a blessing in disguise to some, including Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, all who have struggled with injury during this season and the delay offers the chance of recovering full fitness.
Obviously as of right now, I wouldn’t get into the Olympics so I would have to ask for a wildcard, which I know there’s a few people out there that think I shouldn’t be getting any more. I’ll have to wait and see what happens with that but I would love to compete in the Olympics again, to get another opportunity to do that would be huge for me. It would be in the top few priorities for the year. Andy Murray
39-year-old Federer was forced to miss the majority of the 2020 season after suffering from knee injuries that required two bouts of surgery.
His last Grand Slam appearance was January’s Australian Open, where he was knocked out in straight sets in the semi-finals by Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.
Numerous sporting events this year were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Olympics rescheduled to 23 July to 8 August 8 in 2021, and the Tennis Event now taking place at Ariake Tennis Park from 24 July to 1 August.
In an online conversation with Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Federer said he was glad the Games had been pushed back.
“Big plan is to be there for the Olympics,” he said. “You know, this is for me the big one.
“Maybe selfishly for me it has not been a bad thing that it was actually moved a little, you know because of the problems I had last year.
“It was a big shock for all of us when Wimbledon pulled out because of the pandemic and then Tokyo Olympics shortly after that, was moved.”
Federer is hoping to return to competition at the Australian Open, which is expected to take place in February in Melbourne.
The World No 5 has yet to win an Olympic gold in the men’s singles, despite competing at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
He finished as runner-up to Britain’s Andy Murray at London 2012 and clinched men’s doubles gold at Beijing 2008 alongside Stan Wawrinka.
Federer then missed Rio 2016 through injury.
Andy Murray successfully defended his gold medal in 2016 at the Maria Esther Bueno Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where his opponent was Juan Martin Del Potro, and the two produced an epic match.
The former World No 1 says winning another Olympic medal in Tokyo is one of his prime targets for 2021 but has struggled to find his form and fitness in a disjointed 2020 campaign that was heavily disrupted by the pandemic.
Murray has been at home in Surrey with wife Kim, 32, and their three children for much of this year and has found it ‘tough’ not being able to play during the lockdown, but insists he isn’t complaining because he is ‘in a way more fortunate position than most people’.
The Scot returned to the Tour after undergoing a hip resurfacing operation last year and is set to travel Down Under next month to play in the Australian Open.
At the end of 2016, Murray was at the peak of his powers, winning his second Wimbledon title, his first-ever title at Nitto ATP Finals, and ending the season as the World No 1 for the first time in his career.
He then began to struggle with a severe hip injury the following year, and was forced to withdraw from the 2017 US Open, heralding a decline in fortunes.
He still hasn’t recovered to his best after two hip surgeries over the past three years, and his humiliating loss to Stan Wawrinka in the opening round in Paris posed further questions on his ability to compete with the best.
Murray hopes to receive a wildcard for the Olympics as he is currently ranked No 131.
“Obviously as of right now, I wouldn’t get into the Olympics so I would have to ask for a wildcard, which I know there’s a few people out there that think I shouldn’t be getting any more,” said Murray, the first tennis player in history to have won two singles gold medals at the Olympics.
“I’ll have to wait and see what happens with that but I would love to compete in the Olympics again, to get another opportunity to do that would be huge for me. It would be in the top few priorities for the year,” Murray added.
“Obviously, I’d love to get the opportunity to play at Wimbledon again, same with the Aussie Open, and then, if I’m fit and well, I’d be pumped to go and try and win another medal in Tokyo.”
He claims to have a fresh outlook on what needs to be done to recover his former form.
“There has definitely been times over the last few years where I lost that [drive and motivation], because of the injuries and stuff like that,” Murray told Daniela Hantuchova for Roland Garros in September. “And I hadn’t been working as hard as what I needed to.
“I think as you get older obviously there are certain things you can do differently, but you almost need to work harder to stay in shape, spend more time with your physio and afterwards to feel good.
“I think just in the last sort of two to three months I actually got on that machine that measures your body fat and it wasn’t good.
“It wasn’t good in comparison to what I’d done when I was younger. It was something as simple as that where I was like ‘come on Andy, you just need to get back…’
“I’d been working fairly hard, but I could have done much better. I could have been eating healthier and sleeping better. I was like ‘come on’.
“I may never get back to being number one in the world, but I want to do everything that I did when I was number one in the world to give myself the best chance to see what I can achieve.
“I was incredibly professional, I worked hard, I ate properly, slept well. That’s kind of what started the latest kind of mentality.
“Something as small as that, I know I am not very overweight or anything, but I was like ‘No, you should be in better shape’.”
Two-time Olympic medallist Juan Martin Del Potro revealed the postponement of Tokyo 2020 has given him ‘extra strength’ in his comeback from injury.
The Argentine is refusing to give up on tennis despite a series of setbacks and insists he would love to compete at next year’s Olympics.
The 32-year-old claimed bronze at London 2012 before securing silver at Rio 2016, where he lost Murray in the men’s singles final.
Hopes of competing in a third Olympics suffered a blow when he injured his knee at the Queen’s Club tournament in London in 2019 and he has not played since then, having undergone a third knee operation in August.
The 2009 US Open champion, however, is focused on returning to action in 2021 as he eyes a place at Tokyo 2020.
“To be honest, it takes a lot for me to make a comeback,” admits Del Potro. “It has become very challenging for me, but I’m not ready to give up.
“I refuse to finish my career outside the court and would love to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer.
“The passion for the game is still here, keeping me motivated despite all the troubles.
“I changed the way I hit the ball after several wrist injuries, but I can’t change how I move to help my knees.
“Still, the Tokyo Olympics had been moved to 2021 due to the pandemic, and that gave me extra strength to work on my comeback.”
There are 56 direct qualification places in the men’s singles competition based on the world rankings, but only four players can go to the Olympics from each country.
Delpo is currently ranked 157th in the world, with compatriots Leonardo Mayer, Facundo Bagnis, Federico Coria, Federico Delbonis, Guido Pella and Diego Schwartzman all ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic is hoping to team up with Federer at the Tokyo Games, saying: “I’m ready, it’s just up to Roger now.”
The Olympic Games is one of her big goals and 23-year-old Bencic is dreaming of competing in the singles and mixed doubles.
The Swiss pair have played mixed doubles together before, winning back-to-back Hopman Cup titles in 2018 and 2019.
“Nothing has been decided yet, everything is still very far away for me, but in addition to the Grand Slam tournaments, the Olympic Games remains one of my big goals – in singles and maybe also in mixed,” she told Swiss publication Aargauer Zeitung.. “If we stay healthy, I would like to compete with Roger.”
Asked if the hype around her would be a little easier if Federer was to compete, she replied: “That would be convenient for me.
“Roger is so easy-going, always has everything under control, something I saw first-hand at the Hopman Cup. He always manages to greet everyone.
“I’m overwhelmed when two people want something from me at the same time. But Roger must have learned to deal with it first. At 23 he probably couldn’t do that. I couldn’t live like him.”