In Olympic history thus far, as far as I am aware, there has never been a stampede for tickets to attend the tennis events. In fact my memory of even recent tournaments is of some of the world’s best players competing in half deserted stadia save for the medal matches and even they were far from being sell-outs.
Well that is going to change at London 2012. You don’t need to be Mystic Meg to predict that the Olympic tennis tournament at Wimbledon – an eight day feast starting on July 28 – is going to be one of the hottest tickets in town and the feel good atmosphere around the tournament will be a big boost to the status of tennis within the Olympic movement.
Roger Federer, speaking in London where he is contesting the ATP Tour finals, certainly thinks so: “In London, with the heritage we have for tennis through Wimbledon, it’s probably going to be the biggest tennis Olympics we’re going to have,” said the Swiss maestro, who won a gold in the Mens’ doubles in Beijing. “For raising awareness for tennis at the Olympic Games, I think London is going to be the perfect place.
“The beauty of it being at Wimbledon is huge for the world of tennis. At the Olympics, the focus is on swimming and athletics and tennis has been forgotten a little bit. At the last couple of Olympics, we’ve seen the best players are always playing. Rafa winning the singles in Beijing, me winning the doubles over there, that was great news for tennis in an Olympic spirit.”
But tennis and the Olympics have not been comfortable bedfellows for a variety of reasons. Initially it was too exclusive – ironic as it is now one of the planet’s most widely played sport – and then in modern times because an Olympic event, no matter how prestigious, has stood little chance of competing with the four Grand Slam events and especially the towering giant of the game that is Wimbledon. Indeed after the Paris Games of 1924 it didn’t even feature as a medal sport again until 1988.
An Olympic championship is meant to be the pinnacle of any sport but in tennis it would need the earth to shift on its axis for an Olympic gold medal to be more treasured and commemorated than an epic Wimbledon title.
But Federer is absolutely right, the 2012 Olympic Tennis tournament will undoubtedly take a massive step up in credibility just by being held at Wimbledon, the cradle of the modern game and a location that automatically ensures tennis excellence. It’s a unique chance for tennis to absolutely cement its place back in the Olympic movement and having achieved that it will be vital for Rio de Janeiro to back up with another superb tournament in 2016.
Countless millions more TV viewers worldwide will automatically watch the five tennis competitions in 2012 – a mixed doubles tournament is being added to the programme – and the Wimbledon crowds will be huge. Henman Hill will be a roaring, seething mass of humanity, especially if Andy Murray can put a gold medal charge together.
One of the great challenges for the Wimbledon groundsmen will be repairing their famous courts in time for the Olympics. The normal All-England fortnight will end on July 8 and the Olympic competition will start on July 28 so there will be just 20 days to get the grass courts up to scratch again. It’s a big “ask” but somehow you know for sure the Wimbledon authorities will find a way of rising to the occasion.
It will be a tournament the likes of which Wimbledon has never seen before. Regulations concerning white kit for the Gentlemen and Ladies will be thrown out of the window and all 172 competitors allowed to wear their national colours. The great showcourts will be bedecked in Olympic logos and those of their elite sponsors. I suspect the atmosphere will be very much “People’s Sunday” with a Davis Cup type intensity.
Bring it on. It won’t be Wimbledon as we know it but for a week or more it will be compelling viewing and great fun, the party atmosphere down at SW19 will match anywhere at the 2012 Olympics as 30,000 fans flock there every day.
Wimbledon is Wimbledon and when the Mens and Women’s Singles champions, in particular, receive their gold medals on Centre Court the images that go flashing around the world are going to be amongst the most iconic of the 2012 Games.