Top 12 Olympic Tennis Moments
By this time next week, the tennis world will once again be rotating on an Olympic axis as the 2012 Summer Games will be underway at the All-England Club in London.
It'll be the seventh straight Olympiad in which tennis will be a full medal sport, after having been reinstated as such in 1988 after being eliminated following an original Olympic run from 1896 to 1924, during which Suzanne Lenglen ('20) and Helen Wills ('24) were the most successful all-time greats who claimed Golds.
But what are some of the greatest moments in the contemporary Olympic tennis era? Well, here are a few to chew on:
1. *Graf's "Golden Slam"*
1988 Seoul Singles Gold - Steffi Graf (FRG) def. Gabriela Sabatini (ARG)
...6-3/6-3. The most-difficult-to-get cog in the wheel that was Steffi's "Golden Slam" -- winning all four slams and Olympic Gold -- season, Graf was the more-than-appropriate winner of the Gold Medal as tennis returned to the Games for the first time in sixty-four years. The German had an overall record of 72-3 in '88. Graf's Golden triumph was the most expected of all Olympic tennis results, but also the most historic. Her run in in South Korea came in the midst of a 45-match winning streak (tied for the longest of her career), and period in which she went 76-1 in a span stretching across the 1988-89 seasons. In fact, from 1987-90, Graf strung together the four best statistical years of her career, putting up a stunning combined won-lost mark of 305-12.
2. *La Petit Taureau's Greatest Victory?*
2004 Athens Singles Gold - Justine Henin-Hardenne (BEL) def. Amelie Mauresmo (FRA)
...6-3/6-3. Smack dab in the middle of her bout with the cytomegalovirus that kept her out of action for the three months prior to Athens, Henin put together maybe the most remarkable performance of her career. She survived a 5-1 3rd set deficit against Anastasia Myskina in the SF, then took out Mauresmo for the Gold. It was only later, once the full knowledge of her illness was known, that we found out just how deep Queen Justine had had to dig to pull this one out. Following her Athens win, still fighting the virus, Henin only played one more tournament (losing in the 4th Round of the U.S. Open) the rest of the '04 season.
3. *The Russians Have Their Day*
2008 Beijing Singles Gold - Elena Dementieva (RUS) def. Dinara Safina (RUS) 3-6/7-5/6-3
2008 Beijing Singles Bronze - Vera Zvonareva (RUS) def. Li Na (CHN) 6-0/7-5
...after populating the WTA landscape with their deep pool of talent during the 2000's, the Russians went into China and took care of business, completing the first sweep of the medal stand in Olympic tennis in one hundred years. Showing the Hordettes' depth, the women who earned the honors weren't any of the three Russians who'd won grand slam singles titles, but instead were three of their countrywomen who'd all failed to win a major title in their careers. Dementieva retired two years later, having never won a slam. After winning in '08, she held up her Gold-winning moment as not only the best of her career... but also one that she'd cherish even more than she ever would a grand slam crown.
4. *The Surprise Medalist*
2004 Athens Singles Gold - Nicolas Massu (CHI) def. Mardy Fish (USA)
...6-3/3-6/2-6/6-3/6-4. Talk about a stunner! With his win, Massu became Chile's first-ever Olympic Gold Medalist (and then the first two-timer when he won in doubles with Fernando Gonzalez). He was the first man to sweep the singles and doubles Golds since Vincent Richards in 1924.
5. *The Kid Before the Comeback*
1992 Barcelona Singles Gold - Jennifer Capriati (USA) def. Steffi Graf (GER)
...3-6/6-3/6-4. At 16, with all her long-talked about promise still seemingly in front of her, Capriati took down the defending Olympic champion to become the youngest-ever tennis Gold Medalist. But, by the end of 1994, Capriati had been arrested for drug possession and would miss nearly two full years of WTA action. She'd finally return in '96, but wouldn't play a complete season until '99. In 2001, eight and a half years after winning Gold, her gradual comeback took flight as she won the first of what would be three slam titles and reached #1. As the 20th anniversary of her Olympic triumph is now upon us, Capriati was just inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend.
6. *Keeping It In the Family... eventually*
1996 Atlanta Singles Gold - Andre Agassi (USA) def. Sergi Bruguera (ESP)
...6-2/6-3/6-1. Agassi and Steffi Graf are the only players to have ever won all four slams, plus Olympic singles Gold and a season-ending tour championship title. Before he won Gold on American soil, Agassi had already won titles at three different slams, but he was still viewed as something of an "underachiever." After Atlanta, he'd go on to win five more slams and go down as one of the game's most respected ambassadors. Agassi finally won his first Roland Garros title in 1999, completing his career "Six Pack" of the sport's biggest singles crowns, something that Graf had finished up eleven years earlier. Agassi and Graf were married in 2001. They have two kids.
7. *The Golden Summer of Venus*
2000 Sydney Singles Gold - Venus Williams (USA) def. Elena Dementieva (RUS)
...6-2/6-4. The conclusion of Williams' spectacular summer of 2000, during which she notched grand slam victories at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, came with her claiming of Olympic singles Gold. Also grabbing the Sydney doubles Gold with sister Serena, Venus became the first woman since Helen Wills in 1924 to win both medals at the same Olympics. But, maybe even more impressively, this medal run in singles STILL stands as one of the few things that Venus has accomplished on a tennis court in her career that Serena has yet to do herself. So far, at least.
8. *Venus & Serena: Together Forever*
2000 Sydney Doubles Gold - Williams/Williams (USA) def. Boogert/Oremans (NED) 6-1/6-1
2008 Beijing Doubles Gold - Williams/Williams (USA) def. Medina-Garrigues/Ruano Pascual (ESP) 6-2/6-0
...as has pretty much been the case throughout their careers, the toughest out in all of tennis is the Williams Sisters on the doubles court. They've played together at two Olympics. Naturally, they're 10-0 and have two Golds for their efforts. The wins give Venus three career Golds, tied with Reginald Doherty (1900 & '08) for the most ever in Olympic tennis history.
9. *Home is Where the Heart Is*
1996 Atlanta Singles Gold - Lindsay Davenport (USA) def. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (ESP)
...7-6/6-2. Since the sport's Olympic return in '88, the only woman to win singles Gold in her home nation has been Davenport. A 20-year old Davenport was the second of three straight American Olympic women's champions (sandwiched between Capriati and Venus). She'd go on to win three slams from 1998-00 before essentially being overtaken at the top of the game by the crafty Martina Hingis, then the Williams Sisters.
10. *When They Were Young*
1984 Los Angeles Women's Final - Steffi Graf (FRG) def. Sabrina Goles (YUG) 1-6/6-3/6-4
1984 Los Angeles Men's Final - Stefan Edberg (SWE) def. Francisco Maciel (MEX) 6-1/7-6
...four years before tennis became an official medal sport again, it was a demonstration, non-medal event in L.A.. As it turned out, the tournament proved to be quite prophetic. The winners? A 15-year old Steffi Graf of West Germany, three years before her first slam victory (she'd go on to win 22), and 18-year old Swede Stefan Edberg, who'd win the first of his six career slams the next season in Australia. Four years later, Graf would win the first singles Gold in tennis' official return to the Games, then pick up a Silver in '92. Edberg won the Bronze in '88.
11. *Roger "versus" Rafa*
2000 Sydney Singles Bronze - Arnaud Di Pasquale (ITA) def. Roger Federer (SUI) 7-6/6-7/6-3
2008 Beijing Singles Gold - Rafael Nadal (ESP) def. Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) 6-3/7-6/6-3
2008 Beijing Doubles Gold - Roger Federer/Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) def. Simon Aspelin/Thomas Johansson (SWE) 6-3/6-4/6-7/6-3
...while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have done battle numerous times in their grand slam pasts, they've never met in the Olympics. In fact, their fates at the Games couldn't be more different. Federer, the all-time men's slam title leader, has participated in three Olympics, but has yet to win a medal in singles. Defeats in '04 (2nd Round to Tomas Berdych) and '08 (QF - James Blake) were preceded by a Bronze Medal Match loss to Italy's Arnaud Di Pasquale in Federer's Olympic debut in '00. Meanwhile, Nadal has played in just one Olympics, but he won Gold in Beijing in '08. Federer HAS won an Olympic medal, though. In those same Beijing Games, he and Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka claimed the doubles Gold. Twelve years after his Olympic debut, (once again) #1-ranked Federer will be the top seed in the London Games as he attempts to join Agassi and Graf as the only players to win a career singles "Six Pack."
12. *The Best Laid Plans...*
2004 Athens Doubles Gold - Li Ting/Sun Tiantian (CHN) def. Conchita Martinez/Virginia Ruano Pascual (ESP) 6-3/6-3
2008 Beijing Doubles Bronze - Yan Zi/Zheng Jie (CHN) def. Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 6-2/6-2
2008 Beijing Singles Bronze - Vera Zvonareva (RUS) def. Li Na (CHN) 6-0/7-5
...in 2004, four years before China hosted the Games in Beijing, Li Ting & Sun Tiantian earned the first Chinese medal in tennis. The Chinese tennis federation put much effort into building up the sport within the nation in time for Beijing, banking on even greater success there. Right on schedule, the Chinese Fed Cup team reached the semifinals for the first time in '08. Then came the Beijing Games. The Russian sweep of the singles medal stand (medalists Safina & Zvonareva went 4-0 vs. Chinese opponents) meant zero medals were earned there for the home nation, as Li Na succumbed to the pressure of the moment and lost in the Bronze Medal Match. Meanwhile, Yan & Zheng's Bronze in doubles was actually a step back (or two) from the success the Chinese had had four years earlier. Since then, while the veteran Chinese players have had success (Li won at RG in '11) on tour, the federation has put little effort into remaining competitive on a FC level. After reaching the SF in '08, the Chinese team went four full years without advancing in any FC competition, often fielding teams of "B" or "C" level players, at best. The losing streak finally ended in '12 zone play, as Li, Zheng and Peng Shuai showed up, likely only to maintain their Olympic eligibility.
After Jelena Dokic came up short in her medal quest Down Under in the Sydney Games in '00, losing in the Bronze Medal Match to Monica Seles, Alicia Molik pulled off the feat by taking Bronze four years later in Athens, defeating three seeds (#4 Dementieva, #8 Ai Sugiyama & #3 Myskina). Molik is the only Australian singles player, male or female, to win a medal in Olympic history.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov defeats Tommy Haas in the '00 men's singles final in Sydney, becoming the first Russian to win Olympic tennis Gold
In Seoul (1988), Slovak-born Miloslav Mecir, playing for Czechoslovakia, wins the men's singles Gold. To date, no other player representing either side -- Czech or Slovak Republic -- of the former Soviet era nation has won Olympic tennis Gold.
Before the Williams Sisters, another pair of Americans -- Mary Joe Fernandez & Gigi Fernandez -- team to win back-to-back Olympic doubles Golds in 1992 and 1996
At the '04 Games in Athens, after blowing a 5-1 3rd set lead to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals, '04 Roland Garros champ Anastasia Myskina loses the Bronze Match to Alicia Molik and leaves Greece with no medals
In 1992 in Barcelona, Marc Rosset -- though this could change very soon -- becomes the answer to a trivia question, becoming the only Swiss man to win Olympics singles Gold.
**WOMEN'S SINGLES MEDALISTS, since 1988**
1988 Steffi Graf, West Germany
1992 Jennifer Capriati, USA
1996 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
2008 Elena Dementieva, Russia
1988 Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina
1992 Steffi Graf, Germany
1996 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain
2000 Elena Dementieva, Russia
2004 Amelie Mauresmo, France
2008 Dinara Safina, Russia
1988 Manuela Maleeva, Bulgaria & Zina Garrison, USA
1992 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain & Mary Joe Fernandez, USA
1996 Jana Novotna, Czech Republic
2000 Monica Seles, USA
2004 Alicia Molik, Australia
2008 Vera Zvonareva, Russia
**MEN'S SINGLES MEDALISTS, since 1988**
1988 Miloslav Mecir, Czechoslovakia
1992 Marc Rosset, Switzerland
1996 Andre Agassi, USA
2000 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia
2004 Nicolas Massu, Chile
2008 Rafael Nadal, Spain
1988 Tim Mayotte, USA
1992 Jordi Arrese, Spain
1996 Sergi Bruguera, Spain
2000 Tommy Haas, Germany
2004 Mardy Fish, USA
2008 Fernando Gonzalez, Chile
1988 Stefan Edberg, Sweden & Brad Gilbert, USA
1992 Goran Ivanisevic, Croatia & Andrei Cherkasov, Unified Team
1996 Leander Paes, India
2000 Arnaud di Pasquale, France
2004 Fernando Gonzalez, Chile
2008 Novak Djokovic, Serbia
**WOMEN'S DOUBLES GOLD MEDALISTS, since 1988**
1988 Pam Shriver/Zina Garrison, USA
1992 Mary Joe Fernandez/Gigi Fernandez, USA
1996 Mary Joe Fernandez/Gigi Fernandez, USA
2000 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
2004 Li Ting/Sun Tiantian, China
2008 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
**MEN'S DOUBLES GOLD MEDALISTS, since 1988**
1988 Ken Flach/Robert Seguso, USA
1992 Boris Becker/Michael Stich, Germany
1996 Todd Woodbridge/Mark Woodforde, Australia
2000 Sebastien Lareau/Daniel Nestor, Canada
2004 Fernando Gonzalez/Nicolas Massu, Chile
2008 Roger Federer/Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland
**MULTIPLE OLYMPIC TENNIS MEDALS, since 1988**
4...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP
3...Mary Joe Fernandez, USA
3...Fernando Gonzalez, CHI
3...Steffi Graf, FRG/GER
3...Conchita Martinez, ESP
3...Jana Novotna, TCH/CZE
3...VENUS WILLIAMS, USA
2...Elena Dementieva, RUS
2...Gigi Fernandez, USA
2...Zina Garrison, USA
2...Goran Ivanisevic, CRO
2...Nicolas Massu, CHI
2...Miloslav Mecir, TCH
2...Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2...Helena Sukova, TCH/CZE
2...SERENA WILLIAMS, USA
2...Todd Woodbridge, AUS
2...Mark Woodforde, AUS
All for now.
STILL TO COME: Backspin Olympic Time Capsule