x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The importance of an Olympic gold in tennis

Both Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have talked at their joy at winning an Olympic gold medal.

Andre Agassi was thrilled by his Olympic triumph in 1996.
Andre Agassi was thrilled by his Olympic triumph in 1996.

In the summer of 1896, just after completing his graduation studies, the Irishman John Pius Boland had gone to Greece for a break.

Athens was preparing to host the first modern Olympic Games during those days and Boland's Greek friend, Thrasyvoulos Manos, a member of the organising committee, entered his name in the tennis competition.

The spur-of-the-moment decision meant Boland had to play with leather-soled shoes and "a tennis bat of sorts, secured at the Panhellenic Bazaar". Yet, he went on to win both the singles and doubles competition.

Tennis at the Olympics, as indeed the Games, has come a long way since those days and getting on your country's tennis team is a lot tougher. Winning the gold medal, it seems, is even harder.

"To win a gold medal is what it's all about," Andre Agassi said after winning the gold at 1996 Atlanta, eight years after tennis was reintroduced as an Olympic sports in 1988. "I'd keep this over all of them [his other titles]."

Talking to CNN earlier this week, the American said: "The medal round my neck, the national anthem, tears in my eyes ... it's an out of body experience, it's surreal.

"You know when I was a boy tennis was not in the Olympics, but it was one of many things my father had predicted in my life, that tennis should be in the Olympics, would be in the Olympics and you are going to win a gold medal, so being on that podium was a boyhood dream in many respects."

Agassi's wife, Steffi Graf, who won all the four grand slams in 1988 and also took the gold at the Seoul Games, says the Olympic gold is more precious to her than her 22 majors.

"To me this was bigger than a grand slam, it was more special," the German said. "Standing on the podium and listening to your national anthem and getting the medal around your neck, seeing the other athletes there that supported."

Pete Sampras, Venus and Serena Williams, Tim Henman and many others have expressed similar opinions. The Games come every four years and are not always as predictable as the slams. Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer do not have an Olympic gold on their CV. Marc Rosset and Nicolas Massu do.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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