Closin' in on the Open
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ATP and WTA performers alike are competing at three different sites this week, including the yawnfest (in terms of tennis) that is the Olympic Games. The Olympics are special, if not important, as an international celebration, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say not too many people care about the tennis portion of the event. But having said that, at least we're not talking about "sports" like archery, badminton, equestrian, fencing, shooting, ping pong (I mean table tennis), or synchronized whatever. Sure, there are some big tennis names in Athens, like Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Venus Williams and Martina Navratilova, but don't kid yourself, this is not a marquee event on the tennis calendar...at least not to this scribe. People tend to remember Wimbledon and U.S. Open champions, but they'll almost certainly struggle to rattle off the names of gold medal tennis winners. How many tennis gold medal champions can you name, without a cheat sheet? Exactly. The racquet men and women are getting in their chops in Athens, Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati this week before wrapping up their Open prep work in New Haven, Forest Hills and Long Island next week. If the 2004 Games were such a big tennis deal, you'd also see the likes of Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati on hand in Greece, but, instead, these players are either competing elsewhere or pulled out of Athens citing "injuries." Tennis became a medal sport at the Games once again back in 1988, but maybe we should retire it once again due to a seeming lack of interest from many of the sport's top stars. Heck, Masters Series events get stronger fields. Tennis just doesn't feel like an Olympic sport to me, especially considering that we get plenty of tennis every week around the world for practically the entire calendar year. The Games should be left to the more obscure and under appreciated sports, such as athletics (track & field), diving, gymnastics, swimming, weightlifting, etc. We want true Olympic heroes on the Wheaties box, not your everyday tennis star. We want athletes who have labored for four years just for this one shining moment (see Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner, Mary Lou Retton, Edwin Moses, Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, etc., etc). The Federers, Roddicks, Henin-Hardennes and Venuses of the world get plenty of spotlight time (not to mention cash) on their respective tours, so let's leave the Games to those lesser stars in need of some love, the Matt Biondis, the Janet Evanses, the Rulon Gardners, etc., etc. I thoroughly enjoy the sport of tennis...I just don't need to thoroughly enjoy it at the Olympics. Where's the goose-bump factor here? People aren't tuning into the networks of NBC to watch doubles...are they? Who won the men's Olympic tennis gold medal in 1992? See what I mean. Who cares really (aside from Marc Rosset)? Did you know that when you win all four majors it's called a Grand Slam? Chances are you knew that one. But what's it called when you nail down all four majors and Olympic gold? Again, that may fall under the category of who cares, but it is, in fact, referred to as a Golden Slam. That ends this session of Olympic Tennis 101. It's time to get off my soapbox and get ready for some meaningful racquets, an event where tennis is the only flavor of the day -- the U.S. Open, which gets underway August 30 in the Big Apple. All of the game's current greats will be on hand in New York, unless they truly are injured (see Kim Clijsters and Guillermo Coria). After all, it's things like the majors that pay the bills for these folks, not the Games. Just for the record, like tennis, I enjoy the Summer Games, but the two seem to go together like oil and water...the snake and the mongoose...the Hatfields and the McCoys, etc., etc. Also, I'm taking a personal poll. What is the absolute worst Olympic sport? I'm goin' with anything involving an air gun or men's synchronized diving.