London 2012: Tennis
Tell me about tennis:
This popular ball-and-racket game is played in nearly every country and will make an appearance on the Olympic stage for the seventh time since being reinstated as an Olympic sport in 1988. The 2012 Olympic tennis events will be held at Wimbledon, the grass court venue that serves as one of the four Grand Slam events on the annual tennis circuit. Wimbledon last played host to Olympic tennis in 1908, when rackets were still made of wood and Teddy Roosevelt was president of the United States.
What’s up with the scoring?
Tennis has an interesting and sometimes confusing scoring system. In Olympic men’s singles, players win matches by winning sets on a best-of-five basis. All other Olympic tennis competitions are run on a best-of-three basis.
To win a set, players must win six games or beat their opponents by two games or by a tiebreak when necessary (thus winning 7 games – 5 games or 7-6 in a tiebreak). Points are numbered 15, 30 and 40, so the first point a player wins in each game will show up as 15, the second point will be 30 and the third point is 40. Everything in tennis must be won by two points, so if a player is winning a game 40-30 and wins the next point, the player will win the game. If the opponent wins the next point, the game goes into deuce, meaning the score of the game is 40-40. Whichever player records the next two consecutive points will win the game.
How do players qualify?
For the singles events, each player will compete in a field of 16. Players will be seeded based on their world rankings from the ATP (male) and WTA (female) tennis circuits. The doubles fields will be composed of eight seeded teams in both the male and female events, and mixed doubles will be composed of a field of four.
International players to watch:
The top four players in the men’s circuit – Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Rafael Nadal (Spain) Roger Federer (Switzerland) and Andy Murray (Great Britain) – figured to be the favorites in the Olympics. Then Nadal, who was slated to carry the flag for Spain in the Opening Ceremonies, announced he will be unable to compete this year (and defend his gold medal from Beijing in 2008) because of an injury. Djokovic has not been playing his best tennis recently, making Federer the favorite for gold after winning Wimbledon earlier in July. Federer does not yet have an Olympic gold medal in singles to his name. Murray will be a hometown favorite in London, as he will compete for Great Britain in tennis and likely will play doubles with his brother, Jamie Murray.
The women’s draw is harder to predict than the men’s draw, as the women’s rankings this year have been much more fluid than the men’s. World No. 1 Maria Sharapova (Russia) looks to be a strong contender as she continues her comeback from a shoulder injury that almost ended her career. Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) also will compete for Olympic gold as she looks to improve on a year that saw her win her first major title when she won the Australian Open in January.
Americans to watch:
American tennis has not been as successful in recent years as it was at the turn of the millennium, but there are still plenty of American players to cheer on. The Bryan brothers look to be the best hope for American tennis success. Twins Mike and Bob Bryan have ruled the doubles courts for years on the ATP tour and won a bronze medal in men’s doubles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Serena and Venus Williams captured the gold in women’s doubles that year, and after a break from doubles due to health problems for both sisters, they finally won a tournament together again in July when they captured the Wimbledon doubles title. Another gold medal for the sisters will be the icing on the cake of a good year.
Talk like an Olympian – terms to know:
Love – when a player has no points. For example, if Djokovic is serving and he is ahead in the game, 40-0, the announcer would say, “Djokovic is serving 40-love.”
Ace – when a returner is unable to return a serve cleanly.
Double fault – Players have to chances to put a serve in play, and if they fail the first time, it is called a fault. The second failed serve is called a double fault, and it costs the server one point.
Let – call on a serve that allows the point to be re-played. This normally occurs if the ball touches the net on an otherwise clean serve or if one of the players has a legitimate distraction (trash falling onto the court, crowd noise, etc.) during a serve.