Djokovic pursues Golden Slam as Canadians, other big names dwindle at Olympics


Though many of the top names won’t be there, the Olympic tennis tournaments should still provide plenty of intrigue.

From Andy Murray’s attempt at a three-peat to Novak Djokovic’s “Golden Slam” to Canada’s dwindling podium hopes, here’s everything you should know about tennis at Tokyo 2020:

Format

Olympic tennis looks like any other ATP or WTA tournament. The singles draws feature 64 competitors each, with doubles at 32 pairs each and mixed doubles with 16.

The first person to take two sets wins the match in every tournament. The only major difference from typical competition is the addition of a bronze-medal match.

Canadian contenders

The Canadian contingent does not nearly live up to its potential as Bianca Andreescu, Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil all dropped out over various injury and pandemic-related concerns.

Still, the country has a reasonable shot at winning its second tennis medal ever, following Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau’s doubles bronze in 2000.

Find live streams, must-watch video highlights, breaking news and more in one perfect Olympic Games package. Following Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.

More from Tokyo 2020

Felix Auger-Aliassime is ranked a career-high 15th following his run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals, a career-best result at a major.

“I’m already in a position where I’ve beaten the best players on the tour, and you never know what can happen in a competition,” he told the Canadian Press recently.

The 20-year-old’s forceful style, which includes a strong serve, should suit him well on the hard courts of Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park.

He’ll have to contend with Murray in his Olympic debut, a tall task despite Murray’s weakened game nine years after his first gold medal.

WATCH | Auger-Aliassime drops Wimbledon quarter-final to Berrettini:

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. 3:23

Auger-Aliassime had been scheduled to play doubles with Pospisil, who withdrew just nine days before the tournament was set to begin.

Meanwhile, Canada has just one entry in women’s singles: 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez.

Ranked 72rd, the Montreal lefty hasn’t won more than a single match in any tournament since collecting her first career WTA title in Mexico in March.

Fernandez won the junior French Open as recently as 2019 and defeated then-No. 5 Belinda Bencic in Fed Cup play in 2020, so it’s conceivable she could make a run in Tokyo. But she’s certainly an underdog.

WATCH | Fernandez victorious at Monterrey Open:

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., defeats Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic 6-1, 6-4 in the final of Monterrey Open. The 18-year-old did not drop a set for the entire tournament. 5:22

In women’s doubles, Canada will rely on Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman.

Dabrowski, 29, has earned nine career doubles titles and is currently ranked 14th in the discipline. Though she’s never won a women’s doubles major title, she took top spot at the 2017 French Open and 2018 Australian Open in mixed doubles.

Fichman, 30, stepped away from tennis in 2016 and worked as a commentator before returning exclusively to play doubles in 2018, saying her inspiration was to reach the Tokyo Olympics.

Fichman’s fiancé Dylan Moscovitch competed in figure skating for Canada at the 2014 Olympics, winning team silver. 

International athletes to watch

Novak Djokovic is two titles away from men’s tennis history.

The No. 1 player in the world has already collected Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles in 2021. An Olympic gold and U.S. Open victory would make him the second person ever to win the “Golden Slam” after Steffi Graf in 1988.

And the Serbian won’t have to go through his two nemeses, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who each dropped out citing injuries.

WATCH | Djokovic equals Federer, Nadal with 20th Grand Slam:

Novak Djokovic continues to make tennis history, this time with his 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Matteo Berrettini in London. 2:57

World No. 6 Dominic Thiem also chose not to compete in Tokyo, while lower-ranked big names like Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios are out too.

England’s Sir Andy Murray will be in Tokyo as he attempts to defend his back-to-back gold medals. Murray downed Djokovic in the 2012 semifinals on home soil in London. But as Djokovic has risen to match Nadal and Federer’s record 20 major titles, Murray, now 34, has mostly faded amid hip injuries. They can only face off in the final.

Top players Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev could also threaten Djokovic. Japan’s Kei Nishikori stands as the host nation’s top hope in the men’s tournament.

The women’s draw, meanwhile, is fuller despite the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams and former world No. 1 Simona Halep.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka, already a superstar, could raise her profile even further with Olympic gold on home soil.

But the WTA’s second-ranked player hasn’t competed since dropping out of the French Open following her decision to accept fines for skipping media at Roland Garros to protect her mental health. 

WATCH | Osaka on the frontlines of athletes’ fight for mental health:

Hosts of Bring It In Morgan Campbell, Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin discuss Naomi Osaka pulling out of the French Open and the social media frenzy that ensued after. 14:50

Osaka will have to go through world No. 1 Ash Barty, who’s fresh off a Wimbledon title.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek, ranked eighth, won the 2018 Youth Olympic Games tournament.

Aryna Sabalenka, Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina are among other top-10 players who could find themselves standing on the podium.

Everything else

  • Serena and Venus Williams share the all-time record with four gold medals apiece, but neither will compete at Tokyo 2020.
  • While Federer, now 39, is likely to complete his hall-of-fame career without Olympic singles gold, he did win men’s doubles alongside Wawrinka in 2008.
  • Since its return in 1984, tennis has been played on hard courts in every Olympics other than 1992 in Barcelona (clay) and 2012 in London (grass).

Key dates

  • July 24: All tournaments begin
  • July 30: Men’s doubles gold and bronze
  • July 31: Women’s singles gold and bronze; men’s singles bronze; women’s doubles bronze; mixed doubles bronze
  • Aug 1: Men’s singles gold; women’s doubles gold; mixed doubles gold

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