NEWS AND COMMENTARY ON WOMEN'S PROFESSIONAL TENNIS
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Rio--will everything really be okay?
Hey, Rio, everything will be okay,
We're singing and winging our way to you
From "Flying Down To Rio"
I always have mixed feelings about the Olympic Games. Host countries sometimes to terrible things to their citizens (I include non-humans in that phrase) in preparation for the games, and of course, the IOC is neither a fair nor a trustworthy organization. It's hard for me to get very excited about anything involving the IOC, but I do appreciate the fact that there's a tennis competition that will take place, even though that means that some our best doubles teams have been shaken up in order for players to prepare to play for their countries.
Commentators and writers haven't exactly heaped criticism on the players who have withdrawn from the Games because of the Zika virus, but their tone has been critical. As far as I'm concerned--and especially now that the host country has demonstrated such a shocking lack of preparation in so many other ways--deciding to avoid a trip to Rio is a personal decision to be respected. I'm surprised more athletes haven't pulled out.
In the tennis world, there are, of course, other interesting, though sad, factors. Former torch-carrier and silver medal winner Maria Sharapova won't be there. Victoria Azarenka won't be there. Martina Hingis's long-awaited pairing with Roger Federer won't take place, either, since Federer has ended his season.
Matches will be played on the same kind of hard courts that players compete on in the U.S. Open Series and at the U.S. Open. Simona Halep, whose form has improved greatly in the last few weeks, just won the Rogers Cup, and has great momentum going into the Olympics--only she won't be there, either. Halep chose to avoid possible exposure to the Zika virus. The gold medal favorite--with or without the missing players--is Serena Williams. Williams won the gold in singles in 2012, and she also has three gold medals (with sister Venus) in Olympic doubles.
The Williams sisters will be competing in doubles, which may be the more interesting venue in Rio. Serena and Venus, up until this year's Wimbledon, were more vulnerable than they had ever been in their doubles careers. But with their Wimbledon victory, they once again go to the top part of the list of potential Rio winners.
The currently vulnerable top-ranked team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza cannot, of course, compete at the Olympics. The Swiss team of Hingis and Belinda Bencic had a lot of potential, but Bencic has withdrawn because she needs more rest and rehab for her wrist injury.
The French team of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, formed in preparation for the Olympics (though Mladenovic says that was only one of the reasons for the team's creation), ranked second in the world, is poised for a gold medal run. Both players, and especially Mladenovic, thrive in a team atmosphere, and are able to summon immense fan participation when they play.
And then there's the together-again Russian team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, who won the Rogers Cup today, and whose next tournament will be the Olympic Games.
Williams/Williams, Garcia/Mladenovic, Makarova/Vesnina--that's a highly competitive list, but it doesn't inlude everyone. 2012 silver medal winners Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka will be there, as will the Chan sisters. And in addition to the Williams sisters, the USA will have Bethanie Mattek-Sands and CoCo Vandeweghe in doubles competition. Vandeweghe recently injured her ankle, but fortunately, the injury wasn't that bad, and she's set for Rio.
In the meantime, there's been one thing after another in Rio. Fire alarms were silenced while maintenance was being done, and an Olympic residential building caught fire. Those who silenced the alarms did not report what they were doing to anyone. Also, following the evacuation of the burning building, members of the Australian team returned to discover they had been burglarized.
The Australian team originally refused to move into the Olympic Village because of blocked toilets, leaky pipes and exposed wires in the residences.
Then there's the security issue. The Brazil Ministry of Justice just got rid of the firm that was supposed to provide security for the Games because of "incompetence and irresponsibility." One of the firm's jobs was to hire 3,400 security personnel, and they hired 500. In the meantime, there have been several recent police strikes in Rio de Janeiro.
So--problems with doping and the Zika virus aside--there remain even more unanswered questions about how prepared Rio is to host the Olympic Games, which begin in five days.