Already 10 years since my trip to the US Open. Time flies…
It was my first time ever in the States (and it remains the only time to this day), but strangely enough everything seemed so familiar (I guess it is related to watching to many american TV shows…) and everything seemed so big: the buildings, the food portion sizes and of course the Arthur Ashe Stadium:
I stayed in the Olympic village with all the other athletes, and once again, as in the Davis Cup, I had a taste of that team spirit that I loved so much when I played football as a kid. Living with my Spanish teammates, in the same residential compound, meeting and making friends with the Spanish basketball team and track athletes (some of whom, a little embarrassingly, would stop me in the corridors, or in the communal laundry room where we all washed our clothes, to ask me for my autograph) and stepping out in uniform alongside them all for the opening ceremony – these were unforgettable experiences. But my sense of good fortune came accompanied by a strong dose of indignation.
I understood better than ever just how privileged we professional tennis players are, and how unjust is the predicament of so many Olympic athletes. They train incredibly hard, at least as hard as we do, yet the rewards tend to be far smaller. A tennis player ranked number eighty in the world has economic benefits, social privileges, and a degree of recognition beyond the dreams of someone who is number one in track and field, swimming, or gymnastics. On the tennis circuit everything is laid on for us all year round, and the money we receive allows us the chance to save for our futures. These people train with the discipline of monks over a period of four years in preparation for the one competition that stands out above all others, the Olympics, yet the vast majority of them receive very little support relative to the effort they invest. It’s admirable that they should prepare so rigorously, at so much personal sacrifice, for the mere satisfaction of competing and because of the passion they feel for their sports. That has a value beyond price. But that shouldn’t have to be enough. With all the income the International Olympic Committee generates from the Games – an event that depends for its success on the commitment of the athletes – you’d think they might be able to share the cash a little more fairly. In my case, I have no need to be paid, luckily, but an athlete who runs in the 400 meters or the marathon needs a lot of financial backing just to be able to train at the level required to make it to the Olympics and then compete for the top prizes. I understand that tennis has broader public appeal, at least over the course of a calendar year, but I think it’s unjust that more of an effort is not made to allow these incredibly dedicated people to live more decently and train in better conditions.
But these were my reflections after it was all over. Moaning and griping was not what defined my time in Beijing. What stays with me, above all, was the camaraderie between the athletes and the chance I had to learn about so many different new sports and discover how much we all had in common. Just to be able to participate, and to have access to a world I never thought I’d get to know, was uplifing enough.
Then to win gold in the men’s singles, after beating Djokovic in the semis and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the final, and to see the Spanish flag being raised to the accompaniment of the national anthem as I stood on the winner’s podium: well, it was one of my life’s proudest moments. People don’t usually associate the Olympic Games with tennis. I certainly didn’t when I was growing up. The game only reappeared as an Olympic sport in 1988, after a 64 years absence. But in tennis players’ minds Olympic gold has become something to covet. After a Grand Slam, it’s now the prize we most cherish.
The new tennis season is fast approaching, and the best players in the world are busy training hard in preparation for another demanding and gruelling year on tour. But before we launch into 2013, we should take a moment to reflect on the careers and legacies of those who hung up their racquets for the last time in 2012…
Biggest ATP Retirement: Andy Roddick
On his 30th birthday, Andy Roddick called a press conference and revealed that the 2012 US Open would be his final competitive tournament. The decision caught everyone by surprise, but it seemed fitting for a man who, used to giving his all, knew that his body was no longer able to withstand a brutal training and playing regime.
Roddick had been his country’s number one player for most of the last decade. Blessed with one of the biggest serves in the history of the game, he regularly sent down unreturnable deliveries of over 220km/h, accompanied by his trademark compact swing and shotgun-like pop. He resembled an exuberant puppy on the court, pouncing on short balls and unleashing his formidable off-forehand with relish. Not the most naturally fluid of players, Roddick constantly strove to expand his arsenal of shots, and developed a very effective all-court game. Occasionally, his temper got the better of him, and umpires were often in his firing line, but he earned a reputation for being extremely gracious in defeat, and was a fan favourite wherever he played.
At the time, his 2003 US Open win seemed to herald the arrival of a new hero in American tennis, but Roddick’s main misfortune was to have shared an era with Roger Federer. He fell to the Swiss in four Grand Slam finals, including three at Wimbledon. The most heartbreaking was a 16-14 loss in the deciding set of the 2009 Wimbledon final, a match in which Roddick’s serve was broken only once. In all, he had a 3-21 record against Federer, and one wonders how much more decorated the Nebraskan’s career would have been without that perennial obstacle.
Biggest WTA Retirement: Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters has the distinction of retiring for a second time in 2012. The Belgian originally called it a day in 2007, citing mounting injuries and her desire to start a family. The lure of competition proved too strong, however, and she returned to the WTA tour in 2009.
Juan Carlos Ferrero joins Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Fernando Gonzalez, Rainer Schuttler, Arnaud Clement and Ivan Ljubicic as 2012 retirees.
Former No. 1 and 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero says he’ll retire after playing in his hometown Valencia Open next month.
“It was a complicated decision to leave a world you have lived in intensely. But I have had a tough year and you start to notice that you don’t have the same ambition and motivation.”
Next champion to retire?
- Lleyton Hewitt (29%, 24 Votes)
- Venus Williams (17%, 14 Votes)
- Rafael Nadal (14%, 12 Votes)
- Francesca Schiavone (11%, 9 Votes)
- Tommy Haas (11%, 9 Votes)
- Robin Soderling (8%, 7 Votes)
- David Nalbandian (7%, 6 Votes)
- Other (4%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 84
Steffi Graf, winner of 22 Grand Slams titles and the Golden Slam in 1988 (all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic gold medal in one year), and Fernando Gonzalez, the winner of the 2004 Olympic gold medal, visited the adidas London 2012 Media Lounge for Q&A with media.
The athletes answered questions about their life after tennis, the difference in sports technology over the years and their opinions about the new generation of young tennis players. They also predicted the outcome for the women’s and men’s Olympic tennis finals with both of them expecting Serena Williams and Roger Federer to win their respective matches.
The London Underground Map has been redesigned for the Olympics, with each of the 361 stations named after an Olympic icon.
As part of London’s Olympic celebrations, the London Underground Map has been transformed, with stations renamed after legendary Olympic superstars.
The new map brings in famous Olympians from a variety of sports, including US swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnastics great Nadia Comaneci from Romania, Spaniard and five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain and 1992 US Dream Team basketball players Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
Tennis players included on the map are: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Fernando Gonzalez, Laurence Doherty, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Nicolas Massu, Mark Woodforde, Todd Woodbridge, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
The Underground Olympic Legends Map was designed by Alex Trickett, international editor for the BBC sport website, and sports historian David Brooks.
The map not only celebrates multiple gold medal winning athletes but also features other extraordinary athletes who may not have won an Olympic gold medal but are recognised for their abilities or in some cases, famous defeats
To view an enlarged version of the map, click here.