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A different hue to age-old tradition

tennis Updated: Jul 09, 2012 12:12 IST
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Chris Evert played in the Olympics only once, and she recalls taking the court at 9am and losing a third-round match to an obscure opponent in front of 50 spectators.

"I felt very uncomfortable," Evert says. "I almost felt like an imposter, because the other athletes were looking at us tennis players as if they were saying, 'What are you doing here?' Because we have our Wimbledon, US, French and Australian Opens, and we had our million dollars. These were supposedly amateur athletes who only had one chance every four years."

That was in Seoul in 1988, when after a 64-year hiatus and amid considerable scorn, tennis returned to the Olympics as a medal sport. Many thought pros that competed for Grand Slam titles had no place at the Games.

But in the years since, tennis has gradually gained acceptance as an Olympic sport, in part because the world sees how much the players value a medal. Andre Agassi ranked his 1996 gold medal as the pinnacle of his career. Roger Federer cried when he lost a second-round Olympic match.

This year, virtually all of the top players plan to compete at the Olympics. And the world is sure to pay attention, because the event will be held at Wimbledon.

"The buzz is going to be phenomenal," said Patrick McEnroe, coach of the US Olympic men's team in 2004. "The profile of Olympic tennis has been raised considerably. In my mind, that will just continue. Having it at Wimbledon is a huge boost."

Competition will begin July 28, three weeks after Wimbledon. The all-white dress code will be waived and Olympic logos will replace the traditional dark green backdrops.