Before tennis became a part of Olympic history, it was then known in Britain as a simple leisure game played during social gatherings and with an odd name – sphairistike. Not known to all, tennis was one of the nine original sports included in the first modern Olympics in 1986 in Athens. In this event, the Olympics produced its first tennis champion – John Boland of Britain and Ireland. Four years after, during the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, the first gold medal ever to be awarded to a woman in Olympic history was given to Charlotte Cooper of Britain.>
In the next succeeding Olympic events, the best tennis players could not make it to the games because of the scheduled tournaments. To prove their lack of enthusiasm, during the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, the top tennis players chose to play at Wimbledon over the Olympics when both were scheduled at the same time.
In the 1924 Olympics held in Paris, tennis was not included in the event because of disagreement between the Olympics Committee and the different tennis federations. They could not come to concur on certain terms concerning the then amateurism requirement, excluding professional tennis players in the event.
The break up of tennis from the Olympics continued until in 1968, when it was included as a demonstration sports in the Mexico City Olympics. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, tennis was again included in the event as a demonstration sports but this time, professional tennis players were allowed to compete. The comeback was a hit that it became an instant popular Olympic sporting event.
The official reconciliation of tennis and the Olympics came after 64 long years and 16 Olympic events in between during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where tennis was reintroduced as a medal sport. The gold was in the singles division was bagged by Steffi Graf of Germany for the women’s division and Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia for the men’s.
Since the resurrection of tennis in the Olympics, numerous professional tennis athletes and rising tennis athletes have bagged a gold medal. Among these are teenager Marc Rosset of Switzerland and Jennifer Capriati of U.S.A. for the singles division in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, U.S.A. bagged both gold medals for the singles division through Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport.
In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the gold medal of Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia or the men’s division was overpowered by the popularity of the Venus sisters of the U.S.A. Venus and Serena Williams, won gold for the doubles and Venus came out No. 1 in the singles for the women’s division. Nicolás Massú of Chile and Justine Henin-Hardenne also became champions during the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Tennis pros have also shown eagerness to bag a medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as only two of the top tennis players for each men’s and women’s event have not participated. Rafael Nadal of Spain of the men’s event and Elena Dementieva of Russia of the women’s bagged the gold for the singles division. The Beijing Olympics is also the second time around that the William sisters won gold in the doubles.
Tennis and the Olympics had their ups and downs and has indeed come a long way. And, with the increasing participation of tennis pros in the game, tennis in the Olympics is more exciting than ever. The next chapter of the story shall continue in 2012 during the London Olympics and tennis fans all over the world would be waiting until that day comes.