July 28, 2012 in Sports

Wimbledon: A pristine stage for Olympic tennis

Steven Wine Associated Press
 

WIMBLEDON, England – The Olympics at Wimbledon means Roger Federer going for gold on grass.

It also means pouring seeds and a rooting hormone into hot-water tubs, which are then placed in a room heated to 104 degrees.

That’s to make the grass grow.

On Saturday, lawn tennis will be played in the Olympics for the first time since 1920. The games come to the All England Club only three weeks after Wimbledon ended, which gave the grounds crew precious little time to repair damage to the courts.

They now look as pristine as ever, thanks to a reseeding plan formulated through two years of trial and error.

“To the outside world it looked like an impossible task,” said Neil Stubley, senior groundsman at the club. “The players all seem to be sort of amazed we’ve been able to do it. It’s a good feeling.”

On the surface, the profile of Olympic tennis has achieved a new level. After a 64-year hiatus, tennis rejoined the games in 1988 but has since struggled to generate a Grand Slam-style buzz – until now.

Even jaded professional athletes get excited about the chance to chase an Olympic medal on the sport’s grandest stage.

“That’s all I’ve fought for this whole year, so I hope that I can play well,” said Venus Williams, who made the U.S. team only after an early-season climb in the rankings.

“For me it will just be an honor to be here and try to capitalize on that moment.”

Virtually all top players seem to feel the same way. Defending singles gold medalist Rafael Nadal pulled out last week because of recurrent knee trouble, but the men’s field still includes Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Among the medal contenders on the women’s side are Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

“It’s luck, really, for the tennis players in this era to actually experience such an Olympic Games,” Federer said.

He and Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka are back to defend the doubles title they won four years ago in Beijing.

The Williams sisters will also try for another gold in doubles, which they won in 2000 and 2008. Serena has a third shot at a London medal in mixed doubles, which is back in the Olympics for the first time since 1924.

Serena and Federer added to their Wimbledon trophy collection earlier this month.

She and Federer play first-round matches today.

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