Olympic Games 2012: Tennis
Every four years, the Olympic Tennis tournament attracts the world’s top stars. At Beijing 2008, Rafael Nadal won the men’s Singles, while the Williams sisters triumphed in the women’s Doubles. All the players will be aiming for a showdown on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, where the Olympic champions will be crowned.
Most historians believe that tennis originated in France in the 12th century, but the ball was then struck with the palm of the hand. It was not until the 16th century that rackets came into use, and the game began to be called "tennis." It was popular in England and France, although the game was only played indoors where the ball could be hit off the wall. This later created much controversy between many people who thought that it was unfair for the opposing team. They claimed that the other team was able to hit the ball in a certain way for it to hit the wall and come back to them. Henry VIII of England was a big fan of this game, which historians now refer to as real tennis.
Tennis appeared at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but was dropped from the programme after the Paris 1924 Games. It returned 64 years later, with Miloslav Mečíř (Czechoslovakia) and Steffi Graf (West Germany) winning gold in the two Singles tournaments at Seoul 1988. Since then the sport has been a target for the critics who feel that, because the career highlight for major players is clearly a Grand Slam tournament, rather than Olympic gold, it does not really merit its place in the programme.
The Tennis competition at London 2012 will be held on the grass courts of Wimbledon, which has its own Olympic history. The venue staged the Tennis competition when London first hosted the Olympic Games in 1908, with Great Britain winning all six gold medals.
Tennis is a fast and dynamic sport needing strength and quick reactions. Matches can last for hours, so players also need incredible stamina – mental and physical. Doubles players must be in perfect harmony and communicate well, working together as a team.
Players have to hit a ball over the net into their opponents’ half. The object is to score points by playing the ball so that it cannot be returned over the net within the boundary lines.
Tennis has a unique scoring system. The first three points in a game are noted as 15, 30 and 40, with the next point winning the game. A score of 40–40 is called deuce, and from that score two further points must be won consecutively to win the game. A score of zero in a game is called love.
Matches consist of sets, which are decided by the first to six games and must be won by at least two clear games (eg: 6-3, 7-5). At six games all, in all but the final set, players contest a tie-break, which decides the winner of the set.
All matches are the best-of-three sets with the exception of the men’s Singles final, which is the best of five sets. The tie-break will operate in every set except the fifth set in the men’s Singles final and the third set in the other matches (except Mixed Doubles) when an advantage set shall be played. In the Mixed Doubles the third set shall be played as a match tie-break (10 points).
The tournament is a knockout format, with the winners of the semi-finals in each event going head-to-head on Centre Court for the gold medals. There are 16 seeded players in each Singles event, eight seeded teams in the men’s and women’s Doubles, and four seeded teams in the Mixed Doubles. Seedings are determined by world rankings.
All matches will be played to the best of three sets, apart from the men's singles final, which is the best of five sets. All mixed doubles matches will be a best of two sets and will be settled with a first-to-10 tie-break if they reach one set all.
An umpire is in charge of the match, ensuring that the rules of the game are observed and calling out the score after each point. He/she is assisted by line umpires, who keep an eye on whether the ball lands in or out of the court.
The Singles court is 23.77m long and 8.23m wide; the Doubles court is the same length and 10.97m wide. The court is divided in half by a net that is 0.914m at the centre.
Dates: Saturday 28 July – Sunday 5 August
Number of medal events: 5 – men’s and women’s Singles, men’s and women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.
Number of competitors: 172: 86 men and 86 women.
Each country is limited to a total of 12 athletes – six men and six women across all events, which includes a maximum of four athletes in each Singles and two teams in each Doubles event. From the competitors already entered into the Singles or Doubles, a maximum of two Mixed Doubles teams from any country may compete in the Mixed Doubles event.