Australia and Olympic Tennis
Australia can lament the hiatus in tennis’s appearance in the Olympic program as it surely would have picked up many more medals when the Australian men were dominating the world’s tournaments in the 1950s and 1960s.
Since its return as an Olympic sport, tennis has provided Australia with one gold, one silver and four bronze medals. Australia’s Edwin Flack, the winner of the 800m and 1500m athletics titles in 1896, also played in doubles tennis at those Olympics. His partner was an Englishman, George Robertson and the pair won bronze.
The gold and silver medals were won by ‘The Woodies’ (Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge) in the men’s doubles at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 respectively. Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull won bronze in the women’s doubles at Seoul 1988 and Rachel McQuillan with Nicole Bradtke (then Provis) did likewise at Barcelona 1992. At Athens 2004, Alicia Molik won Australia’s first individual tennis medal, a bronze in the women’s singles.
Australia took a strong team to London including 2011 US Open winner Sam Stosur, former world number one Lleyton Hewitt and rising star Bernard Tomic. Stalwart Hewitt was Australia’s best performer as he made the men’s third round before going down to world number two Novak Djokovic. He went on to make the quarterfinals with Stosur in the mixed doubles where they were defeated by Great British pair and eventual silver medallists Andy Murray and Laura Robson.
Tennis appeared on the Olympic program in Athens 1896 and remained until Paris 1924. Due to difficulties in solving the amateur-professional divide, the sport disappeared until Seoul 1988. Its return to the Olympic fold was heralded when it appeared as a demonstration sport four years earlier in Los Angeles.
The first female Olympic champion at the modern Olympics was Charlotte Cooper, who won the women’s singles at Paris 1900. Steffi Graf of West Germany won the women’s singles title in 1988, when tennis returned to the Olympics - adding to her successes in the Grand Slam titles of that year (Australian, French, Wimbledon and US).
Mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program for London 2012.
The tennis competition at the Olympic Games involves single-elimination tournaments for each of the five events. All matches are played to tie-break sets except for the final set of the match. All matches are best-of-three sets, except for the men's singles and doubles finals, which will be best-of-five.
In all events, the semi-final winners play to decide the gold and silver medals, and the semi-final losers play for the bronze.