| LONDON, June 24
LONDON, June 24 For all its tradition and
prestige, there is an unmistakable sense swirling round
Wimbledon that this year's tournament is a dress rehearsal for a
bigger sporting occasion.
Just weeks after the tournament finishes, the sport's best
players will shed their whites and return to South West London
wearing international colours for the Olympics.
It is hard to imagine the greats of tennis seeking rewards
beyond the traditional four majors that have come to define the
success or failure of any player's career.
However, Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic believes the
Olympics are "the pinnacle of all sports", his nearest rival
Rafa Nadal described them as the "most important competition in
the world of sport", while Serena Williams is starting to get
"little butterflies in (her) stomach" as the London Games loom
Since the reintroduction of tennis into the main Olympic
programme in 1988, the sport's big box office attractions have
frequently seen it as a distraction, while some have avoided the
However, the Games now seem to have a unique pull on the top
"It is very emotional because it is not just you who matters
there, it's the whole nation," Djokovic told reporters on the
eve of starting his title defence at Wimbledon.
"So there is a huge excitement going on with all the tennis
players prior to the Olympic games.
"I had this honour to be representing my country four years
ago in Beijing. I won the bronze medal, so it was one of the
best achievements and best feelings I had as a professional
Djokovic may only have come third in Beijing, but the
achievement brought tears to his eyes, while 16-time grand slam
winner Roger Federer also wept when he won gold in the doubles
event the same year.
"If he won a doubles grand slam I don't think he would have
been as emotional," was world number four Andy Murray's take on
"Even Novak winning a bronze medal and being in tears. You
wouldn't see that losing the semi-finals of a slam."
Williams also won the doubles gold with her sister Venus in
2008 and has her fingers crossed the duo will be selected to
play together again in London.
"That would be great if we had an opportunity to play
doubles again," the 13-times singles grand slam champion said.
"I played two Olympics, which is pretty awesome, and have
two gold medals, which is even better.
"It's just an experience I never thought I would have. As a
tennis player you get to play grand slams, which you get to play
every other week it seems. You don't think about the Olympics.
It's just an added bonus.
"It's getting closer and closer and I'm getting more
excited. I'm getting little butterflies in my stomach."
For players used to the lonely sporting existence of
travelling the world and representing only their own interests,
the Olympics offers an opportunity to play for their country and
be part of a team.
Serbia's Djokovic, Spain's Nadal and Russia's Maria
Sharapova have been confirmed as their countries' flag bearers
for the opening ceremony, while Federer is expected to take on
the role for Switzerland for the third time in succession.
"All the tournaments we play - we play as individual tennis
players," Djokovic said.
"There are very few competitions as the Olympic Games where
we can feel the team spirit, as in Davis Cup. But this is even
"It makes you really proud of wearing your national colours,
having athletes from your country coming to support you, going
to the Olympic Village and of course the opening ceremony."
National colours will be on show at Wimbledon for the
duration of the Games, with the All England Club's all white
dress code being jettisoned.
It will not be the only change from the grand slam, which
gets underway on Monday.
The best-of-five set format used in majors will be replaced
with the fast and furious best-of-three that is used on the rest
of the tour.
This means players need to be on their guard against costly
errors and occasional lapses in concentration that can be more
easily punished in the shorter form of the game.
This will perhaps open the door to players outside of the
top three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, who have won 28 out of
the last 29 major titles.
Out of those three, only Nadal has an Olympic singles gold
to his name, won in Beijing in 2008.
Britain's Murray, who has suffered more than most at the
hands of his three main rivals, losing three grand slam finals,
is among those hoping to muscle in on the medals.
"I think maybe 10 years ago a grand slam was probably viewed
as being bigger in tennis," he said.
"But now everybody's playing the Olympics. No one is
"So I think winning a medal for your country is a big
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)