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Tennis 101: Olympic history

Tennis 101: Olympic history
Posted at 3:48 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 13:06:23-04

Paris, 1900: Charlotte "Chattie" Cooper, 29, of Middlesex, England, became the first member of the fairer sex to be crowned champion at the modern Olympics. Cooper, who also won five Wimbledon singles titles between 1895 and 1908, lived to be 96 years old.

A week after teaming to win the fourth of their still-record eight Wimbledon doubles titles, Reggie and Hugh Doherty -- both born in the London suburb after which the prestigious tournament is named -- headed to Paris for the Olympics. When slated to face his younger brother in the semifinals, Reggie stepped aside, clearing the way for Hugh to win the event, and the 1500-Franc prize. Also in Paris, they teamed to win the men's doubles title and Reggie prevailed in mixed doubles with women's singles champion Charlotte Cooper.

Antwerp, 1920: On the heels of becoming the first player to win three Wimbledon titles in the same year, France's Suzanne Lenglen turned her budding talent to the Olympics. In Antwerp, the 21-year-old daughter -- and tennis pupil -- of a Paris bus company owner cruised to gold in singles and mixed doubles, adding to a list of accomplishments that ultimately included 21 Grand Slam titles (eight singles, eight doubles, five mixed). Lenglen, who set fashion trends and played with distinct flair, was among the world's first international sports celebrities.

Paris, 1924: With defending champion Suzanne Lenglen opting not to play at the 1924 Olympics, 18-year-old American Helen Wills took another step toward succeeding the Frenchwoman as the queen of tennis. In Paris, Wills defeated France's Julie Vlasto, 6-2, 6-2, in the women's singles final. The winner of eight Wimbledons and seven U.S. championships, Wills was known as "Little Miss Poker Face" for her serious demeanor.

In 1912, Dick Williams was aboard the Titanic when it crashed en route to New York. After seeing his father perish, Williams survived six hours of clinging to a lifeboat in frigid waters. When doctors suggested amputating both of his frozen-stiff legs, the 21-year-old said no, a decision that proved wise. Williams recovered so quickly, he was able to win the mixed doubles title at that year's U.S. Championships. In 1914, he took the first of two U.S. singles titles. A decade later in Paris, Williams suffered an ankle injury, but his mixed doubles partner, Hazel Wightman, told him to stay at the net and she'd "cover everything else." The plan worked, as Williams and Wightman defeated compatriots Marion Jessup and Vincent Richards, 6-2, 6-3 to capture the gold.

Seoul, 1988: Tennis was put back on the Olympic program as a medal event for the first time since 1924. And for Steffi Graf, the timing was perfect. With victories at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open (just prior to the Olympics), the German star arrived in Seoul having become the third woman to complete a single-season Grand Slam (Maureen Connolly and Margaret Court are the others). Graf then defeated Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini in the Olympic final to make it a so-called "Golden Slam" that remains unduplicated to this day.

With his deceptive speed, deft touch and variety of pace and angles, Miloslav Mecir was among the more distinct players of his day, if not one of the more accomplished. Entering the 1988 Olympics, the man dubbed "the Big Cat" had reached only one major final, losing to Ivan Lendl at the 1986 U.S. Open. In Seoul, after defeating Sweden's Stefan Edberg in the semifinals -- the same stage at which Edberg had defeated Mecir en route to the Wimbledon title earlier that summer -- the Slovakian native defeated Tim Mayotte of the U.S. for gold.

Barcelona, 1992: Since turning pro in 1990 at age 13, Jennifer Capriati was pegged as the successor to American legend Chris Evert. In Barcelona, she at least succeeded another all-time great, Steffi Graf, as Olympic champion. After edging the "Barcelona Bumblebee," Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, in a three-set semifinal, Capriati again summoned fight and fortitude in defeating Graf, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, to win the gold.

Big servers Boris Becker and Michael Stich, each a former Wimbledon champion, succeeded on the slow clay in Barcelona as a doubles tandem. In the Gold Medal Final, the Germans defeated Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval, the first South Africans to win Olympic medals since 1960. Soon after those Rome Games, South Africa was banned from the International Olympic Committee for its apartheid policies.

Atlanta, 1996: The Games seemed to be an ideal tune-up to the U.S. Open, with matches reduced to best-of-three sets and played on a hardcourt surface. But the lure of Olympic gold drew only three of the world's top-10 men. Among them was Las Vegas native Andre Agassi, who said: "I can't comprehend the feeling of being inconvenienced by the Olympics." Taking advantage of the diluted field, Agassi rolled to victory with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 rout of Spanish clay-court whiz Sergi Bruguera in the final. Agassi became his family's first gold medalist, but not its first Olympian. His father boxed for Iran at the Olympics in 1948 (bantamweight) and 1952 (featherweight), losing in the first round both times. Agassi later married 1988 gold medalist Steffi Graf.

A tennis superpower, Australia had never won an Olympic medal in the sport entering the Atlanta Games. But its dominant doubles team of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge -- in the midst of a run of five straight Wimbledon titles -- put the Land Down Under on top for the first time. After squeezing past Germans Marc-Kevin Goellner and David Prinosil 6-2, 5-7, 18-16 in the semifinals, the "Woodies" defeated Great Britain's Tim Henman and Neil Broad for gold.

Though not related, Gigi and Mary Joe Fernandez shared Caribbean lineage (the former born in Puerto Rico, the latter in the Dominican Republic) and a sense of kinship on the court that first led them to Olympic gold in 1992. Four years later in Atlanta, they didn't drop a set en route to a successful defense of their title. Finishing third in the event, Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario increased her career medal tally to four.

Sydney, 2000: It came as no surprise when Russia's anthem played at the men's singles medal ceremony - but the player who cued it up was somewhat unexpected. A few weeks earlier, Russia's 20-year-old Marat Safin had stunningly and thoroughly overwhelmed Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open final, so he figured to contend at the Games. But go figure -- the "Crushin' Russian" was upset in the first round. His two-time Grand Slam champion compatriot Yevgeny Kafelnikov, meanwhile, found his potent (if not always present) focus and form and reached the final, where he outlasted Germany's Tommy Haas in five sets to win gold.

The remarkable rise of two sisters from the public courts of Compton, California to the top of women's tennis continued in Sydney. First, reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Venus Williams routed Russia's Elena Dementieva to become the third straight American woman to win singles gold. A day later, she and younger sister Serena gave the U.S. its fourth consecutive women's doubles title. Venus became the second player to win the women's singles and doubles events at one Olympics (Helen Wills did it in 1924).

Athens, 2004: Men's tennis staged its own marathon, as Chile's Fernando Gonzalez played one of the great endurance tests of the Games. In the singles Bronze Medal Match, Gonzalez, who upset American Andy Roddick earlier in the week, rallied for a 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 victory over American Taylor Dent. Gonzalez then teamed with Nicholas Massu to defeat the German pair of Nicolas Keifer and Ranier Schuettler, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7), for doubles gold. The victory earned Chile's first-ever Olympic gold medals. The next day, Massu defeated American Mardy Fish, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 for the singles gold medal. Massu wound up playing 25 hours of tennis in eight days.

After recovering from a viral infection that sidelined her for months, Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne defeated France's Amelie Mauresmo, 6-3, 6-3, for the women's singles gold medal. The top-seeded Belgian didn't allow the No. 2 Mauresmo a single break point in the match. Henin-Hardenne lost only one set in her six victories in Athens.

Beijing, 2008: Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka make a pretty decent team. The Swiss duo won the men's doubles gold, giving Federer the Olympic medal that had eluded him since 2000. In men's singles, Rafael Nadal cemented his status as world no. 1 with an Olympic gold medal, defeating Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in three sets.

Eight years before Beijing, Serena and Venus Williams won the gold medal in Sydney for women's doubles. They then didn't play together in Athens because Serena was injured. In Beijing, the sisters were perfect, winning their second gold. In Beijing's women's singles competition, Elena Dementieva became an Olympic champion with a straight-set win over compatriot Dinara Safina.

London, 2012: After a crushing defeat on the very same grass just a month earlier, Britain's Andy Murray beat Switzerland's Roger Federer 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 on Wimbledon's Centre Court for Olympic gold. In doing so, Murray became the first British man to win an Olympic gold medal in singles since 1908. Several hours after his singles final match, Murray and compatriot Laura Robson competed against Belarus' Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi in mixed doubles. This time, Murray would have to settle for silver. 

On the women's side, Serena Williams asserted her tennis dominance by defeating Maria Sharapova for the American's first singles gold medal. In taking home gold, Serena also won a Career Golden Slam - only the second woman, after Steffi Graff, to do so. 

Serena and sister Venus took home yet another gold medal in women's doubles. American twins Bob and Mike Bryan won the gold medal in men's doubles.

Rio, 2016: After top-seeded Novak Djokovic lost in the first round, Britain's Andy Murray went on to defend his Olympic title. Murray defeated Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro 7–5, 4–6, 6–2, 7–5 in the final, becoming the first player to win gold in singles at two consecutive Olympics. 

In women's singles, defending champion Serena Williams lost to the Ukraine's Elina Svitolina in the third round. Puerto Rico's Monica Puig, who was unseeded, went on to defeat Germany's Angelique Kerber 6–4, 4–6, 6–1 in the final. Puig's win marked Puerto Rico's first Olympic gold medal and made her the nation's first female medalist. 

Serena and Venus Williams, the two-time defending champions, lost to the team from the Czech Republic in the first round of women's doubles, ending a 15-match Olympic win streak for the Williams sisters. The Spanish team of Marc Lopez and Rafael Nadal took gold in the men's doubles contest (defending champions Bob and Mike Bryan withdrew from Rio before the competition). 

In an all-American mixed doubles final, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock defeated Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. 

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