This major moment didn’t happen on a tennis court. It took place in a conference room. On this day, in Istanbul, the International Olympic Committee agreed to allow professionals to compete in the Olympic tennis event at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Having been a test sport at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, tennis would return to the Olympics as a full-fledged sport for the first time in 64 years.
The impact of all this has been curiously double-edged. Start with the hard part. Why was the Olympic tennis event turned into a simple elimination tournament? After all, it is the team aspect of the Olympics that often makes it compelling for so many. Tennis has plenty of tournaments. To merely stage one during the Olympics hardly does the sport justice.
Let the Olympics be a grand and special showcase for. The ideal format would the one created by World Team Tennis – all disciplines (singles, doubles, mixed), organized by country. Imagine, for example, if the Olympic gold medal came down to a mixed match between Serena Williams-Jack Sock and Roger Federer-Martina Hingis. Sublime.
But the good news of tennis in the Olympics is the impact it has had on player development all over the world. In many countries, a sport is only credible if it’s part of the Olympics. Though tennis had a small presence in many nations, it’s clear that as an Olympic sport, its popularity and significance has grown in dozens of countries. Look already at the nations that have ascended over the last 20 years – Russia, China, Japan, Serbia. Likely more will follow. That’s gold.