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History of Tennis at the Summer Olympics

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At the London games this year, Spain's Rafael Nadal and Russia's Elena Dementieva will try to defend the gold medals they earned in Beijing in 2008. On the hallowed grass of the All England Club, players from all over the world will try to add their names to those before them who have achieved Olympic glory.

Tennis at the Olympics, however, goes back a very long time.

Beginnings

Tennis was one of the games included at the original Olympic Games in 1896. In fact, when the women were included in 1900, gold medalist Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain won the first medal ever given a woman in Olympics history. Tennis continued to be part of the Olympics program through the 1924 Paris Games, but then squabbles over the definition of what made a player an amateur led to tennis being discontinued as an Olympic sport. It would be 64 long years before a tennis player earned another Olympic medal.

Campaign to Bring Back

Tennis was included in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics with both demonstration and exhibition varieties contested. At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, tennis was played as a 21-and-under demonstration sport. Steffi Graf of Germany and Sweden's Stefan Edberg, both of whom would go on to win multiple Grand Slam titles, won their respective tournaments in Los Angeles.

The next step was to make tennis a full medal sport, and that happened at the Seoul Games in 1988. Philippe Chatrier of France, then president of the International Tennis Federation, was instrumental in bringing tennis back into the Olympic program. Partly because of those efforts the main stadium at Roland Garros, home of the French Open, was renamed Court Philippe Chatrier in 2001.

Modern Era of Olympic Tennis

Miroslav Mecir won the men's gold medal in singles in Seoul, but the real star was Steffi Graf. Graf won gold in singles at Seoul, the event given extra prestige because it was part of her so-called "Golden Slam" of that year. Graf won all four Grand Slam tournaments plus Olympic gold, the only time that has been accomplished.

Since its reintroduction, tennis at the Olympics has been a great success. Some of the game's great champions -- names like Andre Agassi, Venus Williams, Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport and Rafael Nadal -- have won gold medals in singles. Players have toiled in various Games on hard courts and clay courts, and this year they will play on grass for the first time in the modern era of Olympic tennis.

More tennis history will be made this year, whether it be Andy Murray winning for the rabid British tennis fans, or all-time great Roger Federer winning gold to cap his amazing career. Perhaps Serena Williams will win her first medal for singles to go along with her two golds earned in doubles. Fans may be treated to another epic final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. One thing is sure, however: Tennis lovers can't wait for the start of competition July 28.

Sources:

http://2012.itftennis.com/olympics/history/history/overview.aspx

http://2012.itftennis.com/olympics/history/medallists/overview.aspx

Brad Boeker follows professional tennis closely. He coaches high school tennis in Illinois.

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