Tennis is one of 30 sports to be contested in the upcoming Summer Olympics by participants from 205 nations. As the countdown continues toward the Opening Ceremonies on July 27, an unprecedented number of tennis players are being named to the prestigious position of flag bearer for their nation in the parade of athletes as they enter the Olympic stadium.
Q: Four years ago in Beijing, only two tennis players were flag bearers during the Opening Ceremonies, both of them men. Who were they?
A: Roger Federer carried the Swiss flag for the second consecutive Games, and Fernando Gonzalez carried Chile's flag, in recognition of his doubles gold medal at Athens in 2004 with Nicolas Massu, as well as the career achievements that have made him one of Chile's sports heroes.
Q: With fewer than half the positions designated to date (July 17) for London, how many tennis players will be standard bearers? How many are women?
Another Clear Indicator of the Growing Reputation of Tennis Worldwide
A: So far, the total is 9 -- five men and four women. These numbers seem to be yet another clear indicator of the growing popularity and reputation of tennis worldwide in the past four years, especially women's tennis.
Q: How many of the London flag bearers have won Grand Slam titles? How many have won Olympic medals in previous games?
A: Four of the players have won Grand Slam events, but only one has an Olympic medal, a gold. (See roster below.)
Q: How many of the London standard bearers from the world of tennis can you name?
A: Here's an annotated list of the athletes designated to date (July 17), in the order in which their delegations will enter the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.
Max Mirnyi, Belarus. Mirnyi is presently part of the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the world, along with his Canadian partner Daniel Nestor, himself an Olympic gold medalist in 2000 in Sydney. At age 35, Mirnyi has been on the ATP Tour for 16 years, once reaching No. 18 in singles. He has won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles and 45 men's doubles titles overall. He also has an impressive list of achievements off-court, earning a law degree five years ago and serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Belarus since 2008. In London he is scheduled to play men's doubles and mixed doubles (reinstated in the Olympics for the first time since 1924) with recent women's world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. They played together at Wimbledon this year and won two matches before losing to eventual champions Leander Paes of India and Russia's Elena Vesnina, a team they will not have to face in the Olympics.
Tsevetana Pironkova, Bulgaria. The first surprise on the list, perhaps. Although the 24-year-old is presently ranked No. 58 in singles, she has played exceptionally well at Wimbledon the past two years, reaching the semifinals in 2011 and the quarterfinals in 2012. Sprinter Ivet Lalova is another highly accomplished and respected Bulgarian female athlete who was reportedly in contention to carry the flag.
Marcos Baghdatis, Cyprus. The former world No. 8 - presently ranked No. 40 -- was a finalist at the Australian Open and a semifinalist on the grass at Wimbledon in 2006. He became an instant hero in Cyprus and has been recognized as the male athlete of the year there for his tennis success. He was the first Cypriot to break into the ATP Top 100, the Top 50, and the Top 10. Despite fighting numerous injuries during the past five years, he is regarded as a player capable of making a deep run in a tourney with a best two-of-three-set match format, especially on grass.
Stephanie Vogt, Liechtenstein. So far, the biggest surprise on the list. Perhaps even more surprisingly, she was one of the first two women tennis players named to compete in London, along with equally unheralded Cepede Royg of Paraguay. Both were offered wild cards in singles by The Tripartite Commission, made up of representatives of the International Tennis Federation, the International Olympic Committee, and the National Olympic Committees. With a career high ranking of No. 205 in singles on the WTA tour and no tour-level titles, tennis fans may wonder how Vogt came to be her country's standard bearer. The explanation reaches back into the 22-year-old Vogt's highly successful junior career; she reached a world ranking of No. 5 with 11 titles overall. She has also represented Lichtenstein in 12 Federation Cup ties, and recently brought honor to her country by winning three gold medals in singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles at last year's Games of the Small States of Europe.
Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland. The 23-year-old world No. 2, Radwanska has risen steadily through the women's tennis rankings during the past three years, breaking into the Top 5 this year. She contested the recent Wimbledon singles final against Serena Williams, winning a set before losing in three. She has won 11 career titles and in 2007 was the first Polish tennis player ever to win a WTA event. She was also the first Polish woman to beat a world No. 1 when she defeated Caroline Wozniacki in 2011. She was the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2006. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics she lost to Italy's Francesca Schiavonne in the second round.
Maria Sharapova, Russia. One of the most famous female athletes in the world, Sharapova will be taking part in her first Olympics and representing Russia, though she has been a permanent resident in the U.S. since the age of seven. Plagued by a shoulder injury in recent years, the 25-year-old recovered to win the French Open this year and complete a career Grand Slam. Like Roger Federer, she is also seeking to complete a career "Golden Slam" in London.
Horia Tecau, Romania. A doubles specialist presently ranked No. 11 in the world (he has been as high as No. 8), Tecau reached the Wimbledon men's doubles final this year for the third consecutive year. He won the 2012 Australian Open mixed doubles with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Novak Djokovic, Serbia. No surprise here. Djokovic has been the most heralded sportsman in Serbian history at least since he led the country to its first Davis Cup victory in 2010. He burst onto the tennis scene in 2008, reaching the Australian Open semifinals. He won the bronze medal in singles by defeating James Blake of the U.S. in Beijing. By reaching the world No. 1 position and winning three of the four Grand Slam tournaments in 2011, as well as the Australian Open in 2012, he enters the Olympic tournament as one of the clear favorites for a gold medal in singles.
Rafael Nadal, Spain. Ditto. The reigning Olympic singles gold medalist was named his country's standard bearer for London just days after his record-setting seventh title at Roland Garros. Winner of 11 Grand Slam singles titles, he completed his career "Golden Slam" with his gold medal in Beijing.
Roger Federer, Switzerland. Still a question mark. Federer has been asked to carry the Swiss flag for a third consecutive Olympics, but according to reports on July 10, as he prepared to head off for a weeklong vacation after winning Wimbledon, Federer said, "It's been offered to me, but I might give it to someone else. I'm in talks. I haven't decided yet, but there should be an announcement in the next 10 days." Is he lobbying for fellow Beijing doubles gold medalist, Stanislas Wawrinka? Or coyly waiting to be "drafted" by an outpouring of affection from Swiss citizens for a third straight appearance? Stay tuned.
Who should be the U.S. standard bearer?
Q: Should Venus Williams, who will be playing in a record-setting fourth Olympics in tennis for the U.S., be the flag bearer for the United States? Only Leander Paes of India, winner of the bronze medal in singles in his first Games at Atlanta in 1996, will have competed in more Olympic Games (5) than Williams since 1988.
A: Would enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below, along with any additional tennis standard bearers you learn about in the next week. Thanks.