The Olympics has lost another significant tennis name as Serena Williams announced her non-attendance, joining Rafael Nadal on a list that is only likely to become longer as the Games approach.
The unfortunate reality is that tennis players do not see the Olympics as a career-defining moment. The tournament sits in a curious space, more prestigious than the regular tour events but less so than the four grand slams.
Ahead of her opening match at Wimbledon on Tuesday, Williams’s mood in the interview room was subdued, to put it mildly. She barely managed to reply to the Olympic question – merely saying “I’m actually not on the list – or if I am, I shouldn’t be.”
She then declined to explain her decision, although she has previously stated that “I would not be able to function without my three-year-old around. I think I would be in a depression. We’ve been together every day of her life.”
Tokyo’s Olympic officials have not spelled out any policy over athletes’ children, but there must be considerable doubt over whether Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jnr – who is Williams’s daughter – would be able to attend.
Also – as Telegraph Sport revealed on Friday – there are further complications surrounding Great Britain’s status as a high-risk nation in the eyes of the Japanese government. Those who go deep at Wimbledon are likely to need to self-isolate for three days on arrival, because of the extra infectiousness of the Delta Covid variant
The tennis event in Tokyo is scheduled to begin on July 24, just 13 days after Wimbledon finishes, which gives anyone who comes through next week’s matches a difficult choice: do they agree to the 72-hour hard quarantine, or fly in at the last minute with no time for acclimatisation or practice?
As joint favourite alongside world No1 Ashleigh Barty, Williams has every chance of going deep at SW19. Indeed, you have to cast your mind back to 2014 for the last time anyone beat her before finals weekend.
Since her shock defeat that year at the hands of Alize Cornet on Court No1, Williams bounced back to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in both 2015 and 2016. She then took a break for the birth of her daughter, before finishing as runner-up in both 2018 and 2019.
It is an intimidating record. But is Williams anywhere near the same player as she returns to SW19 after last year’s pandemic hiatus? As she approaches her 40th birthday in September, this could be her last realistic chance to bring her mighty serve into play and snatch that long-awaited 24th major before it is too late.
Asked how she and fellow 39-year-old Roger Federer manage to be so competitive at such a relatively advanced age, Williams replied that “technology has played a huge role in that. The way we view the game, the way we recover, the way our shoes are made, the way the equipment is made. Before, 29, 30 or 32 was the max.”
Williams is the sixth seed, and will open her campaign against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. It looks a comfortable beginning, but things could become tricky quickly with a couple of dangerous left-handers in her area of the draw, including the 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber.
Tuesday will also mark the entry of Britain’s best hope Johanna Konta, the 27th seed, who became engaged on her 30th birthday in May. “The word ‘fiancé’ I have gotten used to,” she told reporters over the weekend. “I’ve said it more than he has [videographer Jackson Wade], but just because I probably talk about it more than he does.”
Konta will start against Katerina Siniakova – the Czech doubles champion whom she beat in the second round of Wimbledon two years ago. Siniakova is coming off a strong run, having finished that Bad Homburg tournament in Germany as the runner-up to Kerber.