Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Others: Why Are Top Tennis Stars Giving Tokyo Olympics 2020 a Miss?

Published 06/24/2021, 5:50 AM EDT
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Dominic Thiem of Austria and Rafael Nadal of Spain embrace at the net following their Men’s Singles Quarterfinal match on day ten of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 29, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)


Is it a coincidence that a clutch of top tennis stars would be missing in action at the Tokyo Olympics 2020? Maybe not. But their choice not to be on the biggest stage that there is for an athlete does raise a larger question.

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Has the global showpiece event, which comes once every four years, lost its appeal for modern day athletes, especially those not associated with team sports?

While it would be too sweeping to say that the Olympics doesn’t fill athletes with desire and motivation like it used to in previous decades, there is a change of perception whereby it seems to have gone down the pecking order for certain athletes in tennis.

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Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem rued the hard call to skip Tokyo Olympics 2020

Playing in the new normal, which requires tennis stars of today to stay in restricted bio-secure spaces and play closed-door matches, does take a mental toll and it is this backdrop and the general playing scenario that, perhaps, forced the likes of Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov to give the summer Games a miss.

Expressing remorse for his decision not to play for the flag at the Tokyo Games, the ‘King of Clay’ shared a series of tweets saying the Olympics mean a lot to him, but he had to take a hard decision in the interest of prolonging his career.

Earlier, after a grueling season on clay which ended with a semi-final exit at Roland-Garros, Nadal had said that he would take some time out of the game to rest and recover before deciding on his participation at Wimbledon and the Olympics.

“I have decided not to participate at this year’s Championships at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s never an easy decision to take but after listening to my body and discussing it with my team I understand that it is the right decision,” Nadal wrote.

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Workload management forcing tennis stars to opt out of Tokyo Games

For Thiem, too, it eventually came down to workload management and prioritizing events and he had to cross Tokyo Olympics 2020 off his schedule.

“After talking with my team and analyzing the situation I have taken the very difficult decision to withdraw from competing in the Tokyo Olympics,” Thiem tweeted.

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Among other notable absentees from the Games are veteran Spanish tennis star Feliciano Lopez and compatriot Carlos Alvarez and Polish tennis sensation Iga Swiatek. They opted out, citing the grinding schedule.

Tennis – WTA 500 – Eastbourne International – Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club, Eastbourne, Britain – June 22, 2021 Poland’s Iga Swiatek in action during her round of 32 match against Britain’s Heather Watson Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

While it’s sad that the modern-day athletes are struggling to wedge the Olympics in their busy schedules, it’s not the Games that are poorer for it. 

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Priyabrata Chowdhury

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Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.

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