The news, recently reported by Ben Rothenberg of The Daily Forehand, that Roger Federer has asked Martina Hingis to partner him in the mixed doubles at the 2012 Olympics has set the internet abuzz. There can scarcely be anyone with any connection to tennis, save perhaps a player who would have to face them in the competition, who is not excited by the potential pairing of The Swiss Miss and The Swiss Master.
Hingis and Federer are by most measures (particularly Calvin Tomkins's 'pleasure principle') two of the finest tennis players the world has produced -- and by all measures the two finest tennis players their country has produced. To see them play together at the Olympic Games would be one of the most exquisite sights in sport -- and one that could boost public interest in Olympic tennis towards the levels it deserves.
Tennis is not a high-profile Olympic event; indeed, there are those who feel it should not be an Olympic event at all. Sue Barker -- whose self-effacing manner and deference to other analysts often causes television viewers to forget, or never to learn, that she won the French Open -- is frequently the face of both tennis and Olympic coverage in the UK. She is uncertain there should be tennis at the Olympics because, she believes, the Olympic gold medal should be the highest honour in every sport at the Games, and in tennis it is not. The grand slams - and, rather ridiculously, other tournaments besides them -- still mean more to tennis than the Olympics.
I agree -- though this is not an argument to remove tennis from the Games, but rather to make the Olympics the sport's premier contest. An Olympic gold medal should be the ultimate tennis trophy and the tie break in any 'greatest of all time' debate, and success at the Games should be celebrated for what it is: the rarest achievement in the sport.
Only Steffi Graf has won 'the golden grand slam' (the Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, Australian Open and Olympic titles) in a single year and only her husband, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal have won the career equivalent. These accomplishments should be far more celebrated than they are, and the respect accorded Olympic tennis -- by fans, by players and, most crucially, by those who govern the game -- should be far greater than it is.
Such respect needs to be signalled by the universal standard of tennis achievement: ranking points. The ATP's current estimation of the value of gold medals is an insult to the Olympics. Winning a grand slam tournament, of which there are four every year, earns a player 2000 ATP tour points; winning at an Olympics, of which there is one every four years, earns only 750.
Who decided that winning an Olympic gold medal was exactly three quarters the achievement of winning the Indian Wells Masters, and almost exactly the same achievement as losing in an Australian Open semi-final? Whoever it was, they were smoking something that would get a player kicked off the ATP tour for life when they did it.
For the Olympics to occupy its rightful position in the minds of tennis players, it should offer more ranking points than any other tournament. A gold medal needn't earn a great many more points than a grand slam victory - a reward of 2100 points would do perfectly and any more than 2500 would be unbalanced - but the system needs to announce that winning at the Olympics is, well, tennis's Olympian achievement.
Should those who run the ATP not wish to make the Olympics their sport's highest-ranking ranking event (and there is no reason worth the energy it would take to say it out loud why they shouldn't) they have another option: they can remove its ranking points completely. This would not make the Olympics pointless but priceless, declaring that is a unique event of unparalleled prestige, worth winning simply for glory of being an Olympic champion.
For the Olympics to occupy its rightful position in the minds of tennis fans, it needs to offer experiences unavailable at any other tournament -- experiences like seeing Martina Hingis return from retirement to team with Roger Federer in the first Olympic mixed doubles to be held since 1924.
With its legends tours and invitational events, tennis treats us to many dream teams that would in other sports remain merely dreams and to many inter-generational matches that would in other sports simply never take place -- but even so the proposed Hingis-Federer team would be unique. The spectacle of Switzerland's two greatest ever players on the same side of the net, pursuing a truly once-in-a-lifetime achievement not so much for themselves as for their nation, could only happen at the Games -- and would demonstrate to the world just how special Olympic tennis can be. Were they to win the gold medals, the publicity they attracted would be invaluable and the history they made unforgettable.
Next summer, on the peerless courts of the All England Club, two players will end the 88-year reign of R. Norris Williams and Hazel Wightman as the mixed doubles champions of Olympic tennis. For the good of the sport, and the good of the Games, let us hope those players are Roger Federer and Martina Hingis.
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