July 31, 2004
Despite double Wimbledon glory and an all-but-untouchable World No.1 ranking, Roger Federer is yearning to add an Olympic gold to his trophy case. The 22-year-old Swiss counts glory at the Athens Games during the August 15-22 tournament as a goal worth battling hard for.
Even the inconvenience of jetting across the Atlantic in the midst of the North American summer hardcourt season, then returning in time to play the US Open starting August 30 ranks as only a minor hurdle to be overcome.
“I’m looking forward to the Olympics, and staying in the Olympic village,” said Federer, who competed four years ago in Australia. “I was asked before the Sydney Olympics if I wanted to stay in the village or outside.
“I stayed in the village and had a great time. Last time I stayed with the wrestlers — I was safe from any attack from anybody. I also met my girlfriend there.”
Federer and his hot rival Andy Roddick are sure to be two of the main attractions for the tennis portion of the Games.
The Swiss lost in the Sydney semis to Germany’s Tommy Haas, then was beaten for the bronze medal by Frenchman Arnaud di Pasquale. “I remember crying a lot after that,” Federer recalled.
A notable absentee will be Lleyton Hewitt, who performed at home in Sydney in 2000 but is skipping the Athens date – to prepare for the US Open, he says.
Also missing: Hewitt’s fiance Kim Clijsters, who announced earlier in the year she would not be going due to a clothing contract clash between her sponsor and the Belgian team outfitter.
In the interim, Clijsters missed months of play due to a wrist injury and surgery. Russia’s teenage Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova was not fully on her federation’s radar screen when team selections were made. But the 17-year-old isn’t worried about sitting this edition out, with plenty of future opportunities beckoning.
A pair of women’s golden oldies will be aiming for long-shot gold, with 47-year-old Martina Navratilova making a first appearance and Spain’s Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 32, back for a fifth time – out of November, 2002 retirement – in hopes of setting an attendance record. The Spanish Olympic Committee member played in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000, winning a Spanish-record four medals.
Navratilova, who came out of retirement in singles at the French Open and Wimbledon, is planning to start closing down a 30-year-career with participation in Athens.
Czech-born American Navratilova is set to break the age record held by American Blanche Hilliard, 44 at the 1908 London Games. Norman Brookes competed in Paris, 1924, aged 46 for Australia.
Navratilova will play doubles with regular partner Lisa Raymond. “The Olympics was always our goal for the whole year more so than Wimbledon,” said Navratilova. “That’s why I played one more year. We still have Athens to play for.”
Navratilova will be aiming to claim some of the Olympic lustre experienced in the past by Steffi Graf, winner of a “Golden Slam” in 1988 as she lifted all four Slams plus the Seoul Olympic gold medal.
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