After an amazing opening ceremony, I came around a bit on tennis in the Olympics. If this is the biggest sporting event, why not have the best sport represented? The Olympics also have me thinking about where Olympic Medals stand in terms of career accomplishments for top players. Questions such as these popped up:
Where does Agassi’s Gold figure in when evaluating his career?
Would your rather be Mardy Fish or Mal Washington?
How much are Goran’s 2 Bronze Medals worth to him?
Do doubles medals matter more to guys who primarily play singles than Grand Slam doubles titles?
Gold: A gold medal is likely as valuable to a top tennis player as any title not among the 4 Grand Slams. The Masters Cup or a Masters Series event with deep history such as Rome might be deemed more valuable than gold by various top players. Depending on the nation and mindset of a player Gold may or may not be as valuable as winning the Davis Cup. I got the sense that Carlos Moya was extremely happy to win TMS Rome and the Davis Cup in 2004. Those are accomplishments a player can share with family, friends and fans. So too is an Olympic Gold medal.
Silver: I do not think a Silver Medal quite measures up to a Grand Slam runner-up finish, but it has to be the 5th best runner-up finish in tennis. If Mardy fish is talking over his career with a sports reporter or casual sports fan, the 2004 Silver Medal is immediately recognized as a major achievement. His runner-up finishes at Cincinnati 2003 and Indian Wells 2008 would not make nearly the same impression. Having said that, I think a Grand Slam runner-up is still a better addition to the trophy case than a medal from a personal standpoint. From the standpoint of representing your country and contributing to a medal count, the Olympics are peerless when it comes to valuable 2nd and 3rd place finishes.
Bronze: This medal really out paces most if not all semifinal paces in the tennis world. A Grand Slam semifinal still makes sense to a lot of people as being a big time achievement, but a Bronze Medal is a tangible demonstration of national and personal achievement. Tim Henman was celebrated for his various Grand Slam semifinal appearances, but I am sure a medal in singles or doubles for Andy Murray would help a the mental outlook of many British fans by offering a tangible award to Murray or the Murrays.
Doubles: If a player has focused most or all of his/her career energies on doubles then I believe the above distinctions still hold. If a player is primarily a singles competitor, I would bet that an Olympic medal is held in higher regard than most if not all comparable finishes in Grand Slam doubles events. Patrick Rafter’s Australian Open doubles title likely meant a great deal to him since he is from a country that understands and values doubles and because he won on home soil. If Rafa or Roger bring home Gold, Silver or Bronze in doubles, I am not sure they would trade that medal for a first place finish at any of the 4 Grand Slam doubles events. Doubles Olympic medals are worth just as much as singles medals to a nation’s medal count. They are just as valuable as singles medals to a casual sports fan who may not follow tennis closely. In short, the reason we see top stars playing Olympic doubles when they tend not to play Grand Slam doubles is a product of both the way the Olympic field is selected and of the way players view the value of these medals.
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