Rio 2016: Are tennis players using Zika as an excuse?

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Seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Bueno believes there are other reasons behind their decision not to compete in Brazil.

“I think there are other reasons for people who are withdrawing because of the Zika virus,” Bueno told CNN.

“Zika has become a great excuse not to go to Rio but I don’t think it’s really that bad.”

The world’s top four golfers Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have all retired, as have a number of other top stars.
Reigning Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford took the precaution of freezing his semen, as did American volleyball coach John Speraw.

Brazilian officials have argued that the risk of infection is significantly reduced during the Games, as they take place during the South American winter month of August, when mosquito populations tend to die off.

Bad publicity

“It has received a lot of bad publicity, but we are trying to do everything possible to prevent it, to ensure the safety of the athletes, the tourists and everyone who goes there,” said Bueno.

“We’re pretty confident that it will go well, it will give the country a chance to be united on something that matters a lot to everyone.”

It’s not just the golfers who have retired, either.

Earlier this month, Canada’s Milos Raonic and Czech star Tomas Berdych both withdrew from the Games after voicing fears about Zika.
He was followed by Romanian world No.5 Simona Halep who also decided not to travel to Brazil.

Several other big names such as Roland Garros semi-finalist Dominic Thiem, US world number 16 John Isner and Spanish number 20 Feliciano Lopez have all chosen to compete in ATP Tour events instead, as these tournaments offer ranking points – whereas the Games do not. .

Nick Kyrgios has excluded himself after a disagreement with the Australian Olympic committee while fellow Australian Bernard Tomic – who has also been criticized by the country’s sports authority – decided to play in a Mexican tournament instead.

Maria Bueno Stadium

This means that many players will not be playing in Rio’s brand new state-of-the-art Olympic Park, which is home to the 10,000-seat tennis court, named after Bueno.

Overall, there are 16 courts, 10 for competition, including two other exhibition courts which have 5,000 and 3,000 temporary seats respectively.

“I think it’s fair to say that we have a lot to worry about today and the Zika virus will definitely be a part of it,” 1996 gold medalist Andre Agassi told CNN.

“The good news is that it’s winter in Brazil, so I don’t think we have the same kind of potential devastation that would occur if this type of tourism fell in the summer.

“Mosquitoes aren’t as active from afar, so that’s good news. Everyone has a decision to make. You know everything comes with risks.

“Unfortunately, the sanction of the risk can ensue with a rough time in an athlete’s life as they contemplate their future. I don’t know how I would have handled that.

“You can’t judge other people for the way they do things, but I certainly understand the fear.”

While most of the world’s golfers are absent, many big names in tennis will be aiming for gold in Brazil.

Serena Williams, who won women’s gold in 2012 and Andy Murray, who won the men’s event in London, are both expected to compete in Rio.

There are two other exhibition courts as well as practice courts.

“Something you cannot afford”

“The Olympics are something everyone should play at least once,” former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic told CNN.

Ivanisevic, who won bronze in both singles and doubles at Barcelona in 1992, fondly remembers his appearance at the Games.

As Croatia’s flag bearer at the country’s very first Games, he says it’s something he will never forget.

“It’s a great experience,” he added. “I’ve been to four Olympics. You represent your country and that’s something you’re proud of.

“I know it’s a busy schedule. I know it’s not the most important thing in sport, but getting a medal, being there with other sportsmen, staying in the village is something you can’t afford. “

Seven Grand Slam tournaments

Tennis returned to the Seoul Games in 1988 after a 60-year absence.

His comeback came too late for Bueno who was forced to retire through injury as the Open era began to take shape.

In addition to his three singles titles at Wimbledon, Bueno has won four US Opens and reached the finals for the French and Australians.

Read: Rio police tell tourists they won’t be able to protect them

She also won 11 doubles titles and one mixed doubles title during an illustrious career.

For a girl from Sao Paulo who left home at 15 to pursue a dream, her accomplishments remain astonishing.

“Things were very different from what they are now,” she said. “Just to give you an idea, the cash prize was £ 15 ($ 20) for winning Wimbledon.

“Things didn’t come easily and you had to face one difficulty after another every day. It really prepared me for life.”

Put Brazil on the map

For thousands of young people, Maria Bueno’s name may not have been the one they knew before the new stadium was built.

Now 76, she hopes to inspire another generation when the Games begin in Rio.

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“It’s going to change a lot because everyone wants to know how the name got there,” she said of Maria Bueno Stadium.

“It will make people think more about the story, about the fact that a few years ago someone put Brazil on the map.

“Being a woman is a particularly great thing. At that time it meant something to accomplish something like I did as a woman in Brazil.

“It will be good for the kids. I think the TV has helped because people associate the name with the face, so there’s a good chance that will happen.”


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