"We've tried to come to these Games humble," said Phillipe Chatrier, and the ITF and IOC very much lucked out in having the right group for the first high profile, above-the-table professional athletes to pull that off. And even that wasn't a given because they were still tennis players and thus not the most docile and predictable of species. Even (especially?) Steffi, who, as Martin Amis noted with some glee, "generally shows little interest in disguising her feelings. She quite lacks the PR
burnish of the American girls." That whole Graf-Evert-Sabatini-Shriver Top 4 could have devolved into very public displays of embarrassingly harsh honesty, fury, egotism, ennui, sulking, and childishness.
Tennis tries to serve Olympics
The Orange County Register
Friday, September 30, 1988
Tennis? In the Olympics? Easier to imagine Don King in church.
Given the five Olympic rings, the typical tennis pro would summon an appraiser. He (or she) would demand that the Olympic torch quit burning during his serve. He'd commission Iron Maiden or Quiet Riot to rewrite the Olympic theme.
In the non-boxing category, tennis wins the triple crown for sleaze, greed and petulance.
Yet here, thrust into a tidy little stadium at the edge of Olympic Park, tennis has actually behaved itself. While Ben Johnson drags the Games into drugs, and nearly every boxing decision should be headed for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, tennis actually takes on the look of apple pie.
Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia dissected Tim Mayotte of the United States to win the men's singles gold, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. When Mayotte netted match point, the usually drowsy Mecir skyrocketed his racket into the sunshine, forgetting that he had just given something for nothing, at least nothing that pays.
The medal ceremony even made you smile.
When it came time to introduce the bronze medalists (they were semifinal losers, and there is no consolation match), the girl on the microphone mentioned Brad Gilbert of the United States but not Stefan Edberg of Sweden. Gilbert took the stand, waited, didn't hear Edberg's name, got off the stand, and wouldn't get back on until Edberg joined him. If you've seen Gilbert whine his way through quarterfinal losses at Flushing Meadow, you realized, just then, that nobody's immune to the Olympic spirit.
Today, Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini replay their US Open final in the women's gold match. Graf, who won the gold when tennis was a demonstration sport in Los Angeles four years ago, has just finished taking the four Grand Slam tournaments. She could have rested. She could have signed endorsement contracts. Instead she came here, as did Wimbledon men's champ Edberg, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver, Manuela Maleeva and Henri Leconte, millionaires all. And was Graf up for it? "I couldn't see the ball," Zina Garrison complained after Graf walloped her in 45 minutes.
The South Koreans love it. They've bought 77 percent of the available tennis tickets, compared with 37 percent of the baseball seats. The tennis stadium had fewer empties than did the Olympic Stadium when Johnson beat Carl Lewis in the 100 meters.
All of which thrilled Phillippe Chatrier, head of the International Tennis Federation.
"The Olympics are getting rid of the last remnants of hypocrisy (in sports)," Chartrier said Friday.
"(IOC president) Juan Antonio Samaranch is committed to doing that. The athletics (track and field) competition is dominated by professionals. So are most other events. Here, everything is over the table.
"And, unlike one person we all know (Johnson), our tennis players are clean." Chatrier fervently crossed his fingers. "We hope."
There were scores that made you wonder. Unknown Carl-Uwe Steeb of West Germany knocked off Sweden's world-class Anders Jarryd, who, like Edberg, is wearing the colors of a Sweden in which he no longer lives. And South Korean Kim Bong Soo eliminated Leconte. Evert, of course, disintegrated in a loss to Italy's Raffaela Reggi.
But Mayotte, for one, claimed he was fired up from the moment he got here. "And that is why he is in the finals," Chatrier said.
The tennis pros knew they had to win the hearts and minds of resentful rowers, kayakers, table tennis players and taekwondo artists who have to hone their skills after an eight-hour day. Even the impoverished Edwin Moses said, "I don't think the professionalism of track athletes is an issue with Chris Evert here."
"But our players, for the most part, have lived in the Olympic Village," Chatrier said. "They have enjoyed it. They have made friends with other athletes. The world has seen that they are young athletes who fit in.
"We are here on an experimental basis. The players who came here this year came with good taste. Next time (in Barcelona) it will be a must to play here."
Really? Next time the Olympics will return to its customary July dates, between Wimbledon and the US Open. It also will conflict with Grand Prix events in the United States. Chatrier said, "some intelligent work with the calendar" would avoid conflicts, but it's hard to spurn Indianapolis cash when only medallions will be on the line in Spain.
Chatrier, however, is looking beyond that, to a lode of worldwide talent that could further enrich the game.
"Two to 3 billion people watch the Olympics on TV," said Chatrier, who got the idea for Olympic tennis from Soviet tennis officials. "That is more, far more, than we reach with our four Grand Slam tournaments.
"You look at China, with all the people there. Countries like Kenya and God-knows-where. We estimate that joining the Olympics has the capacity to double the number of tennis players in the world. Countries see the chance to be in the Olympics, to fulfill their dreams. They will start building courts and organizing programs. Obviously, it is a great opportunity."
Wisely, Chatrier limited the competition to singles and doubles and did not deal in team competition. There is one of those anyway, called the Davis Cup.
"We did not want to eliminate the possibility of a person getting the chance for a gold medal," Chatrier said. "We did not want a lot of medals, like other sports have, because that would tend to devalue them."
The players even compromised on the logo problem. They agreed to wear only a small advertisement somewhere on their clothing. Fortunately, Bjorn Borg is retired.
Mecir won his gold on a day when the Soviets won men's basketball, when the world nervously awaited the results of Florence Griffith Joyner's last drug test, when rumors of violence at Sunday's marathon were everywhere.
Tennis sat in its little corner and stayed quiet.
"We know we are not the biggest thing in the Olympics," Phillipe Chatrier said. "We know the Olympics are bigger than everything."
Can golf be far behind?