Rodney Harmon

Bill Mountford: Olympic Tennis – Citius, Altius, Fortius!

The Olympics event has gotten increasingly compelling.

The Russian women have their 3rd, 4th, and 6th ranked players in the semi-final round (Safina, Dementieva, and Zvonareva respectively).  This is unprecedented since the Olympics were reinstated in 1988.

In a nod to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), who did the seeding for the doubles, it seems as though some of the best “singles” players in the world are poised to be decorated in doubles gold.  This is in stark contrast to Rennae Stubbs’ comments. The affable Aussie offered a self-serving criticism of the seeding policy (before losing to doubles “specialists” from Spain), suggesting that it is incorrect to factor in singles rankings when seeding for the doubles event.

Roger Federer has continued his quest for gold… but in the doubles.  With partner Stan Wawrinka, also ranked top 10 in the world in singles, redemption should come at the hands of surprise Swedes Tommy Johansson and Simon Aspelin during the gold medal round.  I will continue to presume that if Roger Federer actually played doubles frequently (and the same can be said for the Williams sisters in women’s tennis) that he would be atop the world ranking. This is reminiscent of Barcelona, when two great singles players (Boris Becker and Michael Stich) ran the tables to take the gold.

The top-seeded Bryan brothers take on Michael Llodra and Arnie Clement for the bronze.  The French team beat the Bryans in Davis Cup earlier this year and in the 2007 Wimbledon final.

James Blake lost a heartbreaker to Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the semi-final.  The match was marred by an incredulous moment.  The first point of the 19th game in the third set was decided when Blake rifled a passing shot point-blank that evidently clicked off Gonzalez’ racquet before sailing long.  Replays confirmed this.  Unfortunately, the umpire did not see or hear this.  In an act of dubious sportsmanship, the Chilean offered nothing.  Commentator Jimmy Arias, who might well be the best in the business, called it exactly what it was: Cheating.

This has been gum-chewing time for US coaches Rodney Harmon and Jay Berger.  Like tennis coaches are wont to do, Harmon and Berger have looked presciently calm on the sidelines, but their stomachs surely have been churning.

In the second men’s semi, the relentless Rafael Nadal managed to overcome Novak Djokovic.  Theirs is fast becoming the best rivalry in tennis, as Djokovic has the movement and groundstroke artillery to compete favorably against Nadal.  The final point of the match came when Rafa chased down some bombs and lofted a short lob that was sure to be smashed away.  Unfortunately nerves came into play or Djokovic simply took his eyes off the ball, but he missed the simple overhead smash.  His tearful reaction while walking off the court confirmed just how meaningful this Olympic opportunity was for him.

I have been among the naysayers about Olympic tennis, but could not have been proved more wrong.  The painful, inconsolable reactions from losing players, and the sheer tension at the end of close matches, have told a clear story.  The players love this event, and are desperate for success.  Citius, Altius, Fortius indeed!

USTA Names 2008 U.S. Olympic Teams For Tennis

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., June 26, 2008 – The USTA, the governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S., today announced the nine players nominated for the U.S. Olympic team for tennis at the 2008 Olympic Games, August 10-17 in Beijing, China.

U.S. women’s tennis coach Zina Garrison announced a four-woman team with three singles entries and two doubles teams. All three singles players — Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport — are former Olympic gold medal winners. The two nominated U.S. women’s doubles teams consist of world No. 1 Liezel Huber with Davenport and the Williams sisters.

U.S. men’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon announced a five-player men’s team, also with three singles entries and two doubles teams. James Blake, Sam Querrey and Robby Ginepri were named to the team in singles. Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 1 doubles team in the world, and Blake and Querrey have been nominated as the two U.S. men’s doubles teams.

The 2008 Olympic tennis competition will be staged August 10-17 on the hard courts of the Olympic Green Tennis Center in Beijing. The United States has won 15 Olympic medals in men’s and women’s tennis since it returned as a full medal sport in 1988 — more than any other nation.

“Selection to the U.S. Olympic team is a tremendous honor for these athletes, and one they truly deserve,” said Jane Brown Grimes, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “The Olympics provides one of the greatest global platforms to showcase our sport, and we expect this to be a very memorable summer for tennis.”

“Each player selected to our U.S. Olympic team knows what playing for their country is all about,” said Arlen Kantarian, CEO, Pro Tennis, USTA. “All of these players have worn the Stars and Stripes as part of the U.S. Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams, and will be outstanding competitors — and first-class ambassadors — for our country in Beijing.”

“With three former gold medalists on our team and the No. 1 doubles player in the world, we are certainly capable of earning medals at this Olympics,” said Garrison. “I have great memories of the Olympics as a player and coach, and I am thrilled to be a part of the excitement once again.”

“The guys are all honored to receive the nomination to represent their country,” said Harmon. “With all of our singles players making their Olympic debuts and the Bryans searching for one of the few prizes they have still to earn in their accomplished careers, our goal is to be on the podium when all is said and done.”

Serena Williams, 26, will be making her second Olympic appearance having won a gold medal in women’s doubles at the 2000 Olympic Games with sister, Venus, becoming the first set of siblings to win Olympic gold in tennis. A resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Serena has won eight Grand Slam singles titles, and in 2003, became one of only five women to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles within a 12-month period.

Venus Williams, 28, will be making her third Olympic appearance having won a gold medal in both women’s singles and women’s doubles at the 2000 Olympic Games, joining Helen Wills in 1924 as the only player to sweep both titles at the same Olympiad. A resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Venus holds four Wimbledon and two US Open singles titles.

Lindsay Davenport, 32, will be making her third Olympic appearance having won a gold medal in singles at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Davenport took 11 months off from professional tennis to have her first child in June 2007, returning to the tour in September 2007. A resident of Laguna Beach, Calif., she has won 55 singles titles and 37 doubles titles in her career, including the 1998 US Open, 1999 Australian Open and 2000 Wimbledon titles.

Liezel Huber, 30, will be making her first Olympic appearance as an American (she competed at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney representing her native South Africa). A resident of Cypress, Texas, she became an American citizen in July 2007 with the hopes of competing for the U.S. in the Olympics. Ranked No. 1 in doubles since November 2007, Huber has won three Grand Slam doubles titles. She made her debut for the U.S. Fed Cup team in April.

James Blake, 28, will be making his Olympic debut in Beijing. A resident of Tampa, Fla., Blake has the chance to make history by becoming the first African-American male to win an Olympic tennis medal. Blake missed the 2004 Olympic Games while recovering from a broken vertebra. The winner of 10 singles and five doubles titles during his career, he is currently the No. 2 ranked American and in 2007, helped the U.S. win the Davis Cup title.

Sam Querrey, 20, will be making his Olympic debut in Beijing. Querrey is having a breakthrough year in just his second full season as a pro. He broke into the Top 50 in 2007 and his ranking continues to rise after winning his first singles title in March in Las Vegas. He currently resides in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Robby Ginepri, 25, will be making his Olympic debut in Beijing. He missed being named to the 2004 U.S. Olympic team despite being ranked No. 35 in the world (he was the fifth-ranked American entered and the maximum number of singles players per country is four). A resident of Kennesaw, Ga., Ginepri has the distinction of being the only active American man other than Andy Roddick to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam event (2005 US Open).

Bob and Mike Bryan, 30, will be making their second appearance in the Olympics having reached the quarterfinals in 2004 in Athens, losing to eventual gold medalists Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu of Chile. The Bryans, currently residing in Wesley Chapel, Fla., joined the great, great uncles of President George W. Bush as the only two sets of brothers to play tennis for the United States in the Olympics (Arthur and George Wear competed in the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis and each won a bronze medal with different doubles partners). Together, the Bryans have won the career Grand Slam in doubles and in 2007, helped the U.S. capture its first Davis Cup title since 1995.

Venus and Serena Williams are the last American women to win Olympic gold in tennis. The women were shut out of the medal stand at the 2004 Olympic Games for the first time since tennis returned to Olympic competition in 1988.

Andre Agassi was the last American man to win Olympic gold in men’s singles when he defeated Spain’s Sergi Bruguera in the gold medal match at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Ken Flach and Robert Seguso are the last American team to win Olympic gold in men’s doubles when they defeated Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez of Spain in the gold medal match at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Mardy Fish was the last American to earn an Olympic medal in tennis, winning silver at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Tennis was part of the Olympic program from the first modern Olympiad in 1896 until 1924. After a 64-year hiatus, tennis returned to the official Olympic program in 1988, becoming the first sport to feature professional athletes.

Team nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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The USTA is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S. and the leader in promoting and developing the growth of tennis at every level — from local communities to the highest level of the professional game. It owns and operates the US Open, the highest attended annual sporting event in the world, and launched the Olympus US Open Series linking 10 summer tournaments to the US Open. In addition, it owns the 94 Pro Circuit events throughout the U.S., and selects the teams for the Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Olympic and Paralympic Games. A not-for-profit organization with 725,000 members, it invests 100% of its proceeds in growing the game. For more information on the USTA, log on to usta.com.

Zina Garrison and Rodney Harmon Named Coaches of 2008 US Olympics Tennis Teams

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., March 18, 2008 – The USTA, the governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S., today announced that U.S. Fed Cup Captain Zina Garrison and Rodney Harmon, USTA Director of Men’s Tennis have been named as the women’s and men’s coaches for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Tennis Teams.  In addition, Dan James, Head U.S. National Wheelchair Team Coach, has been named coach for the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis Team.

The 2008 Olympic Games will be held August 8-24 in Beijing, China, with the tennis competition being staged August 10-17 at the Beijing Olympic Tennis Centre. The 2008 Paralympic Games will be held September 6-17 in Beijing with the tennis competition scheduled for September 8-15 at the same venue. The Olympic competition will conclude eight days prior to the US Open and will be played on the same DecoTurf II hard court surface as the US Open.

“With the top names in tennis competing in Beijing prior to the US Open, the Olympics add another dimension to what will be a memorable summer of tennis,” said Jane Brown Grimes, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA.  “Tennis as a sport benefits greatly from being showcased on such a prestigious international stage as the Olympics.”

“Zina, Rodney and Dan each possess that combination of character and competitive fire that define leadership and are synonymous with the Olympic ideal,” said Arlen Kantarian, CEO Pro Tennis, USTA.  “Each brings experience as an accomplished player and coach, with a unique ability to connect with the athletes to lead our quest for 2008 gold.”

“I’m honored to be selected again as the Olympic coach,” said Garrison.  “Some of my fondest tennis memories are from the Olympics and the incomparable thrill of winning a gold medal.  The goal is to share in that Olympic experience with our team this summer.”

“We have the nucleus of a very competitive international men’s team who will all be medal contenders in Beijing,” said Harmon, who has been USTA Player Development Director of Men’s Tennis since February 2002.  “I know the American men will relish the opportunity to compete on one of the biggest stages in sport.”

The 2008 U.S. Olympic tennis team will consist of up to six men and six women, with a maximum of four men and four women competing in the singles competition and a maximum of two men’s and two women’s teams competing in doubles. Olympic team selections will made by June 23.  The U.S. Olympic Committee will approve all team and staff selections for the Olympic Games.

The United States has won 15 Olympic medals in men’s and women’s tennis since its return as a full medal sport in 1988 — more than any other nation.  U.S. players have won 10 medals at the Paralympics, including a gold and a silver in 2004.

The 2008 Paralympic wheelchair tennis team will consist of a maximum of four men and four women in the wheelchair singles competition, with no more than two doubles teams in the wheelchair doubles competition. In the quad wheelchair competition (limited movement or strength in at least three extremities), a maximum of three players may compete in the event, with a maximum of three in the singles event and one team in the doubles event. Team selections will be based on ITF Wheelchair Tennis World Rankings from May 19, 2008.

“The Paralympics is the ultimate platform for worldwide competition among outstanding wheelchair athletes,” said James.  “It is a tremendous privilege to coach at the highest level of international play and I am eager to begin our quest for medals.”

Wheelchair tennis was introduced to the Paralympic program in 1988 as an exhibition event before becoming a full medal sport at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona.  Paralympic tennis is an open competition, eligible to those athletes with a mobility-related disability and all competitors must compete in a wheelchair.

The USTA was officially designated by the USOC as the national governing body for the Paralympic sport of wheelchair tennis in June 2002, becoming the first Olympic national governing body to earn this recognition. As the national governing body for wheelchair tennis, the USTA manages wheelchair tennis in the United States, including the sanctioning of tournaments, overseeing the ranking systems, creating and managing a High Performance program for developing elite disabled athletes and coaches.  The U.S. Olympic Committee will approve all team and staff selections.

Harmon, Not McEnroe, to Coach in Beijing

By The Associated Press

First Andy Roddick, now Patrick McEnroe. The United States’ men’s tennis team at the Beijing Olympics will be missing the top player and the captain from the squad that ended the country’s 12-year championship drought in the Davis Cup.

Patrick McEnroe

McEnroe told the U.S. Tennis Association he did not want to return as Olympic tennis coach, a job he held at the 2004 Athens Games. Instead, Rodney Harmon will lead the American men in Beijing, pending U.S. Olympic Committee approval.

“I just felt like, I’ve been there, I was lucky enough to have the experience,” McEnroe said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve been the captain for eight years. It seemed like a good opportunity for someone else to have that experience.”

Jay Berger was chosen as Harmon’s assistant.

The USTA is expected to announce the selections of Harmon and Berger — along with Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison as the women’s Olympic tennis coach and Lori McNeil as her assistant — on Tuesday. Garrison won a gold medal and a bronze medal as a player at the 1988 Olympics, and she coached the U.S. women in 2004.

Harmon, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in 1982, is heading to his first Olympics. He’s been the director of men’s tennis for the USTA’s player development program since 2002.

“It’s a tremendous honor and a great opportunity to work with some of the best players in the world at one of the greatest events in the world,” said Harmon, the Big East Conference tennis coach of the year in 1997 at Miami.

News of McEnroe’s choice to bypass Beijing comes shortly after word emerged that Roddick will skip the Olympics to focus on preparing for the U.S. Open, the site of his only Grand Slam title.

“We really came to it separately,” McEnroe said. “It wasn’t something where we made the decision together in any way.”

The No. 6-ranked Roddick announced last week he would defend his title at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, a hard-court tournament that runs Aug. 11-17, the same dates as the Olympic tennis competition. The U.S. Open begins Aug. 25.

“Andy has to do what he feels is in his best interest,” Harmon said in a telephone interview.

McEnroe and Roddick helped the United States win the 2007 Davis Cup, beating Russia in the final. When the team defeated Austria in February in the first round of the 2008 event, McEnroe told his players that he wouldn’t be going to Beijing.

“If all the guys came to me and said, ‘Hey, Patrick, we really need you to come,’ I would have considered that,” McEnroe said. “They know how much I support them, and if there’s anything I can do to help them prepare, I’ll do it. I’m in touch with them pretty regularly.”

But he said a busy summer and fall travel schedule, including television work at Grand Slam tournaments and his Davis Cup duties, contributed to his opting out of the trip to China.

“It’s obviously a long way to go,” McEnroe said. “I can’t lie. If it were in New York City, I might reconsider.”

Davis Cup regulars James Blake and twins Bob and Mike Bryan figure to be top choices for Harmon’s Olympic roster. The U.S. tennis teams for Beijing will be based on the rankings of June 9, the day after the French Open ends.

In 2004, the American contingent came away with one medal, Mardy Fish’s silver in men’s singles.

“I feel like Rodney’s fully prepared,” McEnroe said, “and I feel like as a country we have a good chance to bring medals home, on both the men’s and women’s side.”