In what can only be described as shocking news (in the context of sports), Rafa said he would not be defending his 2008 Olympic gold medal, due to lingering knee problems.
Just earlier this month, Rafa had cancelled his exhibition match with Novak at the Real Madrid stadium, due to the tendinitis in his knee. Apparently, his knee problems were more serious than thought.
This is big news, as Rafa had been chosen as Spain’s flag-bearer, an honor which Rafa obviously took great pride in receiving. It’s sad to see an athlete being forced into a decision like this through injury. Rafa will be 30-years old at the 2016 Olympics in Rio — whether or not he will be playing another Olympics is a looming question (although if Fed can do it, Rafa may have another shot as well).
This decision recalls Rafa’s withdrawal from Wimbledon in 2009. Back then, it was the knee that bothered him too. On a hopefully positive note, Rafa’s rest period means he has time to perform well in the HC season, a part of the season where he has traditionally been weak (compared to his usual high standards).
Which players benefit from this news? Feli Lopez will replace Rafa for Spain, while Marc Lopez will take Rafa’s doubles spot. In singles, Rafa’s absence means Ferru will be seeded 4th while DelPo moves up to 8th seed. I’ve been waiting for DelPo to take 8th seed at a tournament, but these circumstances make it awkward to be gleeful.
Also, DelPo has traditionally not played very well when he’s received such “favors” from Rafa. DelPo lost in R2 at Wimby in 2009, when he took Rafa’s spot in the draw (he went from 5th seed to taking over Rafa’s 1st seed spot). This year in Madrid, Rafa’s early loss to Verdasco meant DelPo had a makeable chance of reaching the final (he lost to Berdy in the SF). I know I’m making too broad of a conclusion from two isolated examples, but my outlook for the Olympics is still very cautious. Perhaps Fed may receive a slight boost in his quest for gold, but the singles draw still has 3 of the 4 top players — it will be highly contested, even if we will sadly not be able to see Rafa try to defend his medal.
It’s strange to see that none of the 4 male and female finalists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be present in London (Dementieva & Gonzo retired, while Safina is on extended leave). It’s all the more reason to appreciate the Summer Olympics and the unique opportunity it presents for all athletes, tennis and beyond. Get well, Rafa!