Russia plan Sharapova Olympic inclusion

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Hopeful: Maria Sharapova.

The president of the Russian Tennis Federation plans to include Maria Sharapova in the country’s Olympic team if she avoids a ban for her positive test for banned drug meldonium.

Sharapova tested positive for the substance in January and was provisionally suspended on March 12.

The five-time grand slam champion is awaiting the outcome of an anti-doping committee hearing, which was held last week, with a four-year ban the maximum possible punishment.

Most anti-doping experts think a more likely ban is between six to 12 months, which would start from the date of her provisional suspension, so her Rio 2016 hopes may be forlorn.

The Russian Tennis Federation needs to name its team by June 16 and, with Sharapova’s punishment likely to be confirmed before then, the 29-year-old will know for sure whether she will be heading to Brazil.

But RTF president Shamil Tarpishchev, speaking to R-Sport news agency in Russia, says Sharapova “has been put on our Olympic application”.

Tarpishchev added: “We will include Sharapova in the team. Whether she competes or not should be decided by the end of the first week of Roland Garros.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency only added meldonium to its list of banned substances at the start of 2016 and recently gave those athletes who had since failed tests a lifeline with the admission it was unclear how long the substance took to clear the body.

That applied to competitors who said they had used meldonium only before it was added to the WADA list, however Sharapova has not indicated she stopped using the substance before January 1.

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Olympic medals slip down priority list for stars such as Thiem and Isner

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Thiem will play in the new ATP tournament in Los Cabos instead of the Olympics.

Four of the world’s top-23 are snubbing the Olympics in order to prioritise their tour goals, raising questions over the importance of the Games for tennis players.

World No15 Dominic Thiem, No17 John Isner, No22 Bernard Tomic and No23 Feliciano Lopez have all opted out of playing this summer’s Rio Olympics and will be playing an ATP tournament that same week instead.

The Olympics is considered by most athletes as the pinnacle of sport, but it appears that for several tennis players, it will always take a backseat to the actual tour.

Tennis was part of the inaugural 1896 Olympics but was dropped after the 1924 Games. After two appearances as a demonstration sport in 1968 and 1984, it returned as a full medal sport in 1988 and has been played at every edition of the Games since.

The tennis event at the Games in Rio takes place from August 4 to 14, 2016.

Thiem, who is one of the hottest commodities on the tennis circuit this year, will joining Lopez and Tomic in the new ATP tournament in Los Cabos (August 8-13), while Isner will play Atlanta (August 1-7).

The Olympic Games will not be offering ranking points for tennis players, which has been cited as a major factor in Isner and Tomic’s decisions to forgo Rio.

American No1 Isner admits it was not an easy to call to make but is convinced he made the right choice.

“It’s something that I took a lot of time to think about. The summer for me obviously is a very important time. It’s a time of the year that I’ve always done well. The Olympics, it’s very tough on the schedule, especially with Davis Cup as well. We’re into the quarter-finals there,” said the 31-year-old Isner, who made the quarter-finals at the London 2012 Games.

“Davis Cup is still a very big goal of mine, to try to win this quarter-final match and possibly another home tie after that.

“With all the tournaments sandwiched pretty much around the Olympics, it made it tough for me to go down there.

“I think the fact that they have no points, to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Tomic made himself unavailable for the Olympics earlier this month, although his chances of being selected were already in doubt after Australia’s Olympic chef de mission Kitty Chiller had said his behaviour is “appalling” and that he was on watch for selection.

The 23-year-old Aussie had already hinted at skipping the Games as early as the Australian Open last January when he said he might not go if there are no points on offer.

“On the basis of my extremely busy playing schedule and my own personal circumstances, I am regrettably unable to commit to this year’s tournament. I make this decision based on what is best for my tennis career,” Tomic said in a statement.

Bernard Tomic.

Bernard Tomic.

Asked to expand on his reasons for opting out, Tomic said on Tuesday: “Big schedule, and I said all the stuff I need to say before. It’s unfortunate that I’m not going to play, but I’ve chosen what I’ve chosen.”

Spanish No4 Lopez, who has competed in two previous Olympics and lost the doubles bronze medal match with David Ferrer in London, says that at 34, he prefers to prioritise his own career over the Games.

“I was thinking a lot in order to make that decision, it was a difficult one obviously, it’s always great to represent your country. I’ve been to two Olympic Games and I’ve enjoyed both of them. But at this stage of my career I think I have to be thinking about myself a little bit more and honestly Olympic Games for me in the middle of the summer was not the best calendar that I can have so I decided not to play and I will play another tournament that week and then Cincinnati and the US Open, where I have to defend a lot of points,” said Lopez.

Asked about his decision to play Los Cabos instead, he added: “Well I have the choice. First I decided not to play the Olympics, and then I have the opportunity to win some points in that week so I took the chance.”

Thiem has been facing pressure from Austria to change his mind about skipping the Olympics. The editor-in-chief of Austria’s largest newspaper, Kronen Zeitung, penned an open letter to Thiem, pleading with him to play but the 22-year-old is sticking to his guns.

“Even with pressure from outside I’m sticking to my decision. I don’t think tennis is the typical Olympic sport for me, like track and field or swimming for example. For me tennis is all about winning a grand slam that’s always my priority,” Thiem said on Tuesday in Paris, after beating Inigo Cervantes in four sets to make the second round.

“Even if you look at football, Germany or Austria don’t send their A squads to the Olympics, because football isn’t necessarily viewed as a typical Olympic sport, and I feel the same way about tennis.”

World No1 Novak Djokovic believes not having points awarded at the Olympics is “debatable” and personally feels choosing to skip it is a “big decision”.

World No1 Novak Djokovic believes not having points awarded at the Olympics is “debatable” and personally feels choosing to skip it is a “big decision”.

“To be quite frank, I don’t see a reason why not (earn ranking points at the Olympics). We have the best players in the world participating in arguably the fifth grand slam. It’s of that importance for all of us, even more, because it happens every four years,” said Djokovic on Tuesday.

“I mean, it’s a subject for discussion. I would definitely encourage people to rethink of getting points out there.

“From my perspective, being part of Olympic Games is something that I don’t think I have ever experienced before. It’s wonderful, wonderful feeling being there with all the best athletes from around the world, being part of that Olympic Village, representing your country.

“You know, it’s a big decision to skip Olympic Games. You never know what can happen in four years.”

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#360view: Nick Kyrgios and tennis are a perfect match

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Nick Kyrgios.

Nick Kyrgios’ latest admission about not loving tennis brought to attention a question which was raised not too long ago when Andre Agassi made similar confessions in his autobiography: How do you feel about a tennis champion who is not passionate about the sport?

I must admit I was initially shocked when I read Agassi’s book several years ago.

His negative comments about tennis made me question every time I admired the multiple grand slam champion and also made me realise no matter how closely you follow an athlete, and how highly you rate them, you never really know them.

After reading the book for a second time, I realised that Agassi loving or hating tennis did not really matter.

He was still the ex-world No1 who won eight majors, brought new meaning to the return shot, launched several comebacks and played until he was 36.

How he felt about the sport had no bearing on the entertainment factor he provided and the unforgettable tennis moments he created.

Which brings us back to Kyrgios. The young Aussie can be judged on many things, but him telling The Times “I definitely don’t love the sport” should not be one of them.

The reaction to his statement has been met with a lot of disdain from tennis fans on social media, with many mistaking his comment for a lack of commitment, and accusing him of “not taking the sport seriously”.

The way he acts on the court certainly shows that he cares.

While his outbursts with umpires can be toned down, there is little else Kyrgios can be criticised for at the moment.

He has been super-focused in his matches, bringing the wow-factor almost every time, has amassed a 22-7 win-loss record for the season, which included a title run in Marseille, and has more top-10 wins than anyone else in 2016, barring Novak Djokovic.

If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is.

Do I need Kyrgios to love tennis in order for me to be entertained while watching him play? Absolutely not!

Cool tweeners will still be cool tweeners whether Kyrgios was madly in love with the sport or not.

It is true that Kyrgios often oscillates between extreme passion to utter indifference within moments, whether on the court, or in press conferences, but perhaps this is his way of keeping things in perspective, reducing the pressure of expectation on himself and being able to bring his best tennis when it matters most on court.

Maybe if he did love the sport more he wouldn’t be able to play that way, with so much abandon in his shots.

He treats tennis like it is his job, which essentially it is, and we all know not everyone is passionate about their jobs.

Kyrgios predicts “there is zero chance that Nick Kyrgios will be playing tennis when he’s 30 years old” but you never know, Agassi’s feelings towards the sport changed as time went by and things might change for the Aussie too.

For now, Kyrgios is willing to put in the hard yards, show up on court and entertain the crowd.

He will continue to make mistakes and umpires should and will continue to reprimand him. He will continue to be curt with the press while showing his true self every once in a while.

And not too far in the future, he will more than likely become a grand slam champion because he is talented and when he’s on, he is very, very difficult to beat.

Instead of goading him about being honest and confessing he doesn’t love the sport, how about we give him less reasons to hate it?

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