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SERVES RETURN
Frank Deford
October 10, 1988
But are tennis and the Olympics a good match?
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October 10, 1988

Serves Return

But are tennis and the Olympics a good match?

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First things first. grand slam fans: before tennis, officially back in the Olympics for the first time since 1924, takes a permanent position in the Games, the ignoramuses on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have to change that little stick-figure symbol for the sport. The graphic used in Seoul depicts a player hitting a two-handed forehand. Really now, IOC, how about working on the artwork.

Second, though the jury is still out as to whether Olympic tennis is a welcome addition or a wretched excess, the play—with the notable exception of Chris Evert's early departure—was spirited and often of high quality. Both of the doubles finals were sheer delights, and the mere fact that Steffi Graf won the women's singles and made her Grand Slam gold gave the competition legitimacy.

But if Olympic tennis is to be taken seriously, the men will have to support it better. Stefan Edberg, the world's No. 3, was the only male ranked among the world's first five to show up. "'It would be just another stamp in my passport," said No. 1, Mats Wilander, who chose to play in a gen-u-ine for-money tournament in Italy instead. As a result, the final, between Tim Mayotte, No. 10 in the world, and No. 12, Miloslav Mecir, was a sort of Bluebonnet Bowl.

Mecir bombarded Edberg in the fifth set of their semifinal, and then he gained the measure of Mayotte in four sets, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. 6-2. Both Mayotte and the women's silver medalist, Gabriela Sabatini, played well, but they were no match for the winners. As always, Graf and Sabatini came out slugging. Graf runs down everything, and eventually Sabatini wears down. Usually it takes three sets. In Seoul, Sabatini fell in two, 6-3, 6-3.

The U.S., which led the tennis medal count, took home both gold medals in the doubles. The world's best pair, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, won a 9-7-in-the-fifth thriller from Emilio Sanchez and Sergio Casal of Spain, and the pickup team of Pam Shriver and Zina Garrison went into overtime in the third set—the final score was 10-8—to defeat Helena Sukova and Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia. What a dandy pair Shriver and Garrison were: the 6-foot, duck-footed, patrician white and the 5'4", pigeon-toed, inner-city black.

All the players were badgered with deep questions about how meaningful the Olympic experience was, about what it was like living in a cut-rate youth hostel with disadvantaged athletes who don't have agents and Jaguars. Most of them made the International Tennis Federation (ITF) proud with good stock answers about brotherhood and the joys of winning a medal instead of filthy money. Mecir won first prize in this category, too, when someone asked him "to put into words" (always a risk) what the gold meant to him. "It's a nice feeling," he replied, "but it's difficult to say. I'm still alive and nobody's hurt."

Almost all the players thought the format should be changed for 1992. In one way or another, they agreed, more emphasis should be placed on doubles and team competition. This tournament might as well have been the Virginia Slims of Seoul. Virtually the only dissenter was Philippe Chatrier, the ITF president, who said he was inclined to keep Olympic tennis the same: the Virginia Slims of Barcelona.

At least let us hope that by then the IOC has modified that symbol.

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