Aug 03, 2016

    Fear of Zika really the reason for Rio pull-outs?


    NOVAK Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will display their Grand Slam talents in Rio, but with serious questions being asked over tennis' place in the Olympics after a host of high-profile pull-outs.

    Colourful Latvian player Ernests Gulbis dismissed the tournament as "tennis tourism", angry over the absence of prize money and ranking points.

    Others have withdrawn due to injury - most notably 17-time major champion Roger Federer, scheduling fears and worries over the Zika virus.

    The absentees represent the latest chapter in the sport's on-off relationship with the Olympics.

    From 1924 until 1988, tennis disappeared from the schedule in a dispute over the place of professionals in what was seen as an amateur showpiece.

    This time, the men's event will be missing top 20 players Federer, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Dominic Thiem, Richard Gasquet, John Isner, Feliciano Lopez and Nick Kyrgios.

    The women's singles are stripped of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka who is pregnant, Belinda Bencic and Karolina Pliskova.

    Maria Sharapova, silver medallist behind Williams at the 2012 London Olympics, is serving a two-year doping ban.

    World number one Djokovic said he has no fears about playing in Rio where he seeks a first Olympic gold medal to add to the career Grand Slam of the four majors he completed at the French Open in June.

    "Of course, there is always a possibility that you can get that virus but I think maybe the fuss has been created with some kind of other intent," said the 29-year-old Serb.

    He warmed up for Rio by bagging a 30th Masters title in Toronto on Sunday.

    Djokovic hinted at what many in sport feel - that Zika is a convenient cover story for players who are concerned over the lack of ranking points at an event which also cuts into schedules geared specifically towards the United States Open. The season's final major starts in New York a week after the Games conclude.

    World number two Murray also has no reservations about Rio where he will defend the career-changing gold medal he won at the 2012 Games.

    Nadal, meanwhile, is desperate to play in Rio having been forced to skip the London Games with a knee injury.

    The tennis tournament runs from Aug 6 until 14 at the Barra Olympic Park.

    The main court, named after Brazilian tennis veteran Maria Bueno, holds 10,000 fans.

    Five golds are up for grabs - men's and women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles.