Nadal and Thiem to skip Olympics, Osaka to miss Wimbledon - Why are top players withdrawing?
Tennis is noticing an exodus with top players like Nadal, Thiem, Osaka withdrawing in order to safekeep their body - both physically and mentally, in this pandemic season.
A strange set of events set in immediately after 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal announced that he will not take part in either Wimbledon or the Tokyo Olympics. Choosing to prioritize his health and fitness so as to prolong his career on the highly-demanding tennis tour, the 34-year-old Spaniard's decision fetched myriad reactions.
Following Rafael Nadal's tweet, word came in from 4-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka's agent that even she is choosing to not play the grass Slam and will resume her season at the Tokyo Olympics. Already sending the tennis world reeling by these announcements, World No. 5 Dominic Thiem also added to the blow by declaring his decision to give the upcoming Olympics a skip, as well.
While the reasons given by this trio of Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem may be different, yet the strain is definitely similar. Both clay court specialists, Nadal and Thiem are known to play aggressively and with a lot of power which inevitably takes a toll on their bodies. With back to back tournaments, strewn helter-skelter around the world, it is difficult to adapt in such a quick span.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medallist, World No. 3 Nadal has decided to "listen" to his body and after consulting with his team has decided to steer clear of the grass court swing and the Olympics, as well. Dominic Thiem also sang a similar chorus when he announced on Twitter about his non-participation in Japan. Hoping to defend the US Open title, the 27-year-old Thiem expressed that he isn't feeling at his best - bodily, to represent Austria at the quadrennial Games.
Meanwhile, World No. 2 Naomi Osaka who recently withdrew from the French Open in the second round citing mental health reasons and prompted a lot of discussion has decided to continue to spend some "personal time" with her friends and family. The 23-year-old mentioned that she has been battling depression ever since she lifted her first US Open title in 2018. However, the Japanese ace will return to action soon and assured her fans of her presence at the Tokyo Olympics, which will be held on her home turf.
Why the sudden exodus among top tennis players to withdraw from tournaments?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we once knew it. In this state of new 'normal', a lot of changes have been implemented and the tennis calendar has also been a victim of the same. Due to a majority of the 2020 season being disrupted - the Wimbledon Championships were called off while the Tokyo Olympics got postponed, 2021 is having to adjust with a lot of new things.
To make up for the lost time and in a bid to still retain the old order, tournaments are being closely-spaced with absolutely no breathing time in-between. Just as the French Open concluded last week and brought the clay season to a halt with Novak Djokovic's emphatic victory, the grass season also started parallely in Stuttgart and then in Halle. Earlier, the thought of playing two Slams in the same month would have seemed unthinkable yet the pandemic beset year has left us little room for surprise.
Naturally, top players of the sport like Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka are choosing to play wisely instead of losing all their steam in futile places. While Nadal and Thiem are wary of their physical health and well-being, Osaka's attention tends to her mental health. The decision of the players to be picky while choosing which events to participate in does not come as a surprise however. In sports, fitness - both physically as well as mentally, comes first and these top-billed players are in favour of being wise about their health.
Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have withdrawn from the Olympics previously
Nadal, who has returned with a gold medal in both his Olympic outings in 2008 and 2016, had also withdrawn from the quadrennial event in 2012. Suffering from tendonitis in the knee, Nadal did not take part in London that year.
Similarly, it isn't going to be the first time that Dominic Thiem is also pulling out of the Games and delaying his debut at the prestigious event. In 2016, Thiem chose a lower-ranked ATP 250 event in Mexico over the Rio Olympics. However, owing to injury, that did not pan out as well.
However, with Nadal and Thiem already leading the exodus and Osaka skipping Wimbledon, it can be expected that many other players make such announcements in the coming days, mostly because of the ill-made schedule that is proving to be taxing on the body and the mind of these ace players.