at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Stuttgart – Tennis at the Olympics has reached at least Grand Slam status and playing for gold, silver and bronze medals at Wimbledon at this year's London Games only adds to the attraction.
It will be a mixture of tradition and novelty when the players return to the All England Club just three weeks after the completion of the regular Wimbledon tournament.
The facilities will be the same and world ranking points will also be awarded at the Olympic tournament between July 28 and August 5.
But Olympic sponsors will be advertising where there is normally no branding, centre court crowds will likely be rowdier than the regular Wimbledon attendance, and players will not have to stick to a dress-code at the only site where the traditional all-white still applies.
The latter definitely adds to the appeal for fashion-conscious Maria Sharapova of Russia.
“I think it will be extra special. It will be quite different and unique to what we are used to. When I was working on my outfits and I saw the colours, wearing white and red on centre court at Wimbledon when I played in white there all my life there,” Sharapova told reporters at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
“You think about that and its going to be so strange. Even the branding on the court at Wimbledon where you never have branding. It will be quite different there.”
Sharapova, 25, has won Wimbledon, the US and Australian Open, been at the top of the world rankings, but has never been to the Olympics because she was injured during Beijing 2008.
“It is very special and personally very special because I have never been a part of that before. There is not a lot of newness when you have been on the tour for so many years,” she said.
“For me it is being part of something I grew up with, which is part of the culture in Russia. I dreamed of being an Olympian and representing my country there. So its a huge goal of mine.”
Sharapova said she “would love to be” at the opening ceremony on July 27 and also hopes to find some time to watch other events at the London Games.
“I love to watch all types of sports. I like watching talented people do really amazing things with what they have done over their career. I have a lot of respect for athletes,” she said.
While Sharapova seems to lean towards living near the All England Club, the reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will “probably” stay in the athletes' village.
“Of course I am looking forward to playing on grass at the Olympics and Wimbledon. I won there last year,” she said.
“I will have the red and blue colour on me as a Czech player, it will be strange not playing in the white. That will be different but it is still on grass and hopefully the people that come will be as great as at a normal Wimbledon.”
Even though there is no prize money at stake, tennis players – who normally compete on their own around the world – have embraced being part of the Olympic Family again since 1988.
Winners include Steffi Graf, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi, and the top men and women are just as keen to go for gold this time than in the past.
“Of course Olympics are very important for every one. It is only once every four years,” said fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. “I will do everything it takes to play my best tennis there.”
World No 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus struck a similar note.
“There is a huge buzz around it. I am not going to lie, I am also looking forward to it, probably more than any other tournament during the year.
“And just because its going to happen at Wimbledon is going to make it kind of extra special. I am definitely very excited about it.” – Sapa-dpa