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Osaka back in competition at Olympic tennis; Murray defends

July 2, 2021 GMT

HIGHLIGHTS FROM RIO: Andy Murray began the 2016 Summer Games by carrying Britain’s flag in the opening ceremony and ended them with a Union Jack draped over a shoulder while celebrating his history-making gold medal: He was the first man or woman to win two tennis singles gold medals at an Olympics — and he did it consecutively, too. Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, beat Juan Martin del Potro in four sets in the final. That the Argentine left with a medal at all was quite an accomplishment given that he had only recently returned from three operations on his left wrist; he beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in Rio. Monica Puig won the women’s singles title by beating Angelique Kerber in the final to give Puerto Rico its first gold medal in any sport in Olympic history, then cried so much during the island’s anthem she couldn’t manage to sing the lyrics her father had emailed her. Despite early exits by Serena Williams in singles (third round) and doubles with her sister, Venus (first round), the U.S. left with the most medals: one gold (Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock in mixed doubles), one silver (Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram in mixed) and one bronze (Sock and Steve Johnson in men’s doubles). The only other country to win three medals was the Czech Republic, all bronze: Petra Kvitova in singles, Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova in women’s doubles, and Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek in mixed doubles.

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WHAT’S NEW: There are several changes from past Olympics, including that the men’s singles final will now be best-of-three-sets instead of best-of-five. There will be a 25-second serve clock in use for the first time, as has become customary at Grand Slam tournaments and on the tours in an attempt to speed things along. Hawk-Eye will be on five courts to review line judges’ calls, after being available on just three courts in Rio, instead of just three, to review line judges’ calls. And men’s and women’s doubles matches that are tied at a set apiece will be decided by a match tiebreaker (first to 10 points), instead of a full third set.

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TOKYO EXPECTATIONS: With Wimbledon wrapping up less than two weeks before the tennis competition begins in Tokyo, it is hard to know exactly who will be in the best form, entirely healthy – and even still entered in the Olympics. Indeed, there already are several big names who will not go to the Summer Games, including the Williams sisters (with a combined nine medals), Nadal (who’s won golds in singles and doubles), two-time major champion Simona Halep and 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem. But Naomi Osaka has said she will be there to represent the host country in what would be her first competition since withdrawing from the French Open at the end of May to take a mental health break. She’s as good as it gets on the surface being used at the Olympics – hard courts, where she collected all four of her Grand Slam titles, including at the Australian Open in February -- and will be among the favorites to win gold. Djokovic entered Wimbledon with eyes on a goal of a Golden Slam: winning all four major tournaments and an Olympic gold in the same year. No man has ever done that.

ATHLETES TO WATCH: Osaka. Osaka. Osaka. She is a former No. 1-ranked player (currently No. 2) who is the highest-earning female athlete in the world, and she was born in Japan, so she would have received as much attention as any athlete in Tokyo, anyway. The events of the past couple of months only will make the spotlight brighter. Murray has had two hip operations since Rio, and just played singles at Wimbledon for the first time in four years (the other reigning singles champion, Puig, is out after shoulder surgery). Djokovic and, if he’s there, Federer will be must-see TV, as always.

GOLD MEDAL MOMENTS: July 30 will have the first gold medal match, in men’s doubles. July 31 has the women’s singles gold medal match. Aug. 1 closes the tennis competition with the last three gold medals: men’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

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