Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, world number eight Tomas Berdych and women’s number five Simona Halep have announced their withdrawal from the Rio 2016 Olympic tennis tournament, with all three citing fears about the Zika virus.
Raonic, who lost in straight sets to Britain’s Andy Murray in his first Grand Slam final last weekend, would have been viewed as a major medal hope for the Canadian team heading into the Games.
However, the 25-year-old has now stated he will not participate in the men’s singles competition, which will feature 64 players, as well as the doubles events.
“After much deliberation with my family and coaches, I am making this decision for a variety of health concerns including the uncertainty around the Zika virus,” Raonic said.
“This was a difficult, personal choice and I do not wish for it to impact the decision of any other athlete heading to the Games.”
Similarly, Romania’s tennis star Halep, a French Open finalist in 2014, and Berdych, have also pulled out of competing in Rio.
The withdrawals make the trio the first tennis players to formally declare that fears of Zika are behind their decisions not to compete.
The virus, which is spread by mosquitos, has a proven link to birth defect microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with small heads and under-developed brains.
Pregnant women have been advised not to travel to Brazil.
“After several talks with doctors and my family, I concluded that the risks are too high for my career and for my health, especially as a woman,” 24-year-old Halep wrote on Facebook.
“Family is much too important for me and I can’t risk not being able to have one of my own after my career in tennis is over.”
Berdych said his decision was “painstaking”.
“It is because of the Zika virus spread in the country of the Olympics,” he said.
“As I have founded a family recently, to limit health risks towards my nearest is the utmost priority.”
Golf has been the most affected sport by withdrawals, with all of the top four ranked men’s players in the world – Jason Day of Australia, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth of the United States and Ireland’s Rory McIlroy – pulling out.
Outside of golf and now tennis, American cyclist TJ Van Garderen has withdrawn citing the Zika virus.
Many have claimed, however, that athletes are using Zika as an excuse to pull out of Rio, with an Olympic gold not as prestigious as other major prizes in sports such as golf and tennis.
Elsewhere, Nick Kyrgios has opted not to compete in the Rio tennis tournament due to a dispute with the Australian Olympic Committee, while Austria’s Dominic Thiem and American John Isner have stated they will pursue ranking points rather than compete in Rio.
Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki and Spain’s Rafael Nadal will both be competing at the Games, however, after their participation had initially been placed at risk.
Wozniacki had failed to qualify after not appearing in three Fed Cup competitions during the Olympic qualification period, but the 25-year-old, who is set to be her country’s flag bearer at the Games, has won an appeal to compete.
Nadal had also looked set to miss out on Rio, but the Beijing 2008 men’s singles gold medallist has been cleared to play despite failing to appear in the required number of Davis Cup ties.
He has also recovered sufficiently from a wrist injury which ended his French Open and Wimbledon hopes to take up his place in the Spanish team.
Murray and America’s Serena Williams will begin as the defending men’s and women’s singles champions.
By Michael Pavitt
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz