Since tennis returned to the Olympics after a 64-year hiatus in 1988, some of the greatest ever players to grace a court have represented their nation in the world’s biggest sporting circus.
Players that have not won ATP or WTA titles say that being an Olympian is the pinnacle of their career, while some others have made their biggest mark at a tournament that some of tennis’ biggest names have floundered in.
Most recently it was Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, who dazzled Rio De Janeiro with a magnificent display of tennis that saw her capture just her second career title and her nation’s first ever Olympic gold.
The then 21-year-old became the first unseeded player to claim the women’s crown at an Olympiad thanks to her aggressive game and ability to prove clutch in some humungous matches.
Staggeringly, Puig progressed to the semifinals for the loss of just 14 games, dispatching the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Polona Hercog and Laura Siegemund with brutal hitting.
The semifinals would see her defeat Petra Kvitova in three sets before a clash with the highly fancied Angelique Kerber, that year’s Australian Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up, Angelique Kerber, who was on her way to a US Open title and the year-end No.1 ranking.
Puig claimed the opening set, before a fightback from the German saw a deciding set, but it was to no avail, with the Puerto Rican taking a 6-4 4-6 6-1 victory and the crowning glory in her career.
2016 also saw 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro enter the draw with a protected ranking following a spate of wrist injuries that derailed his quest to remain at the top of the men’s game.
Nobody could foresee what came next, with a tremendous 7-6 7-6 win over world number one Novak Djokovic, who looked almost unbeatable at stages throughout that season.
He would then defeat Joao Sousa, Taro Daniel and Roberto Bautista Agut before an epic win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
He would go on to lose to Andy Murray in four sets in the final, with the tournament by no means being his greatest achievement, but adding to the tale of del Potro’s career.
Going back to Barcelona 1992, where all the matches were best-of-five sets in the men’s draw and Swiss man Marc Rosset was able to triumph and inspire a certain Roger Federer to forge his own path in tennis.
At 21, he had just triumphed in the doubles at Roland Garros but was unsighted in an ATP singles final for almost two years.
Rosset would defeat Karim Alami and Wayne Ferreira in the first two rounds before a scintillating straight sets win over top seed Jim Courier in straight sets.
The tennis world began to notice what this youngster was producing, as he emerged victorious over Emilio Sanchez in the quarterfinals and fourth seed Goran Ivanisevic in the semis, taking both encounters for the loss of one set.
The final would see him take on Jordi Arrese of Spain, and the young Swiss star would race to a two set lead before his opponent six years his senior, would force a fifth set.
Proceedings would remain locked at 6-6 before finally Rosset broke through and claimed the biggest title of his career, an Olympic gold.
Fast forward to 2004, where it was an all Chilean final in the men’s draw, with Nicolas Massu taking his largest crown over compatriot Fernando Gonzalez.
What about Frenchman Arnaud Di Pasquale?
He never reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal and only won a solitary ATP title, but defeated Roger Federer for the bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney for the biggest moment of his career.
Talking of bronze medals, Alicia Molik was unseeded in Athens 2004, but was able to storm through the draw before falling to Amelie Mauresmo in the semifinals, only to take down Anastasia Myskina for the final podium placing.
Four years after Molik it was Russia’s Elena Dementieva, who was able to rectify her loss in the Sydney final by claiming the gold in Beijing with a three-set victory over compatriot Dinara Safina.
The Olympics might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and many might believe that tennis does not have a place at the spectacle given its status in the global sporting landscape, but it cannot be denied that some of the sport’s fairytale stories have come from the games.
Listen to The First Serve, Mondays 8pm AEST 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1170AM SEN Sydney & 1629AM SEN SA or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
Brought to you by 1st Serve Tennis Sunscreen, available at www.sunblessedsunscreens.com.au
Order now using the discount code SEN.