London Spy

Sport guide: Tennis

The story goes that John Pius Boland was only in Athens in 1896 to visit a friend. But he was persuaded to enter the Olympic tennis tournament and duly won both the singles and doubles. Although Boland was from Dublin, the political landscape was such that he represented Great Britain.

Boland's double has helped Britain to the top of the overall Olympic tennis medal list with 44, although that has much to do with past glories, this year's hosts having won only one medal since 1924. The United States have claimed the most gold medals with 17.

Tennis was a fixture at the Games until 1924, but it was then dropped until 1988, apart from demonstration appearances in 1968 and 1984.

Since being restored to the programme, the tennis tournament has been graced by some of the legends of the game.

Steffi Graf landed the women's singles gold for West Germany in 1988, beating Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina in the final, while her future husband, Andre Agassi, struck gold for the United States in the men's singles in 1996.

Venus Williams, another famous American player, triumphed in the women's singles in 2000 and partnered sister Serena to the women's doubles title in 2000 and 2008.

Boris Becker picked up a gold medal in 1992 for Germany and Roger Federer collected one in 2008 for Switzerland — but those achievements came in the doubles, after they had been knocked out of the singles.

The format in London will largely follow that of a Grand Slam event in that it will feature singles and doubles knockout tournaments for men and women, as well as mixed doubles.

A crucial difference, though, will be the length of matches, with all being played over the best of three sets - except for the men's final, which will resemble a Grand Slam in that it will be over five. Also, mixed doubles matches which reach one set all will be settled by a tiebreak, with victory for the first to 10 points by a two-point margin.

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