Jamaica has suffered an injury blow ahead of the start of the Tokyo Olympics this weekend.

The artistic gymnastics competition for women is scheduled to begin on Sunday morning in Japan (Saturday night in the Caribbean)

Members of the country’s 62-member team are arriving in Tokyo ahead of the games that officially begin tomorrow morning and right off the bat, it appears as if injury is playing an early role.

Gymnast Danusia Francis has revealed that she had an injured left knee. The severity of the injury is unknown but she is still managing to get her practice sessions in albeit with some amount of caution. The athlete, only the second female gymnast to represent Jamaica at the Olympics, posted pictures on her Instagram account knee on Tuesday and again on Wednesday that showed her heavily bandaged knee.

On Friday morning, she confirmed what the pictures were showing when she posted, “The arena is stunning. Unfortunately, I do have a knee injury so only bars today, but happy with my performance and enjoyed myself out there.” It is unclear whether she suffered the injury prior to or after her arrival in Japan.

She also posted a video of herself leaping and landing with stability, which might be an indication that the injury is not too severe.

Francis is expected to perform well at the Olympics on the strength of outstanding performances in her routines in Spain in June while competing for gymnastics club Xelska.

“My performances were really good. I was extremely happy with my bar routine, I got a really good score there, and then my vault was good,” she said at the time.

“I did make a mistake on (the) beam but as I mentioned, I was only supposed to do three of the events and the beam was a last-minute decision so I was a bit flustered and it was kind of an uncharacteristic mistake so nothing that I can’t fix.”

 

 

Spain boss Luis de la Fuente was dismayed to lose Oscar Mingueza and Dani Ceballos to injuries in the team's Tokyo 2020 opener.

The head coach of the Olympic team fears Barcelona defender Mingueza and Real Madrid midfielder Ceballos will not make swift recoveries.

He was also critical of the officiating that allowed Egypt to enforce their physical game on the match that finished 0-0 in Sapporo.

Speaking about the injured duo, who were both forced off in the first half, De la Fuente said: "They are the greatest concern. They do not look good. Let's see if I'm wrong and they can recover.

"We are very concerned because they could be serious injuries."

Mingueza was on the receiving end of a sixth-minute heavy tackle that saw Ahmed Fotouh yellow-carded, and then came off in the 22nd minute.

Ceballos was replaced shortly before half-time after being fouled by Taher Mohamed, although it was seemingly unintentional when the Egyptian player stood on the Spain star's left ankle.

Asked about Egypt's approach, after they were shown four yellow cards, De la Fuente suggested they should have had more discouragement from such forceful tackling.

He said, quoted in Marca: "The other day we had a talk in which they explained to us how the VAR works and we hope that next time we will have better luck with the sanctions that take place in the field of play because today we have not had it.

"We had a meeting that explained the actions that could be punished with a red card. Today there were several of them and they were not punished as they told us."

Mingueza had a breakthrough season at Barcelona last term, playing 39 senior games after stepping up from the club's B team.

Ceballos has returned to Real Madrid ahead of the new LaLiga campaign after spending the past two campaigns on loan at Arsenal. He failed to score in 40 games for the Gunners last season and had just three assists.

The journey towards Tokyo 2020 has been a long and uncertain one.

Postponed by 12 months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the globe, it was by no means certain the Olympics would happen at all.

But here we are, just a day away from the opening ceremony as the last of the athletes, officials and world's media descend on the Japanese capital for a Games like no other.

Here, Stats Perform's reporter on the ground, Peter Hanson, documents his journey from Sheffield to Tokyo in a behind-the-curtain look at what it has taken to be part of the Olympics.

ONLINE SYSTEMS AND IMPORTANT ORGANISED FUN

For me and thousands of others, the trip to Tokyo technically started months in advance. To put it lightly, the organisers absolutely love an online system. 

There's a system for accommodation details, there's a system for arrivals and departures at the airport, there's a system for registering health information, there's a system for each media organisation to nominate a Covid Liaison Officer (CLO) – whose job it is to inform Tokyo 2020 of any positive COVID-19 tests within the team. Given I'm the only full-time Stats Perform member on the ground in Tokyo that responsibility fell to me and I am responsible for…well, me.

On top of that, there's an Activity Plan to fill out, send back and ultimately get approval for by the Japanese government. 

Admittedly, on the surface you may think this all sounds like a bit of "organised fun" but in truth it's an extremely important part of the process as it allows you to list all the venues you plan on visiting for the first 14 days of your stay in Tokyo. Getting this ratified is crucial because for those first two weeks you have to agree not to stray anywhere outside of those destinations or your hotel, while the use of public transport is not permitted.

A day before I travelled, I received a call from Tokyo 2020 to tell me my plan will be approved on the condition I agree to quarantine for three days at my hotel due to conditions on UK residents entering Japan amid a spike in coronavirus cases in Britain.

GO WITH THE (LATERAL) FLOW

With all of that (finally) taken care of, the path is fiddly yet relatively clear – but it's a path that involves testing, testing and testing again.

Indeed, against the wisdom of our parents who tell us from a very young age not to stick foreign objects in our orifices, I start the process of taking a lateral flow test every day a fortnight out from my flight to Tokyo.

As each day progresses, the results of these tests become more and more nervy as any positive case at that point would have almost certainly curtailed any hopes I had of covering the Games from Tokyo and ensured months of stress amounted to nought.

Then the really crucial tests come just days before departure. To enter Japan, a certificate of a negative test must be produced – one within 96 hours of take-off and one within 72.  

Helpfully, the British Olympics Association helped facilitate these tests via Randox, a private testing company, and both certificates arrived with ample time before my flight.

THE DAY OF…

So, with activity plans in place and tests conducted the real "fun" could begin…

My own personal journey on the day began with a 6am wake-up alarm in order to take one last lateral flow test, prior to a 10am train from Sheffield to London St Pancras. From there, it's another hour on the Piccadilly line getting from central London to Heathrow Airport.

At this stage it's time to let you into a little personal secret. I am one of "those" people. The kind of people who like to arrive around six weeks early at the airport to make sure I'm on time for my flight…

I was at the airport six hours before my flight, which meant I had two hours to kill before I could even check in my case and, understandably, a contingent from TeamGB has first dibs on processing their luggage to delay things a little longer.

The check-in process at this stage was relatively normal, bar having to show proof of the negative COVID certificate, and the journey through security was also straightforward.

By the time I was at the other side, there was still around three hours until departure leaving ample time for that age-old British tradition…a beer and burger at Wetherspoons.

APP WOE AND LENGHTY WAITS AT HANEDA

By now (partly due to my own being late to the airport anxiety) the journey to Tokyo had already lasted around nine hours…now there was just the little matter of a 12-and-a-half-hour flight to Haneda Airport to get through.

The flight itself was nothing out of the ordinary, save for a few bumpy moments of turbulence. It was your standard fill out the customs forms, eat the flight food (I'm one of those strange folk who actually quite enjoys the in-flight meals…) and watch the on-board entertainment. My choices were "Avengers: Endgame", "Joker" and couple of episodes of the Big Bang Theory…yes, I know, the last one is completely rubbish but I needed something to pass the time as any attempt at sleep was now futile!

So, the flight itself was pretty mundane but this was where the sleep-deprived hard work began.

As soon as everyone stepped off the plane, we were split into two lines. One for domestic arrivals, who sailed onto immigration with a breeze. The other, significantly longer, line was for media and other Games-related stakeholders.

This was the start of the more arduous part of the process. Remember earlier when I mentioned the love of systems? Well, one of them was to have downloaded and logged into a health app named OCHA designed specifically for the Games which I was supposed to have signed into using my accreditation details…the only problem for me is it wasn't working and hadn't been for weeks. Whenever I tried to log in, I was just get greeted by an error message and weeks of back-and-forth with the relevant helpline had not yielded success.

Now, having OCHA was supposed to be a prerequisite to get into the country but luckily there was a workaround whereby I could fill out an online health questionnaire and print off a written pledge. Sounds simple enough, but it turns out the issue of the app not working was not exactly rare…

At this stage, it's only fair to pay credit to the rushed staff at Haneda, going round taking accreditation numbers, liaising with Games officials and eventually helping the hordes of media and officials progress to the next part of the process after over a groggy two-hour wait.

VALIDATION AND LAMINATION

After that painstaking delay, the remainder of the airport process was lengthy but impressively smooth.

Firstly, there's the small case of another COVID test. I first of all registered and picked up the sample kits and proceeded to the next room, which looked a little like something out of a sci-fi movie and entered a private booth. The only difference here, at least for me was that, instead of using swabs like back in the UK, the method of choice is a saliva antigen test where you essentially spit into a tube until you have enough of a sample to be analysed. It's about as grim as it sounds.

Feeling slightly disgusting, my sample was dropped off and there was another lengthy walk through to the holding area where I waited for my test number to appear on a screen, almost like being at a deli counter in the supermarket.

After around an hour, I received a negative result and the finish line was almost in sight. But first, it was time to get my accreditation validated.

Again, the logistics of this process were pretty flawless – it takes a good five-to-10 minutes to reach the accreditation desk but the route is perfectly sign-posted and in no time at all I have my fancy laminated accreditation on a lanyard, which will be used to get into all venues for the Games.

At last, it was time to go through immigration, whereby I underwent the typical scrutiny you face when entering a country, and – much to my delight – despite a three-and-a-half-hour process, my luggage was still waiting on the carousel at the other side.

SHUTTLE BUSES AND FANCY TAXI DOORS

This is nothing against Haneda, or the awesome people organising this huge logistical task, but it was a real relief to be leaving the airport.

Feeling a little like a D-list Hollywood actor, when I arrived in the departures hall I was whisked off outside by more helpful staff towards a shuttle bus, which took me to a taxi pick-up point around 20 minutes away.

Here, each person was assigned to an individual vehicle. After several attempts to open the passenger door, a kind lady helpfully pointed out that they are automatic and will open when the driver enters the car…needless to say the sight of the door swinging open of its own accord blew my tiny South Yorkshire mind.

Another 20-minute journey followed until – at last – I arrived at my hotel, checked-in and settled down into my room…some 27 hours after leaving Sheffield.

France are expecting the United States to come out firing when the men's basketball competition at the Tokyo Olympics begins.

Team USA are favourites to win a fourth consecutive gold at the Games despite losing two exhibition games in a mixed build-up period to the tournament.

They open their Group A campaign against France in Saitama on Sunday.

France defeated the Americans in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals and head coach Vincent Collet expects that to be on the minds of their opponents.

He said: "We also know that they want to beat us because two years ago we did it in China - so we know what to expect."

Collet is aware that France's Olympics fate is unlikely to be determined by their group game with the USA, even if it is an occasion to savour.

Asked if it was an advantage to play USA first, he said: "I don't know. It's always a very tough game. It's a special game, but for us it’s just the beginning of the competition.

"I would hope that we play a good game but whatever happens we will need to beat the Czech Republic in the second one, which is probably even more important.

"The preparation has been up and down. We didn't have a couple of players until last week so it has hurt the preparation a little bit."

Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier are two of the five NBA players in the 12-man France roster.

Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green and Devin Booker are among the leading names playing for the USA.

The captain of the Germany women's hockey team has won the right to wear rainbow colours at the Tokyo Olympics "as a symbol of sexual diversity".

Nike Lorenz has worn rainbow armbands in other tournaments and will don the colours again when the team nicknamed Die Danas face Great Britain in their opening match on Sunday.

The 24-year-old had been waiting for confirmation of whether she would be allowed to make her statement at the Games, given the Olympic Charter states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

The German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) said in a statement: "The IOC has agreed to a joint request from DOSB and @DHB_hockey whereby Nike Lorenz, captain of @DieDanas, should be allowed to wear the rainbow colours in her team's matches at the Tokyo Olympics as a symbol of sexual diversity.

"Nike Lorenz has already been informed. She thanks DOSB and the Hockey Federation and will play for the opening game against Great Britain on Sunday with the rainbow colours on the socks."

Rainbow symbolism has been a feature of many sporting events, with stars taking the opportunity to encourage inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.

DOSB president Alfons Hormann said: "We are pleased that we have found a common way that enables the hockey team to make a socio-political statement."

Matthew Dellavedova is clear Australia have come to Tokyo with the objective of dethroning the United States and claiming the Olympic gold medal in basketball.

Winners of the last three golds, the USA are strong favourites to make it four in a row, though Australia and Spain are among the teams who should provide competition.

Team USA had a far-from-ideal Olympics preparation, losing to Australia in an exhibition game as well as suffering a defeat to Nigeria, while they have also lost some key players to withdrawals.

Kevin Durant said this week the main rivals of USA will go into the Games confident of producing an upset and that their star-studded roster has had "a slap in the face".

While Dellavedova is aware of the scale of the task to beat USA in competitive action, he is clear about the target Australia have set.

Australia lost to Spain in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals and also fell at the last-four stage at Rio 2016, so the former NBA champion wants to take the last steps to glory.

"The bar has been set since before Rio 2016 and the goal has not changed," former Cleveland Cavaliers man Dellavedova said.

"We know we have come up short in Rio and in China [at the World Cup] but the goal is the same.

"We want the gold medal, and we know how tough it is going to be.

"I thought we had a good week [of exhibition games] but you don't really know until you play anyone else. It's still early.

"There's a lot of things we've got to get better at, but incorporating the new guys in, it's been a lot of fun. They've fitted right in, brought a lot of energy and it's been good."

Head coach Nick Kay also goes into the Olympics full of ambition.

He said: "We're here to win. We want to win a gold. It's something that's been eluding us for a long time now and we want to do it, not just for our group but all the Boomers and Australian players that have been there before.

"We have got to stick together, that's our big thing right now. We have got to play hard each possession and do all those little things that make our Boomer culture special."

Nigeria, who also beat USA in a warm-up game, are Australia's first opponents on Sunday.

"I think they've shown a lot," Dellavedova said about Nigeria.

"They've got a lot of great players. Obviously they beat USA earlier in the week. Athletic, aggressive on defence, I think they made 20 or more threes against the US.

"They were really shooting the ball and moving it. It’s going to be tough, and we're going to have to be ready right from the start of the game."

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup is in jeopardy after Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament due to player welfare concerns amid rising coronavirus cases.

The two heavyweight nations of the game have cited a spike in COVID-19 infections in the UK and a "worsening environment" in Australia.

England and Samoa are due to kick off the tournament at St James' Park on October 23.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) have requested that the tournament be moved to 2022, although this is a course of action organisers may be loath to take given the prospects of a clash with the 2022 Cricket World Cup in Australia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

"The decision to withdraw from the RLWC2021 comes after considering the risk of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom, the worsening environment in Australia and the time a majority of NRL Premiership players will spend away from home under strict biosecurity conditions prior to the World Cup," a joint statement read.

"The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021."

The withdrawal comes despite the fact Australia's rugby union team are still slated to play England at Twickenham on November 13.

Tournament organisers issued a statement expressing frustration at the announcement.

"RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international rugby league," read the Rugby League World Cup statement. "RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward."

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said: "Not participating in this year's World Cup is not a decision the commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority.

"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.

"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do."

NZRL CEO Greg Peters added: "The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.

"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the COVID-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over."

Australia have won 11 of the 15 editions of the Rugby League World Cup, while New Zealand's 2008 triumph means there has not been a winner from outside Australasia since Great Britain in 1972.

Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi has been sacked after footage of him making light of the Holocaust emerged.

On the eve of the Games being formally opened in Japan's capital, the man behind the ceremony admitted he had made comments in 1998 that were "trying to get people's attention shallowly because I couldn't make people laugh as I expected".

Kobayashi was a comedian at the time and his comments came in a skit.

He said on Thursday, according to the Yomiuri newspaper: "I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it. I apologise to those who feel uncomfortable. I am sorry."

The International Olympic Committee confirmed his dismissal, stating: "Tokyo 2020 Olympic opening ceremony creative team member Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed from his post after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light. Following this, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee relieved Mr Kobayashi of his role as a member of the team.

"In the short time remaining before the opening ceremony, we offer our deepest apologies for any offence and anguish this matter may have caused to the many people involved in the Olympic Games, as well as to the citizens of Japan and the world."

The Nazi-led Holocaust saw around six million Jews murdered during the Second World War.

His dismissal raises questions about how the ceremony will now go ahead. It was already set to proceed in front of a near-empty stadium, with fans being barred from attending Olympic events in Tokyo due to COVID-19 concerns.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organising committee, told a news conference:  "How we're going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed."

Asked whether the resignation could overshadow the Olympics, Hashimoto said: "Because of COVID, society united. How are we going to bring solidarity to society? We have to review the message to deliver to the world.

"Yes, we are facing a lot of challenges right now. Maybe that's the reason why these negative incidents will impact the messages we want to deliver to the world. The value of Tokyo 2020 is still exciting and we want to send our messages to the world."

Speaking before the damaging footage emerged, IOC president Thomas Bach said the opening ceremony would be "a moment of joy and relief, joy in particular for the athletes".

He said the relief would come "because the road to this opening ceremony was not the easiest one".

Bach added: "There is a saying that if you feel this kind of relief, there are stones falling from your heart, so if you hear some stones falling then maybe they are coming from my heart."

Ash Barty and home favourite Naomi Osaka start their respective quests for Olympic gold against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Zheng Saisai, while Novak Djokovic opens against Hugo Dellien.

In a stacked women's draw, world number one and Wimbledon champion Barty has a tough opening assignment and could face French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 13th seed, as early as round three.

Spectators may not be in attendance at Tokyo venues for the Olympics but Japanese fans will be rooting for Osaka, who returns to action after a two-month hiatus with the four-time grand slam winner having spoken openly about mental health and anxiety issues.

Viktorija Golubic or Maria Camila Osorio Serrano would await Osaka if she can get through round one, but a dream final with Barty is no shoo-in given 15 of the world's top 20 on the WTA Tour are in action including each of the nine leading the race for the 2021 WTA Finals.

Aryna Sabalenka (3), Elina Svitolina (4), Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova (5), Iga Swiatek (6) and Garbine Muguruza are all featuring in Tokyo.

 

The men's side has been hit by a spate of withdrawals, with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem among those not playing in the Japanese capital.

The main talking point surrounds whether the all-conquering Djokovic can continue his march towards a calendar Golden Slam – a sweep of all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year.

Any notion of a free ride for the Serbian is wide of the mark, though. His side of the draw could see him come up against Andrey Rublev (5), Alexander Zverev (4) and Hubert Hurkacz (7), while Stefano Tsitsipas (3) – beaten by Djokovic in the French Open final – and Daniil Medvedev (2) are among the potential final opponents.

Andy Murray, gold medal winner in 2012 and 2016, faces Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in a tricky first-round match.

Wilmer Flores hit a dramatic go-ahead two-run home run to help the San Francisco Giants overcome the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in MLB on Wednesday.

Trailing 2-1 at the top of the ninth inning, Flores came up with a high and deep homer over left-field to lift the Giants to victory.

The tight comeback win keeps the Giants in sole possession of top spot in the National League West.

Earlier, Mike Yastrzemski and Chris Taylor traded home runs in the first inning.

Cody Bellinger put the Dodgers ahead in the fourth inning from AJ Pollock's drive down the line.

That set the scene for Flores, whose home run was the 100th of his career and crucial in the context of the Giants' season.

 

Another Yankees walk-off win

The New York Yankees enjoyed their seventh walk-off win of the season, getting past the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5 with Ryan LaMarre delivering in extras.

Jean Segura had homered for the Phillies with the first pitch of the game, while Gleyber Torres kept up his hot form with his third home run in his past four games for the Yankees.

Giancarlo Stanton rediscovered some of his own form with a key RBI, before Rougned Odor's seventh inning home run, only for the Phillies to send it to extras with three runs in the eighth.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr homered again, his 32nd of the season, but the Toronto Blue Jays lost 7-4 to division leaders the Boston Red Sox in the final game at Buffalo.

Boston's Rafael Devers homered for the 24th time this year, before JD Martinez delivered his 20th to seal the win for the Red Sox.

Randy Arozarena hit two home runs before Austin Meadows drove in the winning runs as the Tampa Bay Rays claimed a 5-4 walk-off win over the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Milwaukee's home woes

The Milwaukee Brewers suffered their fifth consecutive loss at home, going down 6-3 to the Kansas City Royals. While Milwaukee celebrates the Bucks, the National League Central leaders have seen their record slip to 56-41.

 

Dom's Mets grand slam

Dom Smith delivered a grand slam as the New York Mets won 7-0 over the Cincinnati Reds. With bases loaded in the third inning, Smith hit a 369-foot home run for his second career slam. On the mound, Marcus Stroman starred too, with eight shutout innings with seven strikeouts, allowing only one hit.

 

Wednesday's results

Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Baltimore Orioles
San Diego Padres 3-2 Atlanta Braves
New York Mets 7-0 Cincinnati Reds
Kansas City Royals 6-3 Milwaukee Brewers
Colorado Rockies 6-3 Seattle Mariners
Arizona Diamondbacks 6-4 Pittsburgh Pirates
Miami Marlins 3-1 Washington Nationals
New York Yankees 6-5 Philadelphia Phillies
Boston Red Sox 7-4 Toronto Blue Jays
Detroit Tigers 4-2 Texas Rangers
Cleveland Indians 5-4 Houston Astros
Minnesota Twins 7-2 Chicago White Sox
St Louis Cardinals 3-2 Chicago Cubs
San Francisco Giants 4-2 Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves (suspended)

 

Yankees at Red Sox

Thursday sees American League leaders Boston Red Sox (58-38) host the New York Yankees (50-44) who are also in the tight AL East division.

Novak Djokovic has leapt from one bubble into another as he attempts to become the first man in tennis history to win all four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.

The only men to have won each of the singles majors across their careers, plus Olympic gold, are Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, and now Djokovic aims to move to the brink of winning all five in his remarkable 2021 season.

Fresh from dominating at Wimbledon, and with the Australian and French Open titles already in the bag, Djokovic heads into the Tokyo Games as a red-hot favourite, seeking to set himself up to complete a historic campaign at the US Open.

Naomi Osaka will enter the Games with almost as much expectation behind her too, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion eyeing glory for hosts Japan.

But tennis has thrown up a host of shock results in its short Olympic history. Here, Stats Perform looks at the sport's place in the Games.

 

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT, AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all opted out of the Olympics.

Williams made her mind up prior to suffering a leg injury at Wimbledon, although she is already a member of the career Golden Slam club.

Federer reached his decision after revealing he also suffered a physical setback at the All England Club, and Nadal elected to take a two-month break after relinquishing his French Open title.

Don't expect to see them again at the Olympics, given Williams and Federer will be pushing 43 by Paris 2024, and Nadal will be 38. Federer won a doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, but his singles peak was the silver medal he earned in 2012, Andy Murray crushing Swiss hopes in the final at Wimbledon.

Dominic Thiem, Bianca Andreescu, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Denis Shapovalov are among other confirmed absentees, with fitness issues a factor for some, less so for others.

The COVID-19 crisis is a mitigating factor in why so many stars are staying away, and directly responsible in the case of some players, such as Britain's Johanna Konta and Dan Evans, who both tested positive recently.

But tennis was only fully restored to the Olympic programme in 1988, after being dropped post 1924, and if players are seen to be favouring the grand slams over the Games, that is not such a great look for the sport.

At a time when the International Olympic Committee has shown it is willing to shake up the sports on its programme, tennis could perhaps do with a headline-making Tokyo 2020.

Murray, the two-time defending men's champion, will target an improbable hat-trick. A hat-trick for the injury-hit former world number one would be a sensation, and Osaka landing gold in the women's tournament would surely be one of the great moments of the Games.

 

DJOKOVIC FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GRAF

When Steffi Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini in the women's singles final at Seoul, it completed what we know now as the calendar 'Golden Slam'. She had already won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and the feat of the then 19-year-old West German has yet to be repeated.

Now Djokovic is three-fifths of the way to a similar clean sweep of the majors and the Olympics, with the US Open getting under way on August 30 in New York.

He teetered on not going to Tokyo, and perhaps he is to some extent endangering his chances at Flushing Meadows by spending more time travelling and enduring bubble life, while others rest up.

But Djokovic is a fiercely proud Serbian and could not resist a great chance of winning gold for his country. He landed bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing but in 2012 he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match, and a cruel draw at Rio four years later saw him assigned Del Potro in the first round.

Top seed Djokovic bowed out in two tie-breaks to the powerful Argentinian, describing the outcome as "one of the toughest losses in my career".

There is no danger of a hat-trick of defeats to Del Potro, which may help Djokovic. Del Potro has been battling for two years to get back to fitness, undergoing four rounds of right knee surgery in a bid to get back on tour.

 

RAISING THE BAR AT THE OLYMPICS

How the Olympic village functions in Tokyo will be distinctly different to at previous Games, given the pandemic restrictions in place that could be a real buzzkill.

But in the past there have been countless cases of athletes becoming inspired by their surroundings and going on to perform above their usual level.

It can be a party village, and it can also be an eyebrow-raising experience as global superstars rub shoulders with competitors who might struggle for recognition in their home towns. More than anything, the shared team experience, fighting for a collective cause, can make a middling athlete believe they can be great.

Monica Puig was a massive tennis outsider in 2016 but the then world number 34 won the women's singles, stunning Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route. That gave Puerto Rico their first ever Olympic gold medal.

In 1992, a tournament that featured the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker finished with a staggering final match-up of Marc Rosset versus Jordi Arrese, who in his home city of Barcelona was edged out 8-6 in the fifth set by the Swiss world number 43. Nobody would have predicted that head to head for gold.

Similarly, at Athens 2004, Nicolas Massu beat Mardy Fish in the gold medal match of a tournament that featured Federer, Andy Roddick, Carlos Moya and Tim Henman.

In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Lindsay Davenport, who had just turned 20, took inspiration from being the daughter of an Olympian, with dad Wink having played volleyball for the United States at Mexico City in 1968.

Davenport was beginning to make an impact on the WTA Tour but was only the ninth seed at the Olympics, yet she swept through the rounds before sinking Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 7-6 (10-8) 6-2 in the final.

"It's like one of those things I look back on and I'm like, 'Was that me?'," Davenport told The Tennis Podcast last year.

"It doesn't seem like it was real. I'd made the transition to the pro tour pretty well, but I liked hanging out between eight and 16 in the rankings. I was very insecure, unsure of what could I do. I liked doing well but I wasn't sure I wanted to do too well because it seemed really overwhelming to be one of those top players.

"Here I go at 20 years old to Atlanta for two or three weeks, in a setting that seemed so comfortable. Look at all these athletes, you have all different shapes and sizes, you have players that are really working hard but have so much in common and you get to hang out with them, breakfast, lunch, dinner in the village."

Davenport was a future world number one and three-time grand slam singles champion, but at this point in her career being an American at an Olympics in the United States was just a thrill.

"You're sharing this with your team-mates who are some of my best friends in Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles. It was the best time ever," she said.

"By the time the tournament actually started we were like, 'Yeah, I'll go play my match and then we'll go back to the village and we'll hang out', and everything went so fast in those few weeks.

"And there I was left standing, winning at the end because I was so incredibly happy and excited with everything that was going on. I kind of forgot what was my job.

"When it became a reality of even just making the team in '96, it was so huge also for my family with having a second generation Olympian."

Roger Federer is in the draw for the US Open, but it remains unclear whether he will be fit to take part in the final grand slam of the year.

The United States Tennis Association confirmed on Wednesday that Federer was one of six former men's champions to receive direct entry into the draw.

Federer this month withdrew from the Olympic Games, citing a setback with his knee, on which he had two surgeries in 2020.

The Swiss, though, expressed his desire to return the tour, with Flushing Meadows providing his last chance to add to his tally of 20 major titles in 2021.

A five-time winner in New York, Federer has not reached the final at the US Open since 2015.

In the women's singles draw, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have each received direct entries into the draw.

Reigning champion Osaka missed Wimbledon having withdrawn from the French Open after the first round to protect her well-being amid a fallout following her decision to not attend post-match media conferences.

Williams is still awaiting a record-tying 24th grand slam title, the 39-year-old forced to retire from her first-round match at Wimbledon because of an injury to her right leg.

Mesut Ozil says he felt the pain suffered by Bukayo Saka after missing a penalty in England's Euro 2020 final defeat and has urged the youngster to stay strong following the racist backlash he received.

The versatile winger was one of three England players to miss in the shoot-out loss to Italy on July 11, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who were also racially abused on social media.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's save from Saka's spot-kick was the decisive moment in the match, which finished 1-1 after extra time, as England fell to a 3-2 defeat on penalties at Wembley.

Ozil, who played alongside Saka for two seasons at Arsenal before joining Fenerbahce in January, believes the 19-year-old deserves praise for stepping up and taking a penalty in such a pressurised environment. 

"I felt very much for Bukayo," he told Sky Sports News. "I know from my own experience how it feels to miss a penalty.

"In a final, as the last one, to take on the responsibility of an entire nation as a young player – respect. Not many players would dare to do that."

Speaking last week, Saka said he will not be broken by his Euro 2020 final penalty miss and the subsequent vile messages as he called on social media bosses to do more to tackle problem users.

But former Arsenal playmaker Ozil fears that such abuse will never be completely eradicated.

"There will always be people who racially abuse and scapegoat people of different backgrounds and skin colour when they lose," he said.

"Unfortunately there will always be a small part of our community that racially insults and threatens players. We should focus much more on the positive messages that keep players strong."

Saka has featured regularly for Arsenal over the past two seasons and was used four times for runners-up England at Euro 2020, starting three matches.

"Bukayo is a modest young player," Ozil added. "I have gotten to know him as a very determined young man who works very hard for his dream and does everything he can to achieve it.

"Bukayo is blessed with a talent that not many have. If he remains as humble and determined as he already is, I am a hundred per cent convinced that he has a great future ahead of him and can become a great player.

"He's really a great talent, and I'm sure that there are going to be many more big matches for the English national team for him in the future."

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