OLYMPIC GAMES | TENNIS
The 1987 Wimbledon champion thinks the Olympic tennis tournament is more equaled
Ashleigh Barty is coming hot after her recent Wimbledon triumph, but the tennis competitions at the Games always brings surprises, claims Pat Cash.
Wimbledon champion Ash Barty has "a great chance" of securing Olympic glory for Australia in Tokyo.
That is the view of former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, though he warned there is plenty of scope for upsets in both the men's and women's singles.
Monica Puig claimed a surprise victory at Rio 2016 - then ranked 34th, she stunned Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route to give Puerto Rico their first-ever gold medal.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are two greats on the men's side who have not tasted Olympic glory, something the Serbian will look to put right this year as he pursues a Golden Slam.
Cash, though, would not be surprised to see the Olympics throw up another surprise result, even though he hopes to see compatriot Barty come out on top in the women's tournament.
He told Stats Perform: "The women's draw is very, very even. If you don't play well in one of those matches, you're out.
"There's no such thing as an easy first round really in a tournament such as the Olympics, particularly the men’s side where it's best of three sets. So if you slip up, you're gone.
"There's no chance of coming back from two sets to one down, because it's over. So that's trickier for somebody like Djokovic who can typically run people into the ground.
"Ash has got a great chance of winning the Olympics, but I think probably there's 30 girls who think they can do that as well and they're probably right.
"We've seen some unusual results in the Olympics and shorter form tournaments like that, also on the men's side.
"It's very hard to say, but obviously, [Barty] is in great form and full of confidence - that goes a long way to winning a gold medal."
There have been a host of high-profile withdrawals from the tennis in Tokyo.
Rafael Nadal, Federer, Dominic Thiem, Matteo Berrettini, Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin, Simona Halep and Coco Gauff among a large list of top players who will be missing.
Some absences were unavoidable due to injuries or positive coronavirus cases but some players have opted to rest amid a hectic calendar, avoiding Japan's strict COVID-19 rules in the process.
Cash has mixed views on the subject but does feel playing at the Olympics should be seen as a rare and valuable opportunity.
"I think I think they would [look back fondly at winning a medal]," said Cash.
"It’s certainly one of the regrets in my career that I didn't play the Olympics [in 1988]. I had a niggling injury and decided to rest.
"Looking back, I thought I could have won a medal, maybe even a gold medal. I would have probably given it a really good shot.
"In my era it wasn't the pinnacle. I think Novak Djokovic has talked about that now, he said, ‘The main thing for me is winning slams, they're the pinnacle of our game’.
"But to win a gold medal, it's pretty cool. You'll find that the players who do win a gold medal, if you tell the grandkids, 'I won a Wimbledon trophy' or 'I won a gold medal', they’ll go, 'Oh, where’s the gold medal?'
"Having said that, there's a lot of players who aren't playing the Olympics this year. Certainly for a few years, it was a novelty - I'm not sure if it's wearing off or not.
"But to perform for your country, I think is an honour and we haven't had the opportunity to do that much in the last couple of years.
"With the Davis Cup, the men's competition is really just a fading, unfortunately, dying competition, which not many people really care about any more.
"That's very, very sad, so the Olympics is often the best opportunity to represent your country."
Cash delved deeper into the dilemma players are likely to have faced.
"I wouldn't put any criticism on anybody for the personal choice after these last 18 months," he said. "It's their choice, everybody's got a different journey in this and it's part of their careers.
"With COVID and all that sort of stuff that's going on - the bubbles - some of the stresses are unknown like being away from family and friends for months on end and not actually have any break.
"Everybody's got their own different stories, some of them are injured, some were coming back from injury, some think 'I'm not going to make a trip to Japan' - with all the restrictions it's not going be fun.
"It's not going to be a fun Games where you can go there and watch the other athletes. In Los Angeles [the 1984 Games] the highlight was actually to go and watch the track events, which I did.
"That's not going to happen, you're in a hotel, you're in the village or, you're gonna go straight to the tennis and back only to a certain area of the village, I think it's going to be locked down for tennis players only.
"You may not be able to mingle with the other athletes. So I think a lot of the fun has been taken out of this.
"But again, it's representing your country and trying to get trying to get a gold medal. So some players will go to great lengths to do that."