- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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Imagine the disappointment for the likes of Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils, who can't compete in the Olympics after suffering injuries. Nadal, the defending gold-medal winner, dropped out last week citing a lack of conditioning. He called it "one of the saddest days of his career."
And as Roger Federer recently said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be playing at Wimbledon at the Olympic Games."
But at least Rafa and Monfils were granted the right to compete in the event, which starts Saturday. Their fate was not dictated by anyone else. That, however, wasn't the case for others.
Alexandr Dolgopolov, the 17th-ranked player in the world, won't be making the voyage to London. It was a blow for the Ukrainian, but far from a sudden one. He hasn't competed in Davis Cup in five years and failed to fulfill the eligibility requirements for this Olympics.
The ITF instead handed an Olympic singles wild card to Dolgopolov's countryman, Sergiy Stakhovsky, whose ranking has plummeted to 94th.
"I didn't play Davis Cup, so I couldn't play at the Olympics," Dolgopolov said in a phone interview. "It's pretty bad, but that's how it goes. I take it how it is, and I hope I can play the next one."
Dolgopolov, he of the devilish slice and sneaky fast serve, didn't want to dwell on the reasons he hasn't represented Ukraine recently, only saying, "It's pretty much some conflicts with the federation" and that there were "a lot of issues." Those conflicts and issues led Dolgopolov to consider changing nationalities from Ukraine to Russia.
"We couldn't find a solution to the problems, so we just put it on standby and I couldn't play for the team at this moment," Dolgopolov said. "I really don't want to take that all up officially in the press. It's been a long time since we had a few problems so we couldn't find a way to agree. I hope it will get better in the upcoming years."
So does Ukraine's tennis federation.
But Vsevolod Kevlych, vice president of the federation, wasn't as tight-lipped as Dolgopolov. He said much of the issue revolved around money. Dolgopolov's demands were too steep, Kevlych said in an email, without mentioning figures.
"The Federation [has] no possibility to pay this contract," Kevlych said. "Even for the player of such level.
"We'd like to make a reasonable agreement," he added. "And we really want Alex to play for the national team. Of course, not for free. But on a reasonable [condition], probably better than all other Ukrainian top players have on the team. All of us are ready to hide [our] personal ego. And we are waiting for the same from the player."
With the London Games not possible, Dolgopolov is focusing on his U.S. Open preparations. He'll begin by playing at the Citi Open, formerly the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, in Washington, D.C., which runs simultaneously as the Olympics.
Dolgopolov professed he was pleased with his season despite a mediocre looking 18-15 record and reaching just two quarterfinals since January.
The numbers, however, don't tell the entire story.
Dolgopolov injured himself following the Australian summer, and a health condition called Gilbert's syndrome -- a liver disorder that can lead to fatigue, weakness and abdominal pain -- compromises his ability to train, not to mention perform in matches.
"I still have issues with my health sometimes," he said. "[You lose] a bit of time, which you can't really afford if you want to be high-ranked. So you have that and you have some small injuries, and two or three months of the year you're out of the game pretty much. It's a bit tough that way, but that's how it is. That's one of my problems and I have to deal with it."
Whereas his fellow pros spend hours on court during offseason training, Dolgopolov and his ultra-relaxed Aussie coach, Jack Reader, must tread lighter.
"We do different stuff and try to have the work done around all my unique style of play and health problems," Dolgopolov said. "We take everything together and work under those circumstances."
Dolgopolov laments how the game has slowed, although he insists his ranking can further rise. Not many would argue with the rap-loving, ponytailed Dolgopolov's bright future, given his weapons.
"Players are getting a lot of balls back," he said. "I need to just improve my game and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to stick with it."
But in the immediate future, without his presence at the Olympics, Dolgopolov, his many fans and Ukraine's tennis federation are all missing out.