Quadruple gold medalist Serena Williams indicated at Wimbledon on Sunday that she would not compete in the Tokyo Olympics next month.
“I’m actually not on the Olympic list,” she said. “If so, then I shouldn’t be on it.”
The decision was not unexpected. Williams had expressed his reluctance to play in Tokyo in part because of travel restrictions that could have prevented him from taking his daughter, Olympia, with her to the Games.
“I wouldn’t be able to go function without my 3-year-old,” Williams said earlier this season. “I think I would be depressed. We have been together every day of his life.
Olympic officials have not publicly clarified what exceptions could be made for athletes who wish to travel to Tokyo with their children. It was not clear on Sunday whether this was the deciding factor for Williams, 39, who is set to play at Wimbledon for the 20th time.
“There are many reasons why I made my Olympic decision,” she told a press conference. “I don’t want to go in today. Maybe another day. Sorry.”
Mary Joe Fernandez, Olympic gold medalist and former captain of the US women’s Olympic tennis team, said she thought Williams’ choice “made sense.”
“Having been with Serena both in London and again in Rio, I know how much the Olympics mean to her, I know how proud she is of her medals,” Fernandez said. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for her.”
Fernandez, an ESPN analyst, said she believed Williams’ priority was to win a 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.
“His goal right now is to try and win the majors,” Fernandez said. “It’s a tough summer if you go from here to Tokyo at the US Open. Maybe she’s trying to control herself.
Williams was one of tennis’ most successful Olympians, winning doubles gold with her sister Venus in 2000, 2008 and 2012. She also won the singles at the London 2012 Olympics, where the tennis event was held on the same grass courts as Wimbledon.
It’s unclear whether 41-year-old Venus Williams could be chosen to play doubles in Tokyo. Ranked 111th, she is far from the entry limit for singles.
Serena Williams’ London singles victory was perhaps the most dominant performance of her career. She didn’t come close to losing a set in six matches and crushed four players who had been ranked No.1: Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and, in the final, Maria Sharapova.
“The last two games she’s played near perfect tennis between serve and groundstrokes and comebacks,” Fernandez said. “Serena barely lost games. It was just that laser focus and one of the best tennis she’s ever played.
Williams, who missed the 2004 Olympics with injury, was asked on Sunday if it would be difficult for him to miss the Games.
“In the past it was a wonderful place for me,” she said. “I really didn’t think about it, so I’m going to continue not to think about it.”
The top four Americans in the singles standings are eligible to compete in Tokyo. Sofia Kenin, Jennifer Brady and Coco Gauff, 17, have all confirmed their intention to participate, although Kenin has struggled this season and Brady is out of Wimbledon with plantar fasciitis. Williams’ decision opens a window for Jessica Pegula with the USA squad which is expected to be announced by July 5.
Most of the top female tennis players are expected to compete in the Olympics, including top Ashleigh Barty and runner-up Naomi Osaka. Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian star who is also a mother of a young child, has indicated that she will play in singles and doubles (with Aryna Sabalenka) in Tokyo.
But Williams isn’t the only one choosing to skip the Games. Rafael Nadal, double gold medalist, will not participate. As well as five other top 20 male players: Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut, Denis Shapovalov, Casper Ruud and Cristian Garín. Roger Federer, ranked eighth at 39, said on Saturday he would decide the Olympics after Wimbledon.
Reilly Opelka and John Isner, the two top-ranked US players in men’s singles, will also jump Tokyo. Isner is 36 and reached the singles quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics. Opelka is 23 and would have been a first Olympian. The two have chosen to focus on the summer hard court season in North America, including the US Open, which kicks off August 30 in New York City.
“For me, the Olympics were the highlight of my career,” Fernandez said. “So I can’t imagine being eligible and not going, especially if you’ve never been before. So I guess the majority will sign up, but it’s a tough year. With Covid and all, it’s not ideal, to say the least. “