He’s playing in all the grand slams as well as the Davis Cup, but Australia’s highest ranked tennis player Alex de Minaur says the Paris 2024 Olympics are his priority this year.
That same attitude is echoed by the top players at the Australian Open in Melbourne, including a clutch of de Minaur’s countrymen who are vying to fill the four singles spots available for Paris.
With a current world ranking of No.10 de Minaur is on course to qualify for Paris following his disappointment at missing the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive to Covid.
“I was shattered,” says de Minaur, whose childhood dream was to represent Australia at the Olympics.
“It (the Games) was a priority back then, and it will be a priority this year again. It’s another chance for me to represent the green and gold and hopefully become an Olympian.”
The next highest ranked Australian man is Alexei Popyrin, the world No. 43, and he is just as passionate about Paris.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to qualify for the Olympics. It’s probably the biggest goal this year for me,” Popyrin said.
“It’s an event that I think is the most prestigious in the world. For me to be able to represent my country in the Olympics is a dream come true. I never thought growing up that I would be able to do that. If I’m able to do that this year, then I’ll be really, really happy, and my family will be really happy too.”
Selection for the 2024 Olympics singles is limited to four players per country, but they must be ranked inside the world’s top 56 by the end of the French Open in early June.
Popyrin will be fighting five fellow Australians to get to Paris, including Max Purcell (world No.45), Jordan Thompson (47), Aleksander Vukic (64), Chris O’Connell (68), Ricky Hijikata (71) and Thanasi Kokkinakis (80).
Popyrin, Thompson, Purcell, Kokkinakis and O’Connell all lost to seeds in the second round at the Australian Open. Popyrin went down fighting against world No.1 Novak Djokovic while Thompson, who beat Rafa Nadal at the Brisbane International, lost to seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. O’Connell was sent home by 16th seed Ben Shelton, Purcell lost to 11th seeded Norwegian Casper Ruud and Kokkinakis went down to 13th seed Grigor Dimitrov.
Vukic and Hijikata lost their first round matches at Melbourne Park while Kokkinakis is still hoping to join de Minaur in the third round.
After departing Melbourne they will all be chasing wins and ranking points to ensure they are placed in the top 56 players by the deadline of June 10.
There is also the possibility of playing doubles at the Olympics, which features up to two teams of two players from the same country based on rankings.
And there is also a mixed doubles team which will feature Australia’s world No.1 women’s doubles player Storm Hunter.
No other Australian women are ranked high enough to qualify for the Olympic singles but Hunter will have a good chance at medals in the women’s and mixed doubles and is just as motivated as the men.
“For me the Olympics is a priority,” Hunter said. “I would love to medal at the Olympics. Obviously winning gold would be incredible but any medal would be amazing. For me an Olympic medal is higher (than a grand slam title).”
Australia has not won an Olympic medal in tennis for two decades since Alicia Molik took bronze in the women’s singles at the Athens 2004 Games.
Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge won gold in the men’s doubles at the Atlanta 1996 Games and added a silver medal at Sydney 2000.
Australia has won three other doubles bronze medals: Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull at the Seoul 1988 Games; Rachel McQuillan and Nicole Bradtke (then Provis) in Barcelona 1992; and
Edwin Flack (a two-time gold medallist in the 800m and 1500m) who teamed with Englishman George Robertson at the first modern Olympic in Athens 1896.
Certainly De Minaur is very keen to play doubles in Paris, and possibly also mixed doubles.
“I would love to play doubles,” he said. “I would love to play any and as many events as possible (in Paris). I’ll do my best to play a lot of doubles leading in, and hopefully I get someone that wants to play with me.”
Michael Osborne has been a journalist for more than four decades including 35 years with the national news agency Australian Associated Press, rising from junior reporter to Editor.
He was AAP Editor for 11 years and served four years as Head of Sport and Racing. He was also posted to London and Beijing as AAP’s Bureau Chief and Foreign Correspondent.