Withdrawals open Olympic door for Americans Kudla, Baker

WASHINGTON — Forty-one sports will make up the itinerary at next month’s Summer Olympics, but Sam Querrey doesn’t think that tennis should be among them.

“I think for tennis and golf, the Olympics isn’t a top priority,” Querrey said this week at D.C.’s Citi Open.

“We have four other Grand Slams. I think those kind of take the lead. Those are the main focus for us. Tennis in the Olympics is cool. I don’t necessarily think it maybe should be an Olympic sport.”

Querrey represented the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing but fell in the first round in both singles and doubles. Apparently the event didn’t sell him on a return.

“I’m kind of over it now,” he said.

Rather than interrupt his summer schedule with a trip to Brazil — where prize money and ATP rankings points will not be awarded — Querrey, 28, will instead spend the first two weeks of August representing the Washington Kastles in World Team Tennis and competing in an ATP tournament in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Querrey isn’t the only high profile tennis player who will skip the Olympics with concerns over the Zika virus. Other recent withdrawals include World No. 7 Milos Raonic (Canada) and No. 8 Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic).

“It was my personal decision,” Berdych said Tuesday during an appearance at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.

“There have been many thoughts about it. I hope people are accepting of my decision, which is based on the facts around. You can’t make everyone satisfied. For me it was a difficult decision. Since I was a kid I have loved to play for my country.”

Top-ranked American John Isner also can’t be bothered with the Olympics. Isner, 31, will instead compete at the BB & T Open in Atlanta Aug. 1-7, where he is a three-time defending champion. The winner of this year’s tournament receives $95,845 and 250 rankings points.

“For me it was a scheduling thing,” Isner said, “and not having points [at stake] was probably the main factor for me. It wasn’t Zika for me at all.”

Americans Stevie Johnson (No. 25) and Jack Sock (No. 26) are heading to Rio, but without Isner and Querrey, the door has opened for Arlington, Virginia, native Denis Kudla (No. 100) and an extreme long shot in Brian Baker (No. 437).

Kudla, 23, will represent the U.S. in international competition for the first time as a pro. Baker, 31, missed nearly three years of competition from 2013-2016 because of injuries and was only eligible for Rio thanks to his “protected ranking” which factors in time lost on tour due to injury.

While top players with prior international or Olympic experience can afford to skip the Olympics, this is a potentially once in a lifetime experience for Kudla and Baker.

“For me, it’s going to take a lot more than [the Zika virus] to not go to the Olympics,” said Kudla, who trained at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, before turning pro in 2010.

Kudla reached a career-high ranking of 53rd in the world earlier this year, but lost valuable rankings points after a first-round exit at Wimbledon earlier this month. With an 8-15 record this season, a win or two at the Olympics could serve Kudla well as he looks to regain confidence ahead of the U.S. Open.

“Right now it’s kind of going in the wrong direction,” Kudla said after his first-round exit in D.C.

Baker’s invite to the Olympics has the aura of a feel-good story as the veteran is competing again in 2016, despite undergoing 11 surgeries in the last seven years.

“I probably have a little bit better perspective of the game just having had to deal with all of the adversity,” said Baker.

“Even though it’s not a traditional Olympic sport, I think anytime you can represent your country it’s a really cool thing,” Baker said. “I [knew] that if I ever got selected for Davis Cup or I was ever able to play Olympics, I would jump at the opportunity.”

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