While India remains cautiously optimistic about their Olympics entries in both, singles and doubles, the quest for Grand Slam glory clashing with the Olympics gold is simply an unrealistic scenario for a few of tennis’ biggest stars as the sport goes through a moment of attrition.

Despite winning his first doubles Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open and becoming the oldest Grand Slam champion at 43 years of age, even Rohan Bopanna’s ambitions for a gold medal at the Paris Olympics 2024 will be quickly tempered by the fact that he will not playing with the partner with whom he has won the first Grand Slam of the year.

Yet, with Sriram Balaji, whom he picked as his doubles partner to represent India, and with Sumit Nagal also featuring in his second Olympics in the men’s singles event, India would still want to unfurl their flag in Paris as having made their mark at the very least.

That said, national fervour seems not everyone’s cup of tea, not at the cost of the demands that the sport seems to be claiming. The fact that the men’s tennis alone has had two No.1’s in recent times, which includes two players below twenty-five years in Italy’s Jannik Sinner, the current No.1, and Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, who have already had their share of career afflicting injuries – hip and elbow respectively – to go with their Grand Slam successes must speak somewhat to what the high stakes are that call for huge bouts of physical commitment and mental endurance.

Some would say, it is what separates the challengers and the champions. Ask Novak Djokovic who at age 37 came back from undergoing surgery from a medial meniscus tear in his knee that halted his progress to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, whether he would want to go for that elusive gold at the Olympics or a potential eighth Wimbledon title.

One would say that having had seven of those grass court grand slam trophies in his cupboard, it would make the ageing veteran of the sport throw everything including his hat and the kitchen sink at the ring (or shall we say, rings) to add to his bronze medal which left him hardly enthused looking back on his Olympics participation in the past.

However, the Serbian insists he wants both and unlike some of the others, is competing to win, whether it is the gold medal or the Grand Slam trophy. Is that hunger, unrelenting ambition, insatiable passion for the sport or sheer madness?

Alexander Zverev, the Olympics men’s singles gold medal winner at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, called Alcaraz “a beast” for the manner in which the young Spaniard came back from two sets down to upstage the German, still looking for his first Grand Slam in professional tennis.

However, while Zverev considered himself an equally strong opponent as Alcaraz and it is true he has had the better of him in the past which in itself should have kept his cool. But, even the talented underachiever will have to question the mentally fragility of what seemed like a solitary moment when after winning five games in a row to keep himself alive in the third set and wrest it out of Alcaraz’ pugnacious hands, he lost his composure after losing two points at the start of the fourth set, which felt like a slippery road thereafter, Alcaraz simply using the slipstream to navigate past what could have well been questions asked of him.

That Zverev lost his third significant match in Grand Slams in a three setter will plague him, as it did when he lost the 2020 US Open final two points away from victory and lost to Medvedev at the Australian Open earlier this year despite being two sets up.

The rigours and demands of the sport would also question why the likes of the highly rated Medvedev has not been able to quite recapture his Grand Slam success or why Andrey Rublev, as genial and generous a player as ever off the court, is incredibly and almost unbearably self-destructive to himself on it, when at times, it seems it is only a point lost that could be easily regained given his repertoire and big hitting.

Is this the pressure of the “skipped generation” as it were that they feel the pressure every time they step on court? Do injuries not plague the younger players enough to deter them from reaching for the top spot on the podium and injuries only fuel the older generation to keep the flame burning? Is the Olympics then a bridge for those missed ambitions realised?

Some, on the women’s side especially, are making hard choices. While Ben Shelton seems the one player on the men’s side who has pulled out of participating in the Olympics following the Wimbledon and before the hard courts of the US Open, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur made the significant point that most players are wrangling with at the moment, even if they have chosen to go ahead with the challenges ahead of them.

On her social media site, Jabeur, the current world no.10 stated her reasons for pulling out of the Olympics, “After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Pas, we have decided that the quick change of surface (from clay to grass) and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardise the rest of my season. Unfortunately I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition. However, I must listen to my body…”

Listening to her body and also, perhaps her mind after a turbulent few months, Aryna Sabalenka, runners up at last year’s US Open has also decided she will be skipping the Olympics after a reported stomach bug did not allow her to compete at full strength against Mirra Andreeva in the quarter finals of Roland Garros. One of the strongest players on court, she leaves the door open for the likes of Iga Switek who calls Roland Garros not surprisingly after four titles here.

However, not everyone is viewing the return to red clay from grass as a disadvantage. If anything, India’s Sumit Nagal, who for a second time finds himself in the main draw of the Olympics after Tokyo, couldn’t be more pleased given that the player, originally from Haryana, loves the clay.

His rise to no.73 in the world rankings has not hurt his opportunities and although he lost to Karen Kachanov in the first round at the French Open, he will take heart not only from the fact that he made it to the second round of the Australian Open after being Alexander Bublik but also, that this came after a return to full fitness when injuries saw him tumble down his career rankings to as low as 503 the previous year.

So, while Sumit flies a cautious flag, even the hugely ambitious Bopanna will temper ambitions. While he is without his regular partner, he made what perhaps might be an unconventional choice in picking N. Sriram Balaji over Yuki Bhambri who is the higher ranked player when he decided to pull Balaji to be his wingman.

Bopanna knows even competing in a couple of warm up/turning tournaments before the Olympics will hardly be the ideal preparation. Yet, there were times it was felt that Bopanna was essentially carrying Matthew Ebden through the French Open, shortening points and using his big serve when his Australian counterpart was struggling to throw down the knockout punch.

The biggest factor going for the doubles team and for India is the fact that the 34 year old Balaji not only went three rounds at the French Open in his own doubles quest but also, had a chance to clash swords, as it were, with his future Olympics partner – although it was not only speculative and not confirmed at the time – which would have put him in a much better chance to be trusted by his partner.

Trust would become a buzz word in the game because they are not to be the only unlikely pairing at the Olympics. With national fervour dictating the pairings, there is a buzz of excitement of Alcaraz teaming up with his childhood icon and hero, Nadal.

Nadal was not at full tilt and still found he could engage the audience and put his opponent under pressure on red clay, which is what he did to Zverev in their first round match at Roland Garros’ hallowed turf. The 14-time winner, having already tasted gold at the Olympics, couldn’t have picked a better venue, even skipping Wimbledon to ensure he was going to pursue the love he was feeling again, enough to even postpone the farewell event in anticipation of his retirement.

The red clay is calling. Some names have checked out. But others are pulling for that rare hurrah, injuries, age and career stumbles notwithstanding.