The Olympic Games in Rio are finally underway and the beautiful tennis facility to be named the Maria Bueno Tennis Centre in honour of the player from the 1960s, which is highlighted by the centre court for 10,600 is regarded as one of the best complexes in the Olympic Park. But before competition got underway, the Opening Ceremony was the talking point.
It was a wonderful evening with so many goose bump moments shared by 80,000 close friends. The experience was certainly one to remember but still, on a comparative basis, the Opening Ceremony in Beijing eight years ago remains, in my opinion, the most glorious such event.
Beijing was breathtaking and mesmerising, it was awe-inspiring and enthralling. You did not know where to look. It was entertainment to the highest degree, and when the gold medal winning Li Ning “danced” around the top of the Bird’s Nest stadium to light the cauldron, it was gripping.
Here in Rio the colour was spectacular and the carnival theme with the fabulous sounds of the samba beat had the place alive and on its feet. The late Peter Allan’s song “I Go to Rio” or Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” would have had the place dancing even more but when the music started for “The Girl from Ipanema” and the stunning supermodel Gisele Bunchen strode across the field of play, dress blowing with every step, the stadium erupted with a deafening roar.
There was a theme to the ceremony and it was “sustainability” as each athlete who walked was given a seed to plant with the hope that 11,000 trees would develop.
The time had come for the parade of athletes and what a time it was as four nations had tennis players be their flag bearers - Luxembourg with Gilles Muller, Denmark with Caroline Wozniacki, Great Britain with defending gold medallist Andy Murray and Spain with Rafa Nadal. Hairs were standing up on arms and such pride was bestowed on the tennis family.
The roar for Nadal as he led Spain into the arena was beyond belief. As I write this and remember that moment I feel the chills of excitement all over again. Oh my gosh; what a moment and one that never had the smile leave Nadal’s face.
And then to see so many other tennis players walking out with their fellow athletes from a plethora of sports and disciplines made one’s heart swell with emotion and gratitude to be part of world tennis – from Pierre Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut to Leander Paes at his seventh Olympics to ten of the eleven players in the USA team including Serena Williams (Venus was the exception as she played the next day), it was incredibly special.
To all those tennis players who elected for one reason or another to miss the Games, it was a missed opportunity and a moment in time that will never be realised. Roger Federer who was upset that injury kept him away Tweeted while watching on TV, “I wish I was there”.
To all those who have criticised tennis being in the Olympics and who had been happily negative leading up to Rio, this was a kick in their teeth and showed they have little understanding of what it means to tennis players to be part of the Games.
Throughout the event fireworks displays had the crowd in raptures but then when the time came for the cauldron to be lit and Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten began the relay into the stadium, hearts filled and emotions were gripped. The legendary tennis player beamed but you could also see some tears of joy. It was special. The flame was lit and it rose to the heavens to meet the rest of the cauldron producing the most stunning structure that could only be described as art that represented life. Looking down from the top of the Corcovado was Christ the Reedemer.
With that, the top of the stadium exploded into more fireworks that turned the night sky into day.
Let the Games begin!