WASHINGTON: Tomas Berdych would rather skip the Rio Olympics than take even the slightest chance of contracting the Zika virus and potentially pass along birth defects to the children he wants.
The 30-year-old Czech tennis star, who celebrated his first anniversary with wife Ester last week, said Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) that while he might enjoy a few more years on tour, his family will be the major focus well beyond that.
“The rest of my life will be 60 years maybe. If something happens, it’s the rest of your life with it. For one week, one tournament, you might have a sad life,” said Berdych.
“That’s why, even if the risks are probably small, I need to make sure. Just because of one week, to make more troubles, no.”
The mosquito-spread Zika virus causes severe illness and has been linked to birth defects, causing many sports stars to withdraw from the Rio Games, where Zika-carrying mosquitos are known to exist.
“It was my personal decision,” Berdych said. “There have been many thoughts about it. I hope people are accepting of my decision, which is based on the facts around.”
World number eight Berdych joined Canada’s seventh-ranked Milos Raonic and world number nine Dominic Thiem of Austria as the highest-ranked men to skip Rio tennis.
Berdych announced his choice last weekend just after withdrawing from the ATP and WTA Washington Open, where he was set to be the top men’s seed but backed out with fatigue.
“It would be unfair to come not being in the right shape,” he said. “I could not show my best so that was my decision.”
Berdych, who lost his only Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 2010, reached the Wimbledon semi-finals earlier this month, losing to eventual champion Andy Murray, and fell to Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarters.
Berdych has faced some critics who say he should have dropped out of Rio earlier or questioned his loyalty to a nation for which he won Davis Cup crowns in 2012 and 2013 and played in the past three Olympics, his deepest run to the 2004 quarter-finals.
“You can’t make everyone satisfied,” he said. “For me it was a difficult decision. Since I was a kid I have loved to play for my country. I’m not a 20-year-old anymore.”
But he’s not dismissing his chances to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at age 34.
“With the trend of my tennis the way it’s going, I think it’s possible,” he said. “I’m trying to do right by my body and make good decisions.”
Berdych lost in his only Grand Slam final appearance, falling to top-ranked Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2010. He briefly reached a career-high fourth in the rankings last year but has mostly been chasing the “Big Four” of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I’ve been trying for 13 or 14 years now. Actually I made it a couple weeks to be number four,” Berdych said.
“It’s tough in this era. It’s great for our sport. It makes all of us better players trying to beat all these top guys. It pushes our goals and abilities higher.
“I think I’m quite lucky. No regrets.”