PRAGUE: Czech tennis stars, world number eight Tomas Berdych and 16th-ranked Karolina Pliskova, on Saturday joined the growing band of players pulling out of the Olympics due to concerns over the Zika virus.
Their decision came just a day after top 10 stars Milos Raonic and Simona Halep also withdrew over similar health fears.
“I am very sorry to announce that I will not take part in this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” Berdych, the 30-year-old Wimbledon semi-finalist, said on Twitter. “It is because of the Zika virus spread in the country of the Olympics. As I have founded a family recently, to limit health risks towards my nearest is the utmost priority.”
Berdych, who married model Ester Satorova last year, had also pulled out of the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup tie with France, in which the Czechs are trailing 2-1 after Saturday’s rubbers.
The 24-year-old Pliskova told the Czech News Agency she was pulling out for the same reason as Berdych.
“I share the concerns about the possible effects of catching the Zika virus,” she said.
Their decision will not please Radek Stepanek, who was due to form a doubles pair with time-tested Davis Cup teammate Berdych in Rio, and Lucie Safarova, snubbed by Pliskova, who may however team up with Barbora Strycova for doubles.
Berdych and Pliskova follow a host of other tennis stars who are skipping Rio over the Zika scare.
On Friday, Wimbledon runner-up and world number seven Raonic, as well as Romania’s world number five Halep, the 2014 French Open runner-up, said they would not make the trip to Rio.
Canadian star Raonic, who was defeated by Andy Murray in Sunday’s Wimbledon final, said he had taken the decision “with a heavy heart.”
John Isner of the United States, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, Australian duo Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios as well as Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez have all opted, for various reasons, not to take part in the Olympics.
Italy’s former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone has turned down the opportunity while former world number ones Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka will also be missing.
Sharapova is serving a doping suspension while Azarenka announced Friday that she is pregnant and won’t compete again in 2016.
Eccentric Latvian player Ernests Gulbis described the Rio event as “tennis tourism” as the Olympics do not offer either prize money or ranking points.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) moved on Saturday to reassure players and fans over the threat posed by Zika at the Olympics which start on Aug. 5.
“While we understand and respect the concerns over the Zika virus, the IOC has assured us that all precautions will be taken to limit the risk to athletes, officials and fans,” ITF president David Haggerty told Agence France-Presse in a statement. “We also accept the view of the World Health Organisation that there is no reason at this time to postpone or cancel the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”
Fears over Zika have already seen the image of the golf event in Rio badly tarnished with the sport’s top four players — Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson — all choosing not to play. AFP