With Roger Federer’s triumph and Andy Murray’s tears still fresh in the memory, tennis returns to the hallowed turf of Wimbledon for a second time this summer with the Olympic tournament. Holding the event at the epicentre of world tennis has added extra prestige to the already much sought after gold medal.
Tennis is set to move beyond its Olympic adolescence, having been re-introduced as a medal sport in 1988 after a 64-year hiatus. Over the six modern day tournaments the gold medal winners have included multiple slam winners and world number ones Rafael Nadal (2008), Andre Agassi (1996) and Yevgeny Kafelnikov (2000) as well as outsiders Marc Rosset (1992) and Nicolás Massú (2004). Miloslav Mečíř won gold in 1988 and his record bears some resemblance to Andy Murray’s; the Slovak was runner up in two slam finals (both times thwarted by Murray’s now coach Ivan Llendl).
While the Olympics is being held at SW19 there are significant differences to the regular tournament. For starters the players have the luxury of wearing non-white clothing, if they choose, and are actively encouraged to don the colours of their country. Matches will be played as best-of-three sets, although fans of the epic will be pleased to hear the final will be best-of-five. The draw is half the size of Wimbledon, with 64 players in all, and the gold medal winner will receive 750 ranking points rather than the 2000 points that propelled Roger Federer back to number one less than a month ago. Losing semi-finalists do not head home; they will contest a second final for the bronze medal.
One lamentable point of difference is that defending Olympic champion Rafael Nadal will not be appearing due to a knee injury. The main beneficiaries of the Spaniard’s absence are his compatriot David Ferrer, who moves up to the fourth seed position, and Juan Martin del Potro, who becomes the number eight seed.
So how did the draw pan out for the contenders and hopefuls?
One of the few things that Roger Federer lacks in his trophy cabinet is a Olympic singles medal of any colour (he won gold with Stanislaw Wawrinka in the doubles at the Beijing games). Given the tournament is being held at SW19, the Swiss legend will thinking only of gold this time around but the best-of-three format means the top players are more vulnerable to a smash-and-grab by a lower ranked opponent than at a grand slam event. First up for Federer is Alejandro Falla, who actually took the first two sets when they met in the Wimbledon first round in 2010. Federer came back that day but will need to be quicker out of the blocks this time. Julien Benneteau, who came within two points of defeating Federer in the third round at this year’s Wimbldeon, is a potential second round opponent. Overall the draw looks favourable for Federer with Janko Tipsarevic seeded to meet him in the quarter finals and then David Ferrer in the semis. Additional danger in this quarter comes from big servers John Isner and Ivo Karlovic plus Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Janko Tipsarevic vs. David Nalbandian (Round one)
The two squared off in the Wimbledon first round last month, can Nalbandian do better this time?
David Ferrrer opens against Vasek Pospisil and then may well face Wimbledon quarter finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber, who displayed fine form on grass last month. Juan Martin del Potro is the heavyweight scheduled for the quarter finals having last met Ferrer in the fourth round of Wimbledon last month. With perhaps his finest performance on grass to date, Ferrer knocked the Argentine out in straight sets. That display, along with his strong showing against Murray in the quarter finals will have given the Spanish grinder greater belief in his ability to thrive at SW19. Up and coming Grigor Dmitrov has shown flashes of aptitude on grass and has proved a minor crowd favourite at SW19. The three set format could help the Bulgarian put a run together if he can get past Lukasz Kubot in the first round.
Talent vs. toil?
Bernard Tomic vs. Kei Nishikori (Round one)
After suffering defeat in the first round of Wimbledon, Tomic admitted he was slacking in training which should make for a contrast with the super fit and motivated Nishikori.
Andy Murray comes into the Olympics with mixed emotions after reaching the Wimbledon final for the first time only to see his slam ambitions dashed by Federer once more. While the return to Wimbledon offers a chance for almost instant redemption, the Scot’s opening match against Stanislaw Wawrinka could prove challenging. The difference in ranking between the players is belied by the narrow 6-4 head-to-head in Murray’s favour and the Swiss number two has cause for optimism. Murray won the only previous meeting between the pair on grass; a five set thriller at Wimbledon in 2009. Other familiar potential opponents for Murray in this quarter include Richard Gasquet and Marcos Baghdatis, while 11th seed Nicolas Almagro is also in the section. Murray will face Tomas Berdych in the quarter finals if both play to seeding, the Czech was upset in the first round of Wimbledon but is generally a strong opponent on grass.
Andy Murray vs. Stanislaw Wawrinka (Round one)
Having lost the number one ranking and the Wimbledon title to Federer, Novak Djokovic will be itching to impose himself on the Olympic tournament. While the Serb will be confident of progressing against Fabio Fognini in round one, the draw has thrown him some heavyweight potential opponents with Andy Roddick a dangerous possibility in round two with Marin Cilic lurking in round three. Djokovic has drawn the short straw with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as his quarter final seed, the charismatic Frenchman has made the semis at Wimbledon for the past two years and will harbour realistic hopes for a medal. Tsonga faces a potentially explosive second round encounter with Milos Raonic, who will have ambitions of his own after a disappointing summer to date. The draw has given Djokovic the worst of the semi final seeds too, with Murray his scheduled opponent.
There can only be one…
David Goffin vs. Juan Monaco (Round one)
Can Monaco maintain the form that has seen him enter the top 10? Can Goffin continue his run up the rankings after good performances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon? Something will have to give.
FULL DRAW HERE: