One of the most anticipated events in Rio was the tennis tournament. The thought of getting to watch greats like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and Stan Wawrinka compete on the men's draw left fans salivating for the possible match ups and guessing who would emerge on the podium. Unfortunately, a replication of the outstanding draw in London 2012 will not take place in Rio. The health scares and injuries have already eliminated many top medal contenders, including Federer, Wawrinka and Canada's Milos Raonic, fresh off his Wimbledon final appearance.
The women's draw still has the Top 4 players in the world competing at least with defending gold medal winner Serena Williams, 2016 Australian Open Champion Angelique Kerber, 2016 French Open Champion Garbine Muguruza and Aggie Radwanska all making the trek to Rio. However, there still will be a loss of great players in Rio, including grand slam champions Vika Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Belinda Bencic and the red-hot Dominika Cibulkova.
The loss of many top, potential medal threat players does raise a few questions and leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of some fans. The injuries are becoming more and more frequent on tour every year and perhaps the season is too long....and the Olympics sure don't help every 4 years. Of course the health scare concerns are not an ATP or WTA issue; however, the governing bodies perhaps need to step up and have a stronger voice with the IOC when their athletes are threatened with possible long-term health affects.
Needless to say, let's put aside the health debate. Let's not focus on the plague of injuries (or doping suspension!). Let's turn our attention to the athletes competing in Rio and cheer them on.
A quick #RioRewind to get all of you excited about the history of Olympic tennis:
- Qualification is based on the tour rankings, compiled over a 52 week period, with a cut-off date of June 6, 2016. However, rankings are not the only deciding factor. For a player to earn the right to compete for their nation they not only need to be ranked in the Top 56 but also be nominated for three Fed Cup or Davis Cup events between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
- A National Olympic Committee (NOC) may enter 6 players of each gender but a maximum of 4 may qualify for singles events. Athletes do have the option to compete in both singles and doubles. The ITF also has a reserved 6 qualification spots to award to lower ranked players. As well, the Tripartite Commission reserves 2 spots for players from nations where the sport is still growing. A true #growthesport idea! The ITF also reserved 8 spots for men's and women's doubles.
- The number of nations competing in tennis at the Olympics has slowly declined in recent years. In 1996, 55 nations were represented. The number has decreased to 52 (2000), 52 (2004), 48 (2008) and 44 (2012). The athlete numbers saw a decline as well but increased in London: 176 (1996), 182 (2000), 170 (2004), 169 (2008) and 184 (2012). Rio originally had 172 players expected to compete; however, the number of players now registered is 199, making this the largest athlete participation ever for the sport.
- Tennis was included in the inaugural 1896 Summer Olympics. However the sport was dropped from the Summer Olympic schedule from 1928 to 1984 (minus being a demonstration sport in 1968 and 1984) due to IOC and ITF disputes. Rio will be the 15th edition of the tennis tournament at the Olympiad.
- Unlike other sports, the playing surface for tennis can change from one Olympics to another. The majority of competitions have been held on hard courts (as will be the case in Rio); however, clay courts (1992) and grass courts (2012) have been used in the past.
- Overall, Great Britain has found the most medal success winning a total of 44 medals. The USA has, overall, won the most gold medals with 20. Since making a return to the Olympiad in 1988, the USA has dominated the podium collecting a total of 21 medals, including 13 gold. The second closest nation is Spain with 11 medals. The second closest for gold medals in Germany, Russia, Chile and Switzerland with 2!
- Speaking of Switzerland, let's take a moment of silence for their tennis medal hopes. Entering the games, the Swiss looked to be one of the strongest nations competing with Federer, Wawrinka, Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky competing. Not to mention Martina Hingis in doubles. Now the Swiss are left with only Bacsinszky and Hingis competing.
- The most decorated Olympic tennis athlete is a tie...a sister tie! Serena and Venus Williams have each won 4 gold medals and currently sit tied with GB's Reginald Doherty for most-medals all-time. However Doherty only won 3 gold.
History alone states we should see another dominant Serena Williams-repeat on the women's draw (singles and doubles). However, if this season on the WTA tour have taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected. Serena may look to be the favourite to win gold once again but there are many players in the draw who have defeated her recently and could have the confidence to do so once again. Kerber, Muguruza and 2015 US Open "Serena Slayer" Roberta Vinci could pose big threats. Don't underestimate past grand slam champions Svetlana Kuznetsova or Petra Kvitova either. And what about the future of USA tennis Madison Keys? Fresh off a finals appearance at the Rogers Cup, Keys could be the ultimate podium dark horse in Rio. A few unseeded players to keep an eye on as well include: Sloane Stephens, Genie Bouchard (who plays Stephens in R1), Ekaterina Makarova and Daria Kasatkina.
As for the men's draw, well Novak Djokovic should be the overwhelming favourite. However, the draw certainly did him no favours. Djokovic will open his Rio campaign against the big Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, a former grand slam winner and the London 2012 bronze medalist (where he defeated Djokovic for that medal). delPo has not been the same player in recent years due to injuries and is currently ranked 144 in the world but he has a huge game and could surprise everyone early on. How often to do you see a bronze medal rematch in the opening round? GB's Andy Murray will be looking to repeat his gold medal winning performance of four years ago. Murray comes to Rio off his Wimbledon title a few weeks ago and will have lots of confidence and momentum. Like Djokovic, he wasn't handed an easy opening draw vs. Victor Troicki, a hard-hitting Serb who shines on the hard courts. Troicki is ranked 34 in the world right now and was very close to being seeded here. Questions on the health of Rafa Nadal will linger throughout the event, as long as he is playing anyways. We haven't seen Rafa since he withdrew from the French Open so lots of question marks on how he will perform. Hard courts generally don't work well with an aging and sore body though. Section 3 of the draw is the wide open portion where we could see a surprise podium finisher. Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils and Marin Cilic are the top seeds but could see strong challenges from Grigor Dimitrov (playing Cilic R1), Phil Kohlschreiber and Teymuraz Gabashvili. A few other possible medal threats to keep an eye on include: Jo-Willie Tsonga, David Goffin, Pablo Cuevas and Borna Coric.
Here is the #TwineTime Rio 2016 Tennis prediction:
MEN - SINGLES
(1) Novak Djokovic over (14) Jack Sock
(10) Roberto Bautista-Agut over (5) J-W Tsonga
Borna Coric over (3) Rafa Nadal
(11) Pablo Cuevas over (8) David Goffin
Grigor Dimitrov over (6) Gael Monfils
(4) Kei Nishikori over (13) Phil Kohlschreiber
(7) David Ferrer over (12) Steve Johnson
(2) Andy Murray over Fabio Fognini
(1) Djokovic over (10) Bautista-Agut
Coric over (11) Cuevas
Dimitrov over (4) Nishikori
(2) Murray over (7) Ferrer
(1) Djokovic over Coric
(2) Murray over Dimitrov
Grigor Dimitrov over Borna Coric
(1) Novak Djokovic over (2) Andy Murray
#TwineTime Medal Picks
Gold - Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
Silver - Andy Murray (Great Britain)
Bronze - Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria)
WOMEN - SINGLES
(1) Serena Williams over Andrea Petkovic
(11) Petra Kvitova over Ekaterina Makarova
(3) Garbine Muguruza over (14) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
(12) Timea Bacsinszky over Lucie Safarova
(7) Madison Keys over (9) Carla Suarez Navarro
Daria Kasatkina over Sara Errani
(8) Svetlana Kuznetsova over (10) Johanna Konta
(2) Angelique Kerber over Yaroslava Shvedova
(1) Williams over (11) Kvitova
(3) Muguruza over (12) Bacsinszky
(7) Keys over Kasatkina
(2) Kerber over (8) Kuznetsova
(1) Williams over (3) Muguruza
(2) Kerber over (7) Keys
(3) Garbine Muguruza over (7) Madison Keys
(1) Serena Williams over (2) Angelique Kerber
#TwineTime Medal Picks
Gold - Serena Williams (USA)
Silver - Angelique Kerber (Germany)
Bronze - Garbine Muguruza (Spain)
MEN - DOUBLES
(1) Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut over (8) Roberto Bautista Agut / David Ferrer
(3) Marcelo Melo / Bruno Soares over (5) Florin Mergea / Horia Tecau
(4) Gael Monfils / J-W Tsonga over (6) Marc Lopez / Rafa Nadal
(2) Andy Murray / Jamie Murray over (7) Daniel Nestor / Vasek Pospisil
(3) Melo / Soares over (1) Herbert / Mahut
(4) Monfils / Tsonga over (2) Murray / Murray
(1) Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut over (2) Andy Murray / Jamie Murray
(3) Marcelo Melo / Bruno Soares over (4) Gael Monfils / J-W Tsonga
#TwineTime Medal Picks
Gold - Marcelo Melo / Bruno Soares (Brazil)
Silver - Gael Monfils / J-W Tsonga (France)
Bronze - Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut (France)
WOMEN - DOUBLES
(8) Sara Errani / Roberta Vinci over (1) Serena Williams / Venus Williams
(7) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina over (4) Garbine Muguruza / Carla Suarez Navarro
(5) Martina Hingis / Timea Bacsinszky over (3) Chan Hao-ching / Chan Yung-jan
(2) Caroline Garcia / Kristina Mladenovic over (6) Andrea Hlavackova / Lucie Hradecka
(7) Makarova / Vesnina over (8) Errani / Vinci
(5) Hingis / Bacsinszky over (2) Garcia / Mladenovic
(2) Caroline Garcia / Kristina Mladenovic over (8) Sara Errani / Roberta Vinci
(7) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina over (5) Martina Hingis / Timea Bacsinszky
#TwineTime Medal Picks
Gold - Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina (Russia)
Silver - Martina Hingis / Timea Bacsinszky (Switzerland)
Bronze - Caroline Garcia / Kristrina Mladenovic (France)
Unfortunately the mixed doubles draw will not be released until August 9 with competition starting August 10. #TwineTime is unable to make any medal predictions for this discipline as teams have not been formally announced either. However, stay tuned to see how this draw shakes up as only 16 teams will compete for the medals. Early top nation favourites though would be: France, USA, Spain, Great Britain, Canada and Serbia. Depending on interested NOCs, one nation can field a max of 2 teams in the draw.
Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings Previews below:
Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview