Top storylines: Djokovic, Serena searching for golden moments

After a string of withdrawals from the Rio tennis field, we can finally concentrate on who will be there. That starts with world No. 1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

They’re the favorites to win gold, but certainly not guaranteed the ultimate hardware yet.

Here are our top 10 storylines to follow before action kicks off on the hard courts of Brazil:

1. Will Novak Djokovic complete his career Golden Slam?

For years, he toiled in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal‘s shadows, whether at the Olympics or any other event. And now this five-ring circus, with its tennis tournament to be played on his favored hard courts, offers Djokovic the opportunity to eclipse both his rivals. Just a couple of months after completing his career Grand Slam at the French Open (and a month after losing in the third round at Wimbledon), Djokovic could turn his collection golden by winning the Olympic title.

Victory in Brazil would give him the most complete portfolio of prizes in this era, as he would then have captured all four majors, the Olympic singles title, the Davis Cup and the year-end championships. The Serb has a tough first-round match against 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro.

2. How will Rafael Nadal fare?

5. What’s in store for Leander Paes who’s playing his seventh Olympics?

Starting with Barcelona in 1992, Paes has competed in every Summer Games. His seventh appearance is a record by a tennis player. But even after all those appearances, Paes is still chasing his first doubles medal. Will the 43-year-old doubles specialist — who won a singles bronze medal in Atlanta 20 years ago — have some success alongside Rohan Bopanna?

6. Will Martina Hingis win a first Olympic medal?

Hingis has been unlucky with both her doubles partners this year, Roger Federer, who pulled out with a knee injury, in mixed, and Belinda Bencic, who also withdrew from the Games. Hingis could potentially have won a gold medal in both competitions. Although she won’t now be competing in the mixed-doubles competition, the Swiss has teamed up with No. 15-ranked Timea Bacsinszky.

7. Can Juan Martin del Potro create an epic upset?

The Argentine stunned Stan Wawrinka in the second round of Wimbledon, which should give him confidence heading in to the Games. However, del Potro did not receive much luck from the draw gods when they unveiled world No. 1 Djokovic was his opening-round opponent in Rio. Djokovic is 11-3 lifetime against del Potro, but the last time they met on Olympic grounds (2012 London), the Argentine beat him in the bronze medal match.

8. Will Garbine Muguruza re-launch her season in Rio?

Since scoring her first major at the French Open — where she beat Serena in the final — the Spaniard has been quiet. She lost in the opening round of a pre-wimbledon tournament in Majorca and then won just one match at the All England Club. Muguruza then withdrew from Montreal last week just minutes before her first match after feeling “weird” and complaining of illness. A singles medal would reboot her season, though Muguruza could also win medals in women’s doubles and mixed (with partner Nadal).

9. Can Angelique Kerber channel her inner Steffi Graf?

Kerber’s victory at the Australian Open made her the first German woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Graf. And now, Kerber, the runner-up to Serena at Wimbledon, can match Graf by becoming the second German Olympic tennis champion. One thing is certain: There won’t be as much pressure on Kerber in Rio as there was on Graf when she arrived in Seoul in 1988. Having already won all four majors that season, Graf had the chance to accomplish the Golden Slam in one year, and she did just that.

10. Will an underdog surprise us?

Four of the top 10 men’s singles players, and two of the top 10 women, won’t be in Rio, which certainly opens the door for many. And when you look at some of the gold medal winners since tennis was reinstated as an Olympic sport — Nicolas Massu, Marc Rosset, Elena Dementieva — there’s no reason to think a lesser-established player won’t come through. Although Serena and Djokovic might have something to say about that.

comments powered by Disqus