The best tennis players in the world have descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, where they’ll compete on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon at the All England Club for medals across five events, begining Saturday.
The United States faces an uphill battle to reach the medal stand in men’s and women’s singles, but are poised to dominate in the three doubles events, including mixed doubles which is back on the Olympic docket for the first time since 1924.
Nick Bollettieri, the legendary tennis coach who groomed the likes of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, sees sisters Serena and Venus Williams and twins Bob and Mike Bryan as the country’s best hope at success.
The Williams sisters should never be “counted out,” Bollettieri said, despite their early losses at the French Open and Venus’ loss at Wimbledon. They are fierce competitors and Bollettieri said, as long as Venus is healthy enough to play and Serena can keep getting her first serves in, they can make the medal podium.
The Bryan brothers, meanwhile, will be facing a lot of players who have not competed together consistently, handing them an advantage, Bollettieri added. The Bryans have been playing together professionally since 1995, while most other Olympic doubles teams will only have played together a handful of times.
In professional tennis, players do not represent a country, and can pair with anyone from any nation. In the Olympics, however, players are limited to pairing with someone form their country. Max Myrni from Belarus and Daniel Nestor, from Canada, for example, will be competing against each other with different partners rather than side-by-side as they did at Wimbledon a mere three weeks ago—something that could work to the Bryan brothers' advantage.
Men’s and women’s singles, however, will be a tougher fight.
In men’s singles, tennis legend Roger Federer, along with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic often compete in a league all of their own, leaving the best America has to offer in the dust.
Andy Roddick is the United State’s most seasoned entrant into the singles draw, and his recent success in the last month could create momentum to drive him deep through the tournament, perhaps even to a medal if he can keep his level of play up.
This will most likely be Roddick’s last crack at his first Olympic medal, according to ESPN analyst and former Roddick coach Brad Gilbert. In the next four years it’s likely Andy will hang up his racket and retire, which could inspire a big push on his part at what might be his last appearance at The All England Club.
Venus and Serena will have their work cut out for them in women’s singles; their days of solid domination are at least on hold right now. Maria Sharapova, who won the French Open earlier this season, and Victoria Azarenka, who began the year on an almost unmatched 26-match win-streak, including the singles title at the Australian Open, have dominated the tour this season.
But Serena's championship run at Wimbledon indicates that she's competeing at a high level and that a medal might not be so far-fetched.
Records and ranking are no defense against upsets, which the world will be watching for at the Games.
“The thing that makes sports great,” Roddick told atpworldtour.com, “is there is no script.”
Tennis begins July 28 with Men's and Women's Singles and continues through Aug. 5. NBC will livestream all matches.