Tennis has begun at the Rio Olympics 2016 and needless to say, it is going to be a supremely exciting one week for tennis fans as they wait to see which players clinch the coveted Olympic medals for their country. In spite of various pull-outs that made the news in the build to the Rio Games, there are still quite a few stars playing in Brazil.
As the women’s singles event gets under-way, we take an in-depth look at the medal chances of the top four seeds.
1. Serena Williams (USA)
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the defending champion Serena Williams is primed for a repeat of her 2012 glory, barring a major early hiccup.
Her struggles in the first half of the season, when she lost in both the Australian Open and the French Open finals, seemed to indicate it was a question of the legend not believing in herself enough. But the 34-year-old bounced back in admirable fashion, just like she always does, and won her Open Era record-equalling 22nd Major title at Wimbledon.
That was the much-needed timely booster shot for her ahead of the world’s biggest sports event. Keen not to overburden herself, she even withdrew from the Rogers Cup.
Serena, though, cannot afford to take things lightly as her opening round opponent Daria Gavrilova can be quite tricky and has a penchant for causing upsets. Her variety can pose a few problems and so can Alize Cornet in the second round. But the American is definitely the favourite to have the last laugh.
15th seeded Elina Svitolina – Serena’s possible third round opponent – got thrashed 6-1, 6-1 the last time they met, and so it is the Ukrainian who has a lot more to worry about than Serena. The top seed’s quarter-final rival can be one of Petra Kvitova and Roberta Vinci, and either of them can stretch Serena is she’s having an off-day.
In the last-four, the four-time Olympic gold medallist has Garbine Muguruza as a potential opponent, whose results have been anything but confidence-boosting since her French Open title.
Prediction: Clearly, Serena’s path to the gold looks reasonably smooth. A few players on the way can take a set off her but they are not menacing enough to send the World No. 1 out of the draw.
2. Angelique Kerber (Germany)
The reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber has come to Rio riding high on confidence. The German, whose performances dipped right after her Slam breakthrough, made a fantastic turnaround at Wimbledon by racing though to the final.
She built on it further by winning three matches en route to reaching the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup. The World No. 2 is raring to go but she cannot be complacent. A second round meeting with Eugenie Bouchard or Sloane Stephens can be tricky, and she needs to keep her errors at bay to make progress.
Her next two rounds can set her up against the likes of Samantha Stosur and the in-form Johanna Konta. The 10th seeded Briton had one of her career’s brightest moments at Stanford two weeks ago where she clinched her maiden WTA title. Suffice to say this is an opportunity that Konta would like to grab with both hands; she would be eager to make life difficult for Kerber with her array of smooth strokes.
In the semi-finals, the German could be crossing swords with a very familiar opponent – Agnieszka Radwanska. Kerber would be expected to pull off a victory, but the Pole won’t go away easily.
Prediction: After her initial hiccups since her Australian Open win, Kerber seems to have recovered well and it would not be unrealistic to expect her to grab a medal.
3. Garbine Muguruza (Spain)
If Garbine Muguruza plays to her potential, she can be one of the most devastating players across the net for anyone. World No. 1 Serena Williams can vouch for that after her loss at the French Open final to the Spaniard.
But there are times when the 22-year-old presents a pale shadow of herself and this season, that version has been making the rounds more often despite her momentous Slam breakthrough. You can never say which Muguruza will appear on the court these days.
Since her memorable day in Paris, the Spaniard has managed to win just one match out of the three she has played, and she also had to pull out of Montreal due to a GI illness. Her misery is compounded further by a danger-filled draw.
Former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the opener would be quite a handful. 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova made it to back-to-back quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup, and will surely look to carry on with her impressive form at Rio.
In her quarter-final and semi-final, the third seed is likely to face the formidable Williams sisters, who have the knack of raising their game further when playing at the Olympics. That is corroborated by the fact that Venus is the 2000 gold medallist while Serena is the defending champion.
Prediction: It goes without saying that Muguruza needs to be at her immaculate best, otherwise her medal-winning prospects do not look too bright.
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)
Agnieszka Radwanska was involved in arguably the year’s best women’s match at the Wimbledon Championships, where she bowed out to eventual quarter-finalist Dominika Cibulkova. The 6-3, 5-7, 9-7 loss that she suffered at the hands of the Slovak on her most productive surface was a tough one for the former Wimbledon runner-up to recover from.
The fifth-ranked Pole subsequently succumbed early at the Rogers Cup, which remains the last tournament she played in before coming to Rio.
Ideally, that is not the best preparation for the 27-year-old in her quest for her first ever Olympic medal. Her draw too is dotted with early round threats that the Pole would have very much liked to avoid. After opening against the Chinese Saisai Zheng, she might have to lock horns with the talented Daria Kasatkina of Russia, who is already perched at a career-best ranking of 27th while aged just 19.
If she manages to overcome Kasatkina, the earliest seed that Radwanska can face is the 16th seed Barbora Strycova. Her potential quarter-final opponent is the seventh seed Madison Keys, whose sole win over the Pole came at the US Open last year.
The Australian Open champion Kerber awaits in the semis, and the German’s close 5-6 head-to-head record against the fourth seed suggests that the Pole has a lot to be concerned about.
Prediction: Radwanska’s chances of winning a singles medal do look difficult and she will be greatly helped if a couple of upsets occur.