Tennis at the 2016 Rio Olympics has seen many withdrawals of late that also include the defending men’s doubles champions, Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan. Despite that, the doubles category still boasts of quite a few stars who can light up the courts in Brazil when the tennis event gets under way this Saturday.
Who are the best bets for the medals? Here we look at five teams in the men’s doubles event, three of whom, barring upsets, can find themselves on the podium.
(For our list of the biggest women’s doubles medal contenders, click here.)
1. Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (France)
The absence of the 2012 gold medallists – the Bryan Brothers – makes the in-form pair of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut an even bigger favourite for the men’s doubles gold. Since making their Grand Slam breakthrough at the US Open last year, it is this season that they have come alive in terms of consistency.
Giving ample evidence of their versatility, they have six titles over all three surfaces which culminated in their second Major glory at the Wimbledon Championships this July. Their sky-high confidence is further vindicated by the fact that they did not lose a single final this year.
Ranked 1 and 2 in ATP doubles currently, they are undoubtedly the team to watch this season and have already qualified for the Season-Ending ATP World Tour Finals. Needless to say, it will take a mammoth effort from other teams to upstage them at Rio.
2. Andy Murray and Jamie Murray (Great Britain)
The reigning Wimbledon singles champion Andy Murray is not seen on the doubles court much but he can be quite an efficient player even in partnership. Especially when his elder brother Jamie is beside him, the 29-year-old can bring the best out of himself.
Andy has won two doubles titles in his whole career and both were alongside Jamie. The two played a key role in bringing the Davis Cup trophy to Great Britain after 79 years in 2015.
What will help the two further is the fact that the elder Murray brother is currently in the best phase of his doubles career. He started the year in a memorable fashion, capturing the Australian Open title and even reached the World No. 1 ranking in April. He is coming to Rio fresh off a runner-up finish at Toronto. With so much conviction in his abilities, Jamie Murray can surely guide his younger brother to a men’s doubles medal on the Brazilian hardcourts.
3. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares (Brazil)
Performing at home with the burgeoning expectations of the whole nation on your shoulders can be a daunting task. But Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares are veterans on the tennis circuit. While Melo has had 18 years of professional career, Soares can boast of playing 15 years of pro tennis.
Without a doubt, they will be eager to channelize this emotional experience of playing for the host nation in a positive way. Performance-wise, they are in a bright spot right now that was evident at the Toronto Masters last week.
They reached the final there but were on opposite sides of the net. Melo went on to win that summit clash and both are arriving at home with the right amount of confidence. Furthermore, they can certainly bank on the vociferous chants of support to lift their spirits whenever they need it in the next few days.
Rio will also give the two, who now have four doubles Major titles between them, a big chance for redemption. Four years ago, they succumbed in the quarter-finals at London. Making amends should definitely be high on their agenda.
4. Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau (Romania)
Rohan Bopanna’s usual doubles partner on the circuit, Florin Mergea and former Wimbledon champion Horia Tecau joined forces from the middle of the year with an eye to the Olympic Games. With both having a glittering doubles career, it was not a surprise when they started racking up wins pretty soon.
In just four ATP tournaments together this year, they have won 1 title and reached the semi-finals of the others. What can aid them even more is their familiarity with each other since a very young age. Both were prolific juniors and they even clinched the 2002 and 2003 Wimbledon boys’ doubles titles.
Now after two Grand Slam crowns for Tecau and two Slam semis for Mergea in seniors, they will certainly look to make the most of this lucrative opportunity to grab an Olympic medal.
5. Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil (Canada)
Following the withdrawal of their singles No. 1 Milos Raonic, Canada is sending the pair of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil to Brazil. The late decision deprived them a chance to practice much together. Nevertheless, they still managed to reach the semi-finals of the Toronto Masters last week which was the only ATP event they could play this season.
Adjusting with each other should not be a difficulty at all for this pair which played together even at the last Olympic Games. Besides, they have been arm-in-arm comrades multiple times during Canada’s David Cup matches.
At 43, with the rich experience of having won over 1000 doubles matches and with five previous Olympic appearances, Nestor knows it better than most others how to quickly adapt to a partner’s game. The 12-time Major winner also has the memory of his Sydney Olympic doubles gold to inspire him.
26-year-old Pospisil is no slouch either and has a Wimbledon doubles title sparkling on his resume. Suffice to say, these two will look to make up for what they lost the last time.