The opening round of the Rio Olympics 2016 tennis event at the Barra Olympic Park cannot get more exciting than this! Four years after losing the bronze medal match to former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic gets a shot at redemption.
The Serb’s first round opponent is none other than the World No. 145 who is now on a comeback mission after being sidelined for much of the last couple of years due to multiple wrist surgeries. Based on form, the top seed is surely a strong favourite after having grabbed 7 titles already this season. Despite that, the Tower of Tandil can definitely make it a tough outing for the 29-year-old and the two are guaranteed to provide fans with plenty of entertainment.
The next possible threat for the Beijing Olympics bronze medallist could come from the fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the quarter-finals. The 2012 men’s doubles silver medallist reached the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon Championships this July where he even stretched the eventual champion Andy Murray to five sets.
In the only 2016 encounter between Tsonga and Djokovic, the Frenchman made the World No. 1 work extra hard for a 7-6(2), 7-6(2) win in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters. Suffice to say, Tsonga won’t go away without a fight.
Possible Djokovic vs Nadal meeting in semi-finals
Beijing Olympics gold medallist Rafael Nadal is the third seed and finds himself as a possible semi-final opponent for Djokovic. The Spaniard starts against fellow lefty Federico Delbonis of Argentina.
How the 30-year-old is feeling after returning to competition following a wrist injury has yet to be ascertained. There were even doubts if he would at all be able to participate in singles. But after much deliberation, the 14-time Grand Slam champion has decided to go ahead even though, it is self-admittedly, not an ideal option for him.
The earliest seed that the Spanish flag-bearer can face is the 15th seeded Gilles Simon of France in the third round before a probable collision with the eighth-seeded Belgian David Goffin in the last-eight stage.
Murray faces Troicki in first round
Second seed and reigning champion Andy Murray heads the bottom half of the draw and begins his title defense against Djokovic’s compatriot Viktor Troicki. It is not a prospect that the Serb would particularly relish after having lost all seven of his head-to-head matches to the Team Great Britain flag bearer.
Murray has arrived in Rio in a rich vein of form after crowning glory at Wimbledon this year – this second title on the hallowed turf of SW19. If his London gold medal four years ago heralded the start of good things for Murray, then now the Scot is coming to the Olympics as a player far relaxed and settled in his career. And that should signal danger for his opponents especially the likes of Juan Monaco and 16th seeded Benoit Paire who are the potential candidates to face the 29-year-old in the second and third rounds respectively.
Seventh seed David Ferrer, looking frightfully off-colour lately, is Murray’s potential quarter-final opponent. With the Spaniard looking a pale shadow of himself nowadays, it should facilitate an even smoother passage into the last-four for the World No. 2.
Monfils can make a run into the semis
It is hard to predict who exactly will be the defending champion’s semi-final rival as a number of talented players are stacked in a packed third quarter of the draw. The Rogers Cup runner-up Kei Nishikori is the favourite to go through having landed the fourth seeding.
However, the Japanese needs to be careful of a few others who can upset the applecart, namely the in-form sixth seed Gael Monfils, the ninth seed Marin Cilic or the Croatian’s Round 1 opponent, Grigor Dimitrov. The 11th ranked Monfils has come to Rio high on confidence after capturing the Citi Open title and reaching the semi-finals of the Toronto Masters that included a run of nine wins on the trot.
Playing with a newfound motivation, Monfils will look to produce a performance to remember at Rio. It thus won’t be a surprise if the Frenchman reaches the semi-finals opposite Murray.
If the draw remains bereft of any major upset, we can hope to see the fifth 2016 showdown between Djokovic and Murray in the final with the Serb eager to complete the last missing piece of his glittering career.Published 05 Aug 2016, 09:35 IST