Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 11/9/14

There will be a lot of tennis played at the All-England clubs during the Olympics, so we’re going to split up our preview into two posts. In this post we’ll talk about the two men’s tournaments and in the next one we’ll talk about both women’s tournaments as well as mixed doubles (and we’ll hopefully have a post about table tennis as well). The tournaments will not be spread out over the entire 3 weeks of the Olympics. Rather, all 5 entire tournaments will be played from July 28th through August 5th.

I have been saying for a while now that the Olympics this year will mean more than any other Olympic tennis tournament in history. Passing fans might think that the Olympics would be close to the level of a Slam in terms of meaning and prestige. Serious tennis fans know that it isn’t even close. And Olympic Gold doesn’t rank anywhere near what a Slam title, a World Tour Final (Tennis Masters Cup), or even a Masters 1000 Shield means to the vast majority of players. But that all changes this year. This year, the passing fans will be right. The Olympic Games will be held at the hallowed grass of the All-England Club. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both players and fans. This year, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say there is a fifth Slam. This year, the Olympics mean more than ever before-or than they ever will in the future.

The biggest game-changer between the Olympics and Wimbledon (or any other Slam) is that they are only best-of-3, not best-of-5. This makes a huge difference. For starters, it’s much easier to pull off an upset in a shorter match because you need to be playing at a top level for shorter. Julien Bennetteau won the first two sets against Federer in Wimbledon but couldn’t win a third. But in a best-of-3 tournament, he wouldn’t have needed to. It’s also less taxing on the body, so it’s easier for older or less fit players to do well. That gives guys like Richard Gasquet and Lleyton Hewitt more of a chance than they would have in a Slam. The final, however, is still best-of-5 in both men’s singles and doubles. Now we’ll take look at some of the other main storylines to follow.

Singles:

1. The withdrawals- There will be two very disappointing no-shows in the singles draw this year. The first and foremost, of course, is the story that took the tennis world by storm yesterday. Rafael Nadal does not feel like he will physically be able to compete and that he needs to rest before the summer portion of the season. He would have been one of the favorites here and it would have been great redemption after his disappointing performance at Wimbledon. Sadly, his knees are not up to the task.

Mardy Fish will also not be competing. He decided months ago that he would rather play Washington and prepare for the US Open. He said that he did not quite feel the draw of the Olympics because he has already won a Silver Medal (2004). Honestly, it’s very disappointing to me. He played the single highest-level set of tennis that anyone showed in the fortnight at Wimbledon. He was untouchable in his first set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but could not sustain it through a rain delay. It was an amazing level of grass-court tennis that I hope Fish will be able to reproduce some time in the future. The Olympics would have been a great opportunity for that. Hopefully for him, at least, his decision will pay off and he will have a good showing at the US Open.

2. The weather- The forecast in London (as of right now) for the week of the tournament calls for a lot of rain. This could help some players and it will hurt some others. But the one player it benefits more than any other will be Roger Federer. Federer is one of the greatest grass court players of all time. However, Federer is, without a doubt, the undisputed best indoor player in tennis history. When Wimbledon is played under the roof, Federer goes from being one of the best to being absolutely unbeatable. His serve placement when unaffected by the elements borders on obscene. His groundstrokes are much crisper and cleaner, and the difference between his indoor and outdoor groundstrokes grows as he gets older. He will still be one of the favorites even if it’s hot and dry for all 7 days. But Federer fans should definitely pray for rain.

3. Redemption for Murray- Andy Murray became the first Brit to reach a Wimbledon final in over 70 years just two weeks ago. But that was not enough. The hopes of an entire nation ride on this man. And Olympic Gold would not be the same in their eyes as a Wimbledon title. But an Olympic Gold won at the All-England Club might, just might, make up for what Murray came so close to achieving his last time on Centre Court.

4. Lleyton’s last hurrah- I am completely serious. Watch out for Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt is still one of the best grass court players in the game today. His body just can’t stand the wear and tear of professional tennis anymore. But he looks relatively healthy now and did well in his Olympic tune-up in Newport. The Olympics, unlike the Slams, are only best-of-3 sets (until the final, which is best-of-5), so there is much less strain on the body here. Hewitt can always do some serious damage if his body holds up. And in a shorter tournament, the odds of him staying healthy are much higher. He is far past the point of winning a Grand Slam. But he is still definitely capable of making a deep Olympic run. Especially on grass.

Doubles:

1. Unfamiliar teams- This is a main storyline in men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles. Since this is the Olympics, both members of the doubles teams have to be from the same country. This is a requirement that doesn’t exist the rest of the year, except for in Davis Cup. Therefore, a lot of the players are unfamiliar with their partners. This gives a distinct advantage to those teams who play together often. And the only team that really stands out as such are the Bryan brothers (we’ll get to Federer/Wawrinka later). They have a tremendous advantage over the other teams, who play together for 4 matches a year at best. In fact, looking over the entry list, the only other team that I can see that plays together on a regular basis is the Israeli team of Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram. Both are still good doubles players, but they have been in decline in recent years and probably won’t pose a challenge to the Bryans or to much of the field (the Israelis were the #3 seeded team in 2008 but lost in the first round).

2. Can the Swiss repeat- Federer and Wawrinka make an interesting team. They do not play doubles like doubles players. They play like singles players whose games happen to complement each other very well. They play Davis Cup together when Federer decides that he wants to play and they teamed up for a very good run (lost in the finals) at Indian Wells last year. They have a fair amount of experience together and they are good friends, which helps their game as a doubles team a lot. They beat the Bryans in the semifinals of the 2008 Olympics and will most likely have to repeat that feat if they want to win a second gold.

3. The other Americans- If you want to win Wimbledon, having an unbreakable serve is quite useful. Well, Andy Roddick and John Isner are teaming up and each bringing a very strong serve to the table. Roddick’s days of having a chance at winning Wimbledon or even the singles title here are probably past him, but an Olympic Gold in doubles is probably a pretty good consolation prize. Isner has done poorly in the past in big competitions outside the US and has admitted as such, so it would be a good confidence boost for him to do well in this international competition.

4. Watch out for the Frenchman- My sleeper team in this tournament is the French team of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Michael Llodra. Tsonga is a very good grass player and has a massive serve, always useful in doubles. Llodra is a name a lot of people don’t know and is probably past the peak of his career, but he is still probably the best volleyer on tour. His great net skills make him a very good doubles player and being on grass will only add to that. This will be a team to watch out for and they can really surprise a lot of the favorite teams, especially those that aren’t so used to playing together.

Make sure to check out all of our continuing Olympic previews and our coverage during the Games themselves here at TSHQ by following this link.

Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/yesh222TSHQ


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