Running down America's prospects in the Olympic tennis tournament, while entertaining the crazy notion of Andy Roddick leaving London with a medal.
Andy Roddick: Pestered by retirement questions throughout the year, and none too happy about it, Roddick has resurrected his game just in time. He won Eastbourne, comported himself well at Wimbledon, then took the title in Atlanta to fashion an 11-1 streak heading into the Games.
With Rafael Nadal among the missing and Novak Djokovic still in search of that 2011-style aura, there's a reasonable chance Roddick could make some noise on the courts of Wimbledon, where he has always played well. I'd say at least three obstacles must be addressed.
One, Roddick has been far too inconsistent at this stage of his career to expect a sudden run of long-term glory. Two, you wonder if he made a smart decision to play the hardcourts of Atlanta with such a quick turnaround heading back to London. And finally, Roddick felt a dull pain in his right shoulder during his victory over Gilles Muller in the Atlanta final, saying it "just went a little dead for whatever reason."
Wild guess: He's been serving like a madman for years, non-stop, getting more out of that shoulder than any big-serving player has a right to expect. But if he brings his A-1 game, and the type of team spirit that has always served him so well in Davis Cup, he could get that medal.
John Isner: Is he off the psychiatrist's couch? Under normal circumstances, the last thing he'd prefer is a trip back to Europe. His clay-court season was a disaster, after which he admitted, "I guess you could say I didn't have much confidence at all; I just let this whole trip get to me." Then he crashed out of Wimbledon, and in a truly depressing press conference, he spoke of being "clouded. I just can't seem to figure things out. I'm my own worst enemy out there. It's all mental for me, and it's pretty poor on my part."
Isner seems to struggle under the weight of big-stage expectations, hardly an indictment he'd like to see on his resume. He also has a knack for bouncing back, and after winning the Newport tournament, he had a decent run in Atlanta before losing a tight match to Roddick. I'd imagine the Olympic setting will energize Isner. He's a first-rate team guy, dating back to his four-year success story at the University of Georgia.
Still, the strength of the Olympic field goes well beyond the Djokovic-Roger Federer-Andy Murray elite. David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are on hand, among many others. Give Isner a longshot's chance at best.
Ryan Harrison: It's one thing to note that he's reached three tour semifinals this year (San Jose, Eastbourne and Newport), but the fact remains that he hasn't notched a really impressive victory. His highest-ranked victims in 2012 have been Viktor Troicki (25), Alex Bogomolov (40) and Dennis Istomin (41). He's also coming off a bad loss to James Blake in Atlanta. At least his presence on the team seems fair and just, which is more than you can say for ...
Donald Young: This is just a flat-out embarrassment. It's bad enough that Young essentially rejects his country's way of doing things (refusing coaching help from the USTA), and that's not a good look for the Olympics. But here's a guy who is 2-17 on the year and hasn't won a match since February. Sam Querrey has moved ahead of Young in the rankings since the team was determined, and even USC star Steve Johnson -- who knocked off Young in Atlanta last week -- would be a better choice. Best of all, though, would be Brian Baker, whose comeback has lifted him to No. 79 in the rankings and automatic entry into the U.S. Open. Better to field a player on the rise, to capture the public's fancy, rather than one cascading into oblivion.
Bob and Mike Bryan: Comprise the only elite doubles team that can stay together for the Olympics, so they should bring home the gold.
Andy Roddick and John Isner: It will be entertaining, at the very least, to watch these two playing together. Who knows what could happen if they're both serving out of their minds?
Serena Williams: She had to pull out of a recent World TeamTennis match due to a sore back, but we should assume that's a precautionary measure. Based on what we saw at Wimbledon, Serena should be a clear-cut favorite, with the extra motivation of having never won a gold in singles. How about a final featuring Serena, decked out in the stars and stripes, against a red-clad Maria Sharapova?
Christina McHale: She's probably a couple of years away from her peak, so she'll be in this largely for the experience. McHale reached the third round of both the French Open and Wimbledon, but as we saw in Carlsbad last week -- losing to the powerful but off-form Marion Bartoli -- she still has problems with the top 10-15 players.
With any luck, we'll see more evidence behind Chris Evert's claim that McHale is "the most complete player" of the up-and-coming American women. And let's hope NBC took the time to profile McHale. Her mother is Cuban, her father is Irish-American, and the family spent five years in Hong Kong (ages 3-8 for Christina). She's a bit shy in public, but her story is well worth telling.
Varvara Lepchenko: Here's another compelling American story, that of a girl who left her native Uzbekistan as a 15-year-old junior, accompanied by her father and sister, to play the prestigious Orange Bowl tournament -- and never went back. She settled in Allentown Pa., came under the wing of the USTA development program and became a U.S. citizen last September.
Lepchenko made her mark on the blue clay of Madrid, rising to No. 59 in the world with three wins, including one over Francesca Schiavone, before losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals (she is now ranked 41st). As a powerful, 5-foot-11 lefty, she could pull an upset or two in London, but "just happy to be there" fits her mood perfectly.
Venus Williams: There's no way of telling whether we'll see the Venus who knocked off Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Sam Stosur in various locales this year, or the one who lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Elena Vesnina. Fatigue is a constant adversary, and she'd be wise not to tax herself too heavily in London.
For me, the bottom line for Venus' Olympic representation is whatever she wants. She carries a regal bearing and has set the standards of class and excellence both on and off the court. I'd like to see her stick to the women's doubles, where she and Serena are such a priceless pair, and in a dream world, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens would step into the singles. That obviously can't happen, but Stephens' talent and engaging demeanor are a perfect fit for the Olympic stage.
Serena and Venus Williams: Count on the sisters bringing home their third gold medal together (they won in 2000 and '08) and, ideally, focusing on that.
The mixed doubles teams aren't officially announced until all players are on the grounds. But all indications are that the teams will be Mike Bryan-Lisa Raymond (the Wimbledon champions) and Bob Bryan-Liezel Huber. That takes care of the fairness issue, while also giving the U.S. its best chance to win.