Each year in tennis, they hold four major events. But, damn the calendar, there is a fifth in 2012. Poll the players in the men's and women's locker rooms and a good number of them will admit that winning an Olympic gold medal would mean every bit as much as winning hardware at Wimbledon or the Australian, French and U.S. Opens.
Part of this is simply the gravitas of the Olympics. Some of this is the overlay of competing for your country in what is otherwise such a fiercely individual, necessarily self-absorbed sport.
Some of this is the make-up of the field: Tennis has become such a relentlessly global sport and for many players, they represent their country's best chances at gold. There is, for instance, no Kevin Durant or Michael Phelps in Serbia; thus a country's hopes rest largely on Novak Djokovic's wiry shoulders.
This year, though, the prestige of the Olympic tennis event gets an extra bump from the venue. They'll hold the competition on the lawns of the All England Club, the same hallowed -- hollowed if you're Brad Gilbert -- ground where they hold Wimbledon. The Olympic organizers have made a point of stressing the differences, emphasizing that this will not be Wimbledon Part II. The grounds will look different. There will be a new color scheme and corporate logos on the fences. Players will not be required to wear all-white attire. Most of the men's matches will be best-of-three sets, not best-of-five.
But it's still the sport's cathedral. It's also still grasscourt tennis. As such, the results from Wimbledon ought to have some predictive value when divining medal winners. The draw won't take place until July 26, but here are our overall picks on each event with the caveat that the draw could eliminate specific medal possibilities.
Teams yet to be established (players have until July 31 to sign in) but our pick for gold:
As with any major event, almost every tennis player of note will be in the field except for Nadal, who withdrew, saying he was "not in condition to compete." While the draw has yet to be made, the usual tennis themes and questions apply: Can Federer garnish his legacy still further by winning gold? Who will step up to capitalize on Nadal's absence?
It all should make for a great show.
Lots to chose from here. While it would be a considerable upset if the U.S. medalled in men's singles, every other event is ripe. Fresh from winning Wimbledon, Serena Williams is the pick here to take gold in women's singles. She and her sister, Venus, have never lost in Olympic doubles and ought to take the gold -- as they did in both 2000 and 2008. What's more, Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber are currently the WTA's top-ranked doubles team. California twins, Bob and Mike Bryan are a proven men's doubles team. And Mike Bryan and Raymond just won the mixed title at Wimbledon. Bottom line: This has the potential for a fine haul for the Americans.
Varvara Lepchenko was born and raised in Uzbekistan. She showed a talent for tennis and, in search of a better life, the family left for Florida in 2002. Though money was tight -- unable to afford a bike, much less car, the family rollerbladed to the court -- the Lepchenkos stayed and were granted political asylum. Based in Allentown, Pa., Lepchenko slowly ascended the tennis ladder, gradually building her ranking. She was granted citizenship in 2011. Currently ranked inside the top 50, she will represent the U.S.
For all his achievements, Roger Federer has never won an Olympic medal in singles. None of the singles gold or silver medalists from 2008 are defending their medals: the defending women's gold medal singles winner, Russia's Elena Dementieva, is retired; the silver medalist, Russia's Dinara Safina, is quasi-retired; the defending men's gold medal singles winner, Spain's Rafael Nadal, withdrew; the last silver winner in the men's event, Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, is retired as well. In 1988, Steffi Graf won all four major titles as well as the gold medal in the Seoul Olympics.
The tennis competitions of the 2012 Summer Olympics are scheduled to be staged at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, London. Play begins July 28 and ends August 5.