Given their superlative-laden performances just two and a half weeks ago at Wimbledon, Roger Federer and Serena Williams are the heavy favorites to capture their first Olympic singles gold medals in London next weekend. As the primary impediments to their title runs battle it out in the opposite halves of the draw, the sole question surrounding the two greats is whether they can manage the Olympic format as they go for the one significant achievement missing from their respective resumes.
Here's a look at how the draws break down.
Federer leads the top half of the draw. The absence of Rafael Nadal, combined with Andy Murray being drawn into the bottom half with Novak Djokovic, has the new No. 1 sitting pretty. Janko Tipsarevic, who opens with a tough match against David Nalbandian (they met in the first round of Wimbledon as well) is the highest seed in Federer's quarter, while David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro anchor the other quarter. If this were a Slam draw I'd say Roger was a lock for the final, but given the best of three format through the semis, you just can't be sure. After all, his first-round opponent, Alejandro Falla of Colombia has already proven he can take two sets off Roger on grass (at Wimbledon 2010). A potential second-round opponent, Julien Benneteau, took two sets off him just a few weeks ago at Wimbledon. Plus John Isner's serve is always a threat, and they could meet in third round. So it's still a bit of a lottery, but you have to think the reigning Wimbledon champ will survive his quarter.
As for the bottom half of the draw, it's just pure carnage. No one has an easy road here, with Djokovic projected to meet Andy Roddick in the second round, with a potential third-round clash with either Marin Cilic or Lleyton Hewitt. The other top seed in his quarter, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a dangerous route, opening up against Gstaad champion Thomaz Bellucci, and then a potential second round against Milos Raonic and a third round against a confident Juan Monaco. Meanwhile, hometown hero Andy Murray will open up against Stanislas Wawrinka, with Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych looming. While Djokovic and Murray have solid shots to medal here, I'm betting on the field to pull off the upset and reveal some surprise medalists.
Gold medal match: Federer def. Berdych
Bronze medal match: Del Potro def. Tsonga
Everyone wants to know where the fourth seeded Serena Williams would land and she gets drawn into No. 1 Victoria Azarenka's half. Regardless of where she landed, Serena's the favorite here, though she will have to manage playing six singles matches in eight days, not to mention the five matches needed to win doubles as well. Her first round match against Jankovic should be a roll given Jankovic's current form and unless she has an off-day, a semifinal rematch against Azarenka (where they met at Wimbledon) or even Angelique Kerber looks likely.
Much like the men's draw, the women's bottom half is chock-full of big names, with Agnieszka Radwanska, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Kim Clijsters and Sabine Lisicki all landing there. A healthy Clijsters is my pick to get through to the quarterfinals (though whether her body can handle matches on back-to-back days is an open question), where she'll likely face the winner of Sharapova or Lisicki. That's a tough draw for Sharapova (Lisicki knocked her out at Wimbledon) and she can thank the Olympic draw rules for making it happen. The other three women ranked No. 12 to 16 were Russian and therefore only Lisicki could be placed in her quarter. Can Sharapova get revenge?
The last quarter is anchored by Radwanska and Kvitova, and while I like a rested Kvitova coming through to the semifinals, keep an eye on Tsvetana Pironkova, whose been drawn into her section. If she can get through a few rounds, Pironkova's unusual grass court game could create some problems deep in the tournament.
Gold medal match: Serena def. Kvitova
Bronze medal match: Azarenka def. Sharapova.
The Americans are the top seeds in both draws, with the Bryans topping the men and Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond leading the women. With the matches being played in a best of three format, the men's draw is a complete crapshoot, with Beijing gold medalists Federer/Wawrinka in the Bryans' quarter (FedeStan beat the Bryans in Beijing). Keep an eye on the team of Isner/Roddick, too. That dual-cannon team could wreak some havoc in the bottom half.
As for the ladies, the only real question is whether anyone can stop the two-time gold medalists and defending Wimbledon champion Williamses. I'm going to go out on a the sturdiest limb in dendrolic history and say... no.