The Olympic tennis tournament kicks off at The All England Club this weekend and with the draw now set I've taken a look at the main contenders. The 64-man draw comprises the top-56 ranked players in the world as at June 11, 2012 plus qualifiers and wild cards.
One notable absentee of course is reigning champion Rafa Nadal, who has been forced out due to an ongoing knee problem that is expected to keep him on the sidelines until Cincinnati in mid-August. Another less notable one is Alex Dolgopolov, who hasn't played enough Davis Cup over the last few years and now wishes he had.
I was fortunate enough to have backed Fernando Gonzalez each-way four years ago at 125-1 (he rewarded me with a place) and I think it’s well worth backing some outsiders again. The short format (apart from the final), best of three sets matches should lead to more upsets and a higher likelihood of another longshot winning as they have in the past - Nicolas Massu and Marc Rosset are past champions.
It’s also questionable whether most of the top players are as excited about the tournament as the British fans are and past results tend to back that up.
Here’s my rundown of the men to watch at Wimbledon this week.
Federer probably should be favourite ahead of Novak Djokovic on current form and has to be high up on most people’s list of potential winners here. But past Olympic form has been poor in the singles and I’m not sure that 2.80 represents great value. The shorter format counts against him as well, as it makes him prone to shocks such as the one he almost received at the hands of Julien Benneteau at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. That said, he’s still the man to beat and his draw is by far the most comfortable of the favourites.
The former world number one was disappointing against Federer at Wimbledon and he should be looking to put that right here. The layers are sticking with him by making Nole favourite at 2.30 and he did win a bronze four years ago in Beijing. He could well perform better than at Wimbledon, as for once this year he’s without the pressure of defending a title - that could be all he needs for a successful tournament. The price is too short for me to take an interest in, though, and has the likes of Murray, Berdych and Tsonga to get past to reach the final.
I was lucky enough to have had my money on Murray before Rafa withdrew, but Andy is still the best bet of the big names in my view. Everything is set up perfectly for him this week; he'll be playing on a surface he enjoys and had success on last month, plus the tournament is over the shorter format. Murray has an outstanding record in Masters tournaments and to all intents and purposes that’s what this event is. He’s also on home soil representing Great Britain and gunning for the perfect antidote to his Wimbledon final blues. His draw is a tough one, but he should be motivated enough to get through.
Certainly one for the shortlist at around 17.00 based on grass court form and the fact that the shorter games will help his often creaking body. Making his debut in the Olympics, Tsonga has every chance, with wins over Federer, Murray and Nadal to his name on grass in the past. Often found wanting in the latter stages of majors, but that shouldn’t be the case in this tournament. Drawn to meet Djokovic in the last eight, though, it's hard to see him beating Nole, then Murray/Berdych plus Federer to win this.
Should have beaten Murray at Wimbledon – or certainly should have taken a two set lead, which would have been enough in this Olympic format. The Spaniard is massively improved on grass, as his dismissal of Juan Martin Del Potro and close clash with Murray showed. He'll probably benefit from Rafa being out and will give you a decent run for your money in the weakest quarter of the draw where he has a great chance of making the semi finals. The problem is he'll most likely face Federer, against whom he's 0-13.
I’m counting Del Potro out because of his poor displays on grass and the same can be said of Milos Raonic and to a certain extent John Isner. Andy Roddick doesn’t have the game to beat the top players any more and after that we’re into the bigger priced runners where great value could lie.
This is probably the last chance for the Queen’s Club line judge basher to win a major title and it’s not a forlorn one at 250.00 or 30.00 for a medal. We know he can play to a high standard on grass and the format definitely suits his injury-prone body more than majors. Has a good draw in the wide open top half and has a medal chance if he can get past Janko Tipsarevic first up.
The Wimbledon quarter-finalist and Halle semi-finalist is otherwise engaged in Kitzbuhel, somewhat strangely, at the moment but I suspect he’ll arrive in plenty of time to adjust back to grass and 200.00 is a pretty good price for someone with his ability. A win over Nadal in Halle gave him belief and a good run here isn’t out of the question on his Olympic debut. If he can get past Ferrer, a medal is a distinct possibility.
Other possibles include Richard Gasquet and Janko Tipsarevic at 200.00 and maybe Bernard Tomic at 450.00 if he can find some form, but in a wide open tournament there are many in with a chance.
Back Murray at 5.0
Back Nalbandian for a medal at 30.0 and outright at 250.0
Back Kohlschreiber for a medal at 30.0 and outright at 200.0