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Thursday, July 26, 2012
Updated: July 27, 12:08 PM ET
Few big guns in the way of Federer

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

We all like David Ferrer. What's not to admire about the hustling, overachieving Spaniard?

But if you're Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, you wanted Ferrer to show up in your half at the Olympics -- and not Andy Murray. Advantage Federer. Ferrer, who was given a top-four seeding because of the withdrawal of his more famous countryman, Rafael Nadal, indeed landed in Fed's section.

Djokovic will be looking to make up for a shabby performance against the Swiss in the Wimbledon semis. Will he? And how will Murray react following his Wimbledon heartbreaker? Can he get to the semis?

First quarter: Roger to face familiar foes

Federer, without a singles medal of any color, enters this year's Olympics in better spirits than in 2008. Back then Nadal was about to snatch the No. 1 ranking, and a month earlier, Federer lost arguably the greatest match of all time to Nadal at SW19.

John Isner
Outside of that marathon match, John Isner has yet to make any real kind of splash at Wimbledon. Will his fortunes change at the Olympics?

Now Federer is No. 1 again and competing on his most productive surface.

His path to the semis -- and potentially Ferrer -- isn't easy, though, especially when considering Federer is playing doubles. A tough schedule.

He'll be familiar with his first-round opponent -- lefty Alejandro Falla. He can be dangerous when hot, and Federer discovered that at none other than Wimbledon two years ago in the first round. Falla, a fine returner and clean ball-striker, won the first two sets but crumbled in the fourth when trying to serve it out. Federer escaped.

The best-of-three format prior to the final helps Falla and Julien Benneteau, who could meet Federer in the second round. Benneteau won the first two sets against Federer in the third round at Wimbledon this year before Fed rallied. Federer would much prefer Mikhail Youzhny in Round 2 after crushing the Russian at the All England Club a few weeks ago. Fed has never lost to him.

Monster servers John Isner, already a winner over Federer in a team competition this year, and Gilles Muller might trouble Fed, too -- but only if they get to him. Federer and the rest of the field breathed easier when Ivo Karlovic, perhaps with the biggest serve of them all, pulled out with a foot injury. He was replaced by enigmatic German Philipp Petzschner.

Isner, who foundered at the French and Wimbledon, meets the tricky and much, much smaller Olivier Rochus in the first round.

Is it time for an Izzy revival?

Look for Federer to confront Isner in the quarterfinals, with the winner advancing to the final.

Prediction: Federer def. Isner

Second quarter: A comfortable draw for Ferrer

Ferrer will be confident on grass after completing his Grand Slam quarterfinal set at Wimbledon this year and winning a grass-court tuneup. He also gave Murray a tougher test than anyone would have imagined at the Wimbledon quarters.

Ferrer's route to the semis is gentle, so another lengthy stay at the All England Club is likely. Ferrer starts against a Canadian wild card, Vasek Pospisil, with Philipp Kohlschreiber, a potential second-round opponent, his biggest hurdle prior to the last eight. The gifted Kohlschreiber, curiously competing this week in Austria, joined Ferrer in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Once Juan Martin del Potro lost the first set to Ferrer in the fourth round at Wimbledon, he sagged. The shorter format would benefit the Argentine in a rematch, and del Potro will be favored to reach the quarters. A third-round clash with Grigor Dimitrov or Gilles Simon wouldn't be a cakewalk, however. "Baby Fed" Dimitrov is making progress.

Can the free-falling Donald Young snap his 14-match losing streak? Unlikely. Andreas Seppi is too solid and steady.

Injury-prone Kei Nishikori faces the slumping Bernard Tomic in an enticing first-round match.

Prediction: Ferrer def. del Potro

Third quarter: A difficult test for Murray

Sure, Murray will be under pressure at the Olympics. After all, he's playing in front of his home crowd. But he won't be under the microscope as much as he was at Wimbledon, where the name Fred Perry is perennially thrown around.

A devastated Murray came up short against Federer in the Wimbledon final, paying the price for getting broken in the second and third sets -- when he was up 30-0 and 40-0, respectively.

Competing in England figures to give Murray an instant lift if he's still suffering from a hangover, and he'll need the fans behind him straightaway because Stanislas Wawrinka is up first.

Will another Swiss break British hearts?

Only once in their past five head-to-heads has the match ended in straight sets, and the ever-dangerous Wawrinka -- Federer's doubles partner -- took Murray to five sets at Wimbledon in 2009.

If Murray plays either Marcos Baghdatis or Richard Gasquet in the third round, it would make for great entertainment.

All the good work Tomas Berdych did early in 2012 led to absolutely nothing at the French Open and Wimbledon. Here's an opportunity for redemption.

Berdych, Federer's conqueror in Athens in 2004, should, on paper, make it to the third round. Berdych, though, must potentially compete against Ryan Harrison, he of the supreme confidence, in the second. We'd take another Berdych-Nicolas Almagro showdown.

Prediction: Gasquet def. Almagro

Fourth quarter: Novak, the past and the future

Winning the Davis Cup with Serbia in 2010 was a turning point for Djokovic. He has said as much. Maybe representing Serbia at the Olympics will further inspire Djokovic.

He needs a boost.

Djokovic didn't have much fight against Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals, fading badly in the fourth set in an episode reminiscent of his pre-2011 days.

Djokovic will kick things off against clay-court specialist Fabio Fognini, who pulled out of their quarterfinal matchup at Roland Garros last year. It's just the start Djokovic wanted.

But the second round is a different matter, if Andy Roddick surfaces. Confidence-wise, Roddick had ideal preparation for the Olympics, winning in Atlanta last week. Djokovic would have to be ready from the start.

And don't you think Lleyton Hewitt would like to get a crack at Djokovic in the third round in what would be a battle of Wimbledon champions?

The top part of the section is led by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a semifinalist at Wimbledon for two straight years, and a Tsonga-Milos Raonic tussle would represent one of the highlights of the second round.

Prediction: Tsonga def. Djokovic

Gold medal match: Federer def. Tsonga

Bronze medal match: Ferrer def. Gasquet