Thursday, July 26, 2012
Will Serena win her first singles gold?
By Ravi Ubha ESPN.com
Roger Federer has never won singles gold at the Olympics. Serena Williams has never won singles gold at the Olympics.
Federer won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008. Williams won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008.
A 30-year-old Federer won Wimbledon two weeks ago. A 30-year-old Williams won Wimbledon two weeks ago.
And, like Federer, Williams enters the 2012 Olympics at the All England Club as the favorite.
If Williams' serve is working -- as it was at Wimbledon -- and her back isn't bothering her, the singles drought at the Games will be over.
Thursday's draw left open the possibility of a Williams-Agnieszka Radwanska rematch.
First quarter: A two-horse race
Victoria Azarenka entered Wimbledon in patchy form. After her 26-match winning streak came to an end, Azarenka blew hot and cold on clay and was upset by Dominika Cibulkova at Roland Garros.
Victoria Azarenka is the top-ranked player, but is she a favorite to win gold?
Subsequent time off helped. Wimbledon was ultimately a positive, as Azarenka reached the semis on a surface she's not the most comfortable on. As a bonus, the No. 1 ranking was hers again.
Her draw at the Olympics should mean a continuation of the upward curve.
The first two rounds are a breeze. The third could bring former Wimbledon semifinalist Jie Zheng, which wouldn't be easy. But it's still manageable.
In the bottom half of her section, Angelique Kerber, also a Wimbledon semifinalist this year, likewise should coast to the third round. Once there, five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams is a potential foe. Yet how will her body hold up?
An out-of-sorts Venus was crushed by Elena Vesnina at Wimbledon and starts with French Open finalist Sara Errani at the Olympics.
Prediction: Azarenka def. Kerber
Second quarter: Serena's roadblocks?
It's a high-profile first-round match: Serena Williams versus Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic is a former No. 1, after all, and she reached the final on grass in Birmingham, England, in June.
But in reality, Serena, if healthy, won't encounter much resistance. The field was weak in Birmingham -- Jankovic's first three wins came against players outside the top 100 -- and the Serb was routed by Kim Clijsters in another high-profile first-round match at Wimbledon. She's on the verge of slipping outside the top 20.
Francesca Schiavone and Vera Zvonareva, one of whom could land Serena in the third round, have seen better days, too. Had this been three months ago, Mona Barthel might have been a threat in the second round. But injuries and a loss of form have stunted the German's progress.
Who will meet Serena in the quarters? It's wide open, given Li Na's slump.
Caroline Wozniacki was felled by Tamira Paszek in a first-round thriller at Wimbledon, but there's respite for the Dane at the Olympics in the first round in the form of Brit Anne Keothavong.
A Paszek-Wozniacki sequel in Round 3?
Prediction: Williams def. Wozniacki
Third quarter: Maria's reaction
Maria Sharapova, who's gone deep at plenty of tournaments, hasn't had much down time this season. But Sharapova did get a few extra days off in the past month after losing to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
She'll be refreshed.
Sharapova holds a 6-0 record against Shahar Peer, so a good start is pretty much assured. It gets tougher thereafter.
The unpredictable Lucie Safarova is a potential second-round opponent, and Safarova bounced Sharapova in their lone previous completed outing two years ago. If she progresses to the third round, Sharapova's probable adversary is either an in-form Yaroslava Shvedova or Lisicki.
At the other end of the section, it'd be nice to get a Clijsters-Samantha Stosur duel in the second round as the Belgian -- in her first Olympics -- nears retirement. But Wimbledon's grass and Stosur don't get along.
One of the picks of the first round sees Ana Ivanovic tangle with American Christina McHale, and the winner there likely gets to Clijsters in the third round.
Prediction: Shvedova def. Clijsters
Fourth quarter: Radwanska's return
Radwanska almost pulled off a monumental upset in the Wimbledon final. Serena's serve and power, though, were too much for the slender, off-speed Pole when the match went to a third set.
She'll have to cast aside any lingering disappointment, since Radwanska has a battle in the first round against Julia Goerges. Goerges' 2012 season hasn't been as good as last year's, yet she's not to be underestimated -- which Radwanska knows.
Varvara Lepchenko, who became a U.S. citizen last year, made a late push to land on the U.S. team. Barring a huge surprise, the lefty will win at least one match and play either Radwanska or Goerges in the second round. In a case of déjà vu, Radwanska could later be paired with Maria Kirilenko, who was a loser to Radwanska in a tight three sets at Wimbledon.
How Petra Kvitova would love to reawaken at the Olympics. Only a flurry of unforced errors would halt Kvitova's journey to the third round. In the round of 16, a surging Cibulkova or grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova might await.
Prediction: Kvitova def. Radwanska
Gold-medal match: Serena Williams def. Kvitova
Bronze-medal match: Azarenka def. Shvedova