London 2012: Ranking This Year's Olympic Games' Tennis Stars

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IMay 22, 2012

London 2012: Ranking This Year's Olympic Games' Tennis Stars

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    The Olympic Games are right around the corner, and that means another gold medal will be awarded to a men's tennis player. 

    Rafael Nadal won the gold medal in Beijing, and he will be one of the favorites this summer in London. 

    The tennis matches will be played at the All England Club, with the matches starting three weeks after Wimbledon wraps up. This means that tennis fans will be treated to a lot of grass-court tennis this summer. Due to the lack of grass-court tournaments on the calendar, this will give tennis fans another chance to appreciate grass-court tennis. 

    These rankings only take into account events that were played in 2012 and how this year's results thus far will affect the Olympics

10. Milos Raonic

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    2012 Ranking Points: 1,265

    Milos Raonic, at just 21 years of age, is already the highest-ranked Canadian player in history. 

    Raonic employs a massive first serve and also has one of the better second serves in men's tennis. This makes breaking the young Canadian a very difficult task, and it also makes it difficult for his opponents to get into a good rhythm. 

    Raonic's serve is absolutely lethal on grass courts, and he should make a deep run at both Wimbledon and the Olympics this summer. His aggressive style from the baseline will also be beneficial on the quicker grass courts. 

    If he hopes to succeed on the grass, Raonic must get more comfortable moving on the surface. He was injured at Wimbledon last year in the second round, when he hurt his right hip. It was very disappointing at the time because it seemed likely that Raonic would meet Rafael Nadal in the third round. 

    Hopefully Raonic will be able to become more accustomed to moving on grass courts, so he doesn't suffer a similar injury in the future. 

    He should be a top five player with the next couple of season, and a strong summer will go a long way in securing an elite ranking. 

9. Nicolas Almagro

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    2012 Ranking Points: 1,315

    Nicolas Almagro is one of three Spanish players on this list, with David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal obviously being the other two.

    Almagro utilizes a beautiful one-handed backhand and is solid from the baseline. He doesn't possess any massive weapons, but his grittiness makes up for that against most of the players on the tour.

    So far this season, Almagro has amassed 30 wins against just 11 losses. He also won the title at the Brasil Open, and he hasn't lost back-to-back matches thus far. 

    Almagro has already played in 12 tournaments, and his hard work has paid off thus far. He isn't a threat to win a Grand Slam, but given the right draw, he is a real threat to reach the quarterfinals at Grand Slams not played on grass.

    Grass is easily Almagro's worst surface, as he owns a 6-15 record on the surface. His game does not transfer well to grass, even though his one-handed backhand is well-suited for the quicker grass courts. 

    Spain's best chance at retaining men's gold will rest on the strong shoulders of the other Spaniards in London. However, it will be interesting to see how Almagro, who has had a nice year, will perform in the big events over the course of the next two months. 

8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    2012 Ranking Points: 1,385 

    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is France's top-ranked player and is, by far, its best chance to bring home a tennis medal from London. 

    Tsonga opened up the season by winning the title in Doha, when he defeated countryman Gael Monfils in the finals.

    Tsonga can never be counted out of a match, especially on grass. He proved that at last year's Wimbledon, when he came back from two sets down to stun Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.

    His biggest assets are his big first serve and his forehand. Tsonga's aggressive style of play makes him a difficult out when the Frenchman is clicking. 

    When Tsonga faces off against the top players, he often tries to play too close to the lines. When he employs this tactic, it takes away much of his margin for error and typically leads to a slew of unforced errors. His aggressive style is always a threat on the quick grass courts, but he will need to play at a consistently elite level to challenge for the big titles. 

    It wouldn't be surprising if Tsonga pulled off an upset that shook the tennis world at some point this summer, but it wouldn't be that big of a surprise to see Tsonga bow out early at either Wimbledon or the Olympics. 

7. Juan Martin del Potro

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    2012 Ranking Points: 2,060 

    Juan Martin del Potro has posted some good results this year, with victories in Estoril and Marseille. He lost in the finals at Rotterdam to Roger Federer, as he was completely outplayed by the Swiss Maestro in that match. 

    Delpo's strategy has remained unchanged throughout his career, as he is determined to play aggressive and hit the ball through his opponent. He is a threat to beat any opponent on any given day, and when he is hitting lines, he is nearly impossible to beat. 

    Delpo is 6'6", which is a great asset when he is serving, but his size is a liability on grass courts. It is a liability because the ball tends to skid on grass and doesn't bounce as high. 

    When del Potro defeated Federer in the 2009 US Open final, it proved that the Argentine was not going to be tentative on the biggest stages in tennis—and there is no bigger stage in tennis than the Olympics.

    Argentina has never won the Davis Cup, but if Delpo brings home Olympic gold from London, that will be quickly forgotten. 

6. Andy Murray

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    2012 Ranking Points: 2,240

    The pressure that Andy Murray will be under when the Olympics kicks off will be off the charts. He is the host country's only chance at winning a medal in any tennis event, so all eyes will be on him. 

    Murray is 22-7 on the year, and as you can tell he has fallen back in the rankings based solely upon his 2012 results. 

    If he wins his maiden Grand Slam or is victorious at the Olympics, then this season will be regarded as the finest of his career. Most agree that Murray has the talent to win multiple Grand Slams, but that has yet to come to fruition. 

    Murray has been disappointing on the clay thus far, as he has yet to advance past the quarterfinals in any of the three clay-court events he has entered. He won't be favored to beat any of the top three players on this list, and it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Murray come out of the summer still chasing his first major title. 

    Murray should finish the season ranked inside the top four, due to his consistency at the best of five-set Grand Slam events. But as of right now, you won't find many people who will pick Murray to win Olympic gold. 

5. Tomas Berdych

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    2012 Ranking Points: 2,325

    Tomas Berdych is quietly putting together another great season. He is 28-8 thus far, and has given the tennis world no indication that he will be slowing down anytime soon.

    He has all of the talent in the world, and it nice to see Berdych reach his potential.  

    He has the game to win a Grand Slam, but in order to do so, he would need to play at his highest level against the other members of this top five.

    Unfortunately for Berdych, three of the greatest tennis players of all time are in his way of winning a big-time event. 

    His game is clean, concise and all the aspects of his game are technically sound. At Wimbledon in 2010, Berdych defeated Roger Federer then Novak Djokovic to reach the final. He was overwhelmed in the final by Rafael Nadal, but still left the tournament with a lot to be proud of.

    Berdych will need to draw on that experience this summer if he hopes to break through in London. At age 26, this will likely be Berdych's last real chance to achieve Olympic glory for the Czech Republic. 

4. David Ferrer

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    2012 Ranking Points: 2,580

    David Ferrer is the most overlooked player in men's tennis. He is as durable and consistent as any player on the tour and isn't given the credit he deserves. 

    One of the reasons Ferrer is overlooked is because of the success his countryman, Rafael Nadal, has had over the years. But so far in 2012, Ferrer has compiled a 33-7 record and has captured titles in Acapulco, Buenos Aires and Auckland.

    Five of Ferrer's seven losses have come at the hands of the top three players on this list, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Ferrer is a human backboard and is extremely consistent from the baseline, but he lacks the firepower to get past the top three. 

    Ferrer is less of a threat on grass than he is on hard court or clay, which is his best surface.

    Fortunately for Ferrer, the courts at the All England Club have slowed down considerably over the last decade, thus allowing base-liners to be more effective on grass. 

    He won't be favored to win any of the major events this summer, but Ferrer will be ready to pounce if any of the top three players isn't playing up to their usual form. 

3. Roger Federer

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    2012 Ranking Points: 4,225

    Roger Federer is the most decorated champion in the history of men's tennis. He has won more Grand Slams than any other male player in history with 16 and holds many other records. 

    Olympic gold is the one prize that has evaded Federer thus far in his career, and this figures to be the last real chance he will have to win it. 

    Federer is already on the record about how excited he is about this year's Olympics. According to Johnathan Overend of BBC.com, Federer said the following about the upcoming event:

    "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be playing at Wimbledon at the Olympic Games. It's just a really big deal for us to be living that Olympic spirit, right there, at the most incredible arena we have in tennis."

    At the 2004 games in Athens, Federer was upset by Tomas Berdych. He suffered a similar fate at the 2008 games in Beijing, when he was defeated by James Blake. The loss to Blake was extremely confusing because Federer dominated Blake in the vast majority of their encounters. 

    Federer has won six Wimbledon championships on the hallowed courts of the All England Club, and he should feel comfortable on a court where he has had so much success. 

    With his six Wimbledon titles, Federer is among the best grass-court players in history. He has a complete understanding of the surface, and his serve will be at its best on the quick grass courts. 

    So far this season, Federer has won two Masters 1000 events, with victories at Indian Wells and Madrid. He is entering the summer in good form and is relatively well-rested. 

    Federer is a legitimate threat to win every event he enters, and he wants to win the Olympics more than any other event. Expect the all-time Grand Slam champion to be at the top of his game this summer. 

2. Rafael Nadal

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    2012 Ranking Points: 4,750

    Rafael Nadal is trying to add another Olympic gold medal to his trophy case, and if he is able to do so, he would become the first male player in the modern era to do just that. 

    Don't expect Nadal to be satisfied with just one Olympic gold medal. He is already looking forward to the event this summer, and he feels it is possible to win both Wimbledon and the Olympics this year. He said the following to Steven Redgrave of The Telegraph:

    "Yes, two Wimbledons for me. It's the best tennis club of the world so to have the chance to enjoy it as usual and then at the Olympics will be something completely different, amazing. Confidence is the most important thing in this sport and the confidence from winning Wimbledon would make it easier to win the Olympics too. Either would be very difficult, both even more — but the player who wins Wimbledon will be the favourite for the Olympics. It can happen."

    Nadal fell to No. 3 in the rankings after Federer won in Madrid, but quickly reclaimed the position when he beat Novak Djokovic in the finals in Rome. 

    Throughout his career, Nadal has been superb at tinkering with his shots to better suit the surface he is playing on. His backhand slice, which stays very low on grass, is the perfect example. 

    Nadal has become a master at setting up points on grass, and he already has won Wimbledon twice. If he has it his way, Nadal will have a big say in determining who will have the most successful summer in 2012. 

1. Novak Djokovic

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    2012 Ranking Points: 4,920

    Novak Djokovic has the chance to simultaneously hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. If he wins the French Open, he will be the first player to hold all four major titles at one time. The last male to do so was the great Rod Laver, who accomplished the feat way back in 1969. 

    Djokovic has lost his previous two matches against Rafael Nadal, and it appears as if Nadal has broken through the mental block that he had against Djokovic. 

    That being said, Djokovic is the current king of men's tennis, and that won't change until someone can beat him in a big match at either the Olympics or in a Grand Slam.

    Djokovic seems to be very excited to be representing Serbia this summer, as he said the following to BBC.com:

    "I'm very happy to be representing my country again and going back to the Wimbledon grass where I played in 2011, achieved one of my biggest goals. So I hope that I can play well, perform well and bring a medal to Serbia."

    It is not a secret that representing his country is very important to Djokovic, as he was a crucial member of Serbia's Davis Cup-winning team in 2010. 

    Djokovic is the prohibitive favorite to bring the gold medal home to Serbia, and if he does so, he will become an even bigger national hero.