2012 Olympic Tennis: 12 First-Round Matches You Can't Miss
The first balls have yet to be struck on the courts of the All England Club to signal the official start of 2012 Olympic tennis, but the event has already received its fair share of drama.
From Nadal's withdrawal to Bartoli's exclusion to worries that the pristine lawns of Wimbledon might not be perfectly revamped in the short window between the championships' conclusion and the Olympic start date... well, it's already been a wild ride. But there was even more intrigue in store this past Thursday, when the draws were revealed and fates were determined.
Get your DVRs ready, because here are 12 blockbuster first-round matches that you won't want to miss.
(1) Roger Federer vs. Alejandro Falla
The heavy favorite takes on a crafty Colombian journeyman in a rematch of their white-knuckle encounter in the first round of Wimbledon 2010—a match where Falla had built a two-sets-to-love lead against the six-time champ before falling 6-0 in the fifth.
Falla scored a handsome five-set win over John Isner in the first round of this year's Championships...could he ready to pull off the epic upset this go around?
Prediction: Federer in two competitive sets.
(3) Andy Murray vs. Stanislas Wawrinka
The tennis gods did local hero Andy Murray no favors whatsoever in pitting him against arguably the most dangerous unseeded floater in the men's draw for his opening test.
Wawrinka hits a bigger ball than the Scot, but lacks his opponent's savvy shot selection—and perhaps most importantly, the confidence heading into the Games needed to pull off this major upset. The Swiss star has struggled with his form all season (thus the lack of seeding) and crashed out in the first round of this year's Wimbledon, while Murray famously reached the final.
These two played a marathon four-hour match in the fourth round of Wimby '09—this one should be another barnburner.
Prediction: Murray in three.
(5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Thomaz Bellucci
There's no doubt that, between these two gritty competitors, Tsonga's the one with the game and the weapons suited for slick grass courts.
But don't count Bellucci out too fast. He's just coming off of his third ATP tour title in Gstaad—defeating Tipsarevic in the final—and testing Nadal for a set in the first round of this year's Championships. He could prove to be a tougher test than expected for the fashionable Frenchman.
Prediction: Tsonga in straights.
(7) Janko Tipsarevic vs. David Nalbandian
These two met in the first round of this year's Wimbledon—with Nalby coming off his "kick seen 'round the world" controversy. Perhaps the psychological toll it took helped to transform that hyped-up encounter into an anticlimactic affair, with an in-form Tipsarevic steamrolling the Argentine in three straightforward sets.
Look for this Olympic bout to be a lot different though—for two reasons.
First: The seventh-seeded Serb has done anything but rest since Wimbledon 2012 wrapped—playing a couple of European clay court events, winning one and reaching the final in the other.
Second: This is Nalbandian's last shot at taking home an Olympic medal. He watched as fellow South Americans have wildly succeeded in the past couple Games—now he's hungry for a chunk of his own Olympic glory.
Prediction: Nalbandian in an entertaining three-set upset.
(14) Fernando Verdasco vs. Denis Istomin
Istomin recently made history as he became the first Uzbek to reach the second week of Wimbledon—he was also painfully close to defeating Mikhail Youzhny for a berth in the quarters.
Even though Verdasco's the seed, Istomin's huge serve, fluid game and upsurge of confidence should be enough to rock the equally-flashy Spaniard into submission.
Prediction: Istomin in a three-set thriller.
(15) Kei Nishikori vs. Bernard Tomic
Two of tennis' most talented young guns are set to square off in an interesting contrast of styles. The at-times lackadaisical Aussie broke through on the lawns of Wimbledon last year and became the youngest quarterfinalist at The Championships since Boris Becker.
Flat strokes, a wicked slice forehand and an impressive serve make Tomic an easy choice to pull off the upset, but Nishikori's superior movement and defensive skills—combined with improved aggression—will make this matchup one to remember.
Prediction: Tomic in three lopsided sets.
(2) Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Julia Goerges
Like Wawrinka and Nalbandian on the men's side, Germany's Goerges—who originally was in danger of even making it into the draw for the Games—is one of the toughest floaters in the women's field.
Who will become the first big name to fall at the 2012 Olympic Games?
However, the German's game—with her extreme grips and big swings—is better suited for slower surfaces and will give the ultra-confident 2012 Wimbledon finalist Radwanska an immediate advantage.
Watch for Goerges' big forehand to be pitted against the wily defensive skills of the Polish No. 2.
Prediction: Radwanska in a breezy two sets.
(4) Serena Williams vs. Jelena Jankovic
Like the woman she defeated in this year's Wimbledon final, Serena also was handed a pretty tough opening match—on paper, that is.
In reality, the thoroughly-slumping Jankovic doesn't have much to trouble Serena with at this point in time. And with gold medal chances within her sight, Serena's going to take this opener—a rematch of the 2008 U.S. Open final—more seriously than ever.
Would you like your bagel toasted, Jelena?
Prediction: The American in laughably-easy straights.
(9) Sara Errani vs. Venus Williams
Question marks abound in this one—potentially the most intriguing first-round encounter at the London Games. Which Venus are we going to see? The discouraged and listless woman who went down in flames to Elena Vesnina at this year's Championships, or the supremely confident and energized player-of-old that resurfaced during the Wimbledon women's doubles semifinal and final?
More importantly, which Errani are we going to see? The woman who completed a fairytale run to the French Open championship bout—or the unfortunate recipient of the lone Grand Slam "golden set" in recorded history? It is a total toss-up.
Prediction: For sentimentality's sake, Venus in three.
(10) Na Li vs. Daniela Hantuchova
These two slumping sluggers have had their fair share of interesting head-to-head bouts—and with the confidence of both players very low, it'll be anyone's guess to see who can reign in their unforced error count and take control of this tantalizing opener.
Compared to Hantuchova, the Chinesewoman has bigger ground strokes and much better movement—but can she keep it together psychologically?
Prediction: Li in a topsy-turvy three-setter.
(11) Ana Ivanovic vs. Christina McHale
The young American—who has made incredible strides this past year and is currently sitting at a career high of No. 26—has an excellent shot of upsetting the notoriously fragile Ivanovic.
While the Serbian has also improved in the past twelve months—calming down the yips on the serve and beating most players ranked below her—she can still buckle like a Danish schoolgirl's saddle shoe under pressure.
McHale's backboard-esque strokes and varied serve are excellent elements for an upset.
Prediction: McHale in two tiebreaks.
(16) Nadia Petrova vs. Jie Zheng
Zheng just missed being seeded, while Petrova just made it—so we can't read much into that aspect of this match. But what we can do is look at Zheng's incredibly gritty third-round performance against Serena on Centre Court of Wimbledon from earlier this month.
The Chinese fireball stood toe-to-toe with the eventual champ in a battle of baseline aggression and pinpoint serving, and she should be poised to rob Petrova of yet another chance at an Olympic medal. Plus, Zheng knows what it feels like to stand on the podium—she and compatriot Zi Yan won bronze in front of the home crowd in Beijing in '08.
Prediction: Zheng running away in the third.
(10) John Isner vs. Olivier Rochus
David vs. Goliath in terms of both stature and seeding. Rochus can be deceptively tough on grass—he beat No. 2 Marat Safin at Wimbledon in '02.
(12) Dominika Cibulkova vs. Tsvetana Pironkova
Cibulkova is hot off of her second WTA title in Stanford, but Pironkova's a tough grass court customer and has a game better suited to the turf than her higher-seeded opponent.
Julian Benneteau vs. Mikhail Youzhny
These two were both victims of Federer during the world No. 1's march towards an 18th major. Of the duo, Youzhny made it further in the draw but got crushed by the Swiss maestro handily, while Benneteau was a mere two points away from altering history and eliminating him.
Tamira Paszek vs. Alize Cornet
Paszek has had two excellent Wimbledons in the past two years, but Cornet is the lone female competitor from France and is poised to make the most of her Olympic wild card. She also gave Serena a real run for her money in Beijing.
Andreas Seppi vs. Donald Young
Young is currently riding a 14-match losing streak...yes, you read that correctly. It's amazing that he made the Olympic cut. Can he end his drought against the mercurial Italian?
Laura Robson vs. Lucie Safarova
Britain's hopes on the women's side were bleak before the draw came out. It didn't really do them any favors. Robson's guts and determination will have to be used to their full effect if she wants to outclass the hard-hitting Czech lefty.
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