Despite his No. 2 world ranking, Rafael Nadal will win gold in men’s singles tennis at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Nadal is the defending Olympic champion in this event. He outplayed current No. 1 player Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 before defeating Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in three straight sets to win gold in Beijing.
Nadal last met Djokovic at the 2012 French Open Final on June 11. Nadal beat Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, to claim his seventh title at Roland Garros.
Nadal knows how to win on grass. He has won two titles at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, and he has placed second on three occasions, most recently in 2011.
Djokovic is the defending champion at Wimbledon. Once the 2012 Wimbledon tournament ends on July 8, the tennis world should have a better idea of what to expect three weeks later on the same surface.
Will Novak and Rafa meet again at Centre Court? Who will prevail?
The Serbian could win Wimbledon again, but Nadal will wear Olympic gold. Why?
Spain is the top country in men’s tennis. It currently holds the No. 1 ranking in the Davis Cup standings. It has won three of the last four Davis Cup championships. Spanish players hold 12 of the top 91 spots in the current South African Airways ATP Rankings, and five of the top 20.
Nadal is the best player on the best team heading into London. This explains why he, and not Djokovic, holds the No. 1 ranking in the South African Airways ATP Rankings Race To London.
What do these rankings mean? According to atpworldtour.com:
“The South African Airways ATP Rankings Race To London is an indicator of what the South African Airways ATP Rankings will be on the Monday after the end of the regular season…The South African Airways ATP Rankings Race To London include points earned in 2012 plus points earned at the 2011 Davis Cup final and late-season 2011 Challengers and Futures played after the 2011 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.”
The success of Spain in Davis Cup play has surely allowed Nadal to be No. 1 in this ranking system.
All-time, Nadal is 19-14 against Djokovic. He has won two of three meetings on grass. The two have met in the championship match of the last four major tournaments. Nadal has the three most recent victories; though they were all on clay, he has the momentum heading into Wimbledon.
Nadal will solidify himself as the favorite to win gold if he captures his third Wimbledon title. According to atpworldtour.com:
“Nadal, who ceded the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic when he lost the Wimbledon final last year, can reclaim top spot if he wins The Championships for a third time and the Serb [Djokovic] does not go beyond the quarter-finals.”
The last time Djokovic failed to reach the semifinals in a major tournament was the 2010 French Open—over two years ago. This means Nadal will not likely regain the No. 1 ranking even if he wins at Wimbledon.
What does this mean, then?
Nadal will have extra motivation to prove he is the world’s best tennis player. Another Olympic gold would help him reach that goal.
Though Djokovic is Nadal’s archrival right now, two other players could likely challenge for the gold in London.
Roger Federer can become the world’s No. 1 player by winning Wimbledon and hoping Djokovic does not reach the final round. Federer lost to James Blake in the quarterfinals in the 2008 Olympic Games singles tournament, but he won gold in doubles with Swiss partner Stanislas Wawrinka.
Federer has six career Wimbledon victories and an Olympic gold medal (albeit in doubles). Why will he not win his first singles gold medal, though?
Roger trails both Nadal and Djokovic in the South African Airways ATP Rankings Race To London. The color for third place in sports is bronze, not gold.
The other likely challenger, Andy Murray, enters both Wimbledon and the 2012 Olympics as the hometown hero.
Murray has Olympic history on his side, as Great Britain won every tennis gold medal in 1908, the last time The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club hosted the Olympic Games.
Wimbledon, though, has not been kind to its native sons. Great Britain has not won at Wimbledon in gentlemen’s singles since 1936. Will the streak end in this unusual tennis season? Maybe.
Despite the shared venue, 2012 Wimbledon and the 2012 Olympic Games carry a different significance to every tennis player. The Olympics are more about national pride. To Rafa, Olympic gold means everything.
Nadal will rise under the pressure that comes with being Spain’s best individual tenista. He has done it before. The ATP thinks he will do it again.