Olympic Tennis 2016: Complete Guide to Women's Tournament in Rio

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2016

Olympic Tennis 2016: Complete Guide to Women's Tournament in Rio

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    Serena Williams bites down on her gold medal after winning singles at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
    Serena Williams bites down on her gold medal after winning singles at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Tennis fans may remember the 2016 Rio Olympic Games more for who didn't attend than who won. 

    Players concerned about the Zika virus, injuries or scheduling conflicts have withdrawn from the Summer Olympics in large numbers.

    Stan Wawrinka recently joined Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner, Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Mike and Bob Bryan on the list of notable ATP World Tour players skipping the Olympics. 

    That means just half of the ATP's Top 10 will compete in Rio. 

    Several high-profile WTA Tour players will also be absent. However, the two most accomplished women in the game will be in Rio. Serena and Venus Williams are the most decorated tennis players in the open era. Each has four gold medals (one in singles and three in doubles). 

    Venus Williams will become the first woman to compete in five Olympic Games. She told Tennis.com's Steve Tignor that playing in the Olympics was the “icing on the cake with a cherry on top," in her career. 

    On Monday, Dominika Cibulkova became the fifth woman in the Top 20 to withdraw from the Olympics. She joins No. 3 Simona Halep, No. 7 Victoria Azarenka, No. 16 Belinda Bencic and No. 17 Karolina Pliskova. 

    Still, this year's Grand Slam winners—Williams, No. 2 Angelique Kerber and No. 4 Garbine Muguruza—are all competing. 

    Unlike the 2012 Olympics, held on grass after Wimbledon, the hard courts at the newly built tennis venue in Rio could serve as a preview for the next Grand Slam, the U.S. Open. 

    The following is the complete guide to the 2016 Olympics women's tournament. 

Overview and History

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    Gabriella Sabatini, Steffi Graf, Zina Garrison and Manuela Maleeva during the medal ceremony at the 1988 Olympics.
    Gabriella Sabatini, Steffi Graf, Zina Garrison and Manuela Maleeva during the medal ceremony at the 1988 Olympics.Associated Press

    Tennis was part of the inaugural Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. However, clashes between the International Lawn Tennis Federation and Olympic organizers saw the sport disappear from the games in 1924.  

    The sport was part of the Olympics as exhibition in 1968, the year tennis transformed from amateur events to the open era at Grand Slams. 

    It didn't officially return until 1988. Steffi Graf won gold that first year back. Her rival, Gabriela Sabatini, took home the silver. American Zina Garrison and Manuela Maleeva grabbed bronze. 

    The Olympics did not have bronze medal matches in 1988 and 1992. Instead, both semifinal losers received bronze. It made for an odd medal ceremony with four players in the picture. The ITF tweaked the competition by adding a bronze medal game the following year. That created another oddity: a losing semifinalist returning the next day to play for hardware. 

    Graf holds the record for most singles gold medals (two). Serena Williams is trying to become the first woman to repeat as Olympics gold medal champion. If she wins singles, she would stand alone as the most decorated tennis player in modern Olympics history. 

The Schedule

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    A new stadium built for the tennis competition in Rio.
    A new stadium built for the tennis competition in Rio.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The following is a tentative schedule.

    Saturday, August 6: Women’s Singles First Round, Women’s Doubles First Round

    Sunday, August 7: Women’s Singles First Round, Women’s Doubles First Round

    Monday, August 8: Women’s Singles Second Round, Women’s Doubles Second Round

    Tuesday, August 9: Women’s Singles Third Round, Women’s Doubles Second Round, Women's Doubles Quarterfinals

    Wednesday, August 10: Women’s Singles Quarterfinals, Women’s Doubles Quarterfinals, Mixed Doubles First Round

    Thursday, August 11: Women’s Singles Semifinals, Women’s Doubles Semifinals, Mixed Doubles Quarterfinals

    Friday, August 12: Mixed Doubles Semifinals

    Saturday, August 13: Women's Singles Gold Medal Match, Women's Singles Bronze Medal Match, Women's Doubles Bronze Medal Match, Mixed Doubles Bronze Medal Match

    Sunday, August 14
    Women's Doubles Gold Medal Match, Mixed Doubles Gold Medal Match

Top Storylines

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    Serena and Venus Williams during the trophy ceremony after winning the doubles title at Wimbledon 2016.
    Serena and Venus Williams during the trophy ceremony after winning the doubles title at Wimbledon 2016.Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    The Williams Sisters Show

    Serena and Venus Williams enter these Games ranked No. 1 and No. 6, respectively. Serena is the overwhelming favorite, especially considering the absence of players with Olympic Games experience. 

    At ages 34 and 36, the Williams sisters are most likely making their final appearance at the Olympics. Federer's absence will only elevate their stature at these Games. 

    They haven't played doubles since winning the Wimbledon title. Then again, prior to Rome, they hadn't played doubles in two years.

    Their matches will probably be the hottest tickets at the tennis venue. 

    Martina Hingis' Doubles Troubles 

    A few months ago, five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis seemed poised to take home two Olympic medals. She was set to play mixed doubles with Swiss compatriot Federer and women's doubles with teen sensation Belinda Bencic.

    But Federer withdrew last week, leaving Hingis without a mixed doubles partner. Bencic had withdrawn a few weeks earlier.

    Hingis will now play doubles with No. 15 Timea Bacsinszky.

    Bacsinszky had been partnered with No. 71 Viktorija Golubic. However, after the withdrawals of Federer and Bencic, Swiss Tennis opted to send just one women's doubles team and no mixed doubles team. But that was before Wawrinka withdrew. After Federer withdrew, Wawrinka said he wanted to focus on singles.

    A replacement for Wawrinka has yet to be named. He might want to play mixed doubles with Hingis. 

    Major Comparisons 

    The number of players who have withdrawn from these games raises the question of just how important are the Olympics to tennis? 

    Players such as Serena Williams and Andy Murray talk about what an honor it is to play for their country. However, many players, including American John Isner, make it clear that the Olympics are not in the same category with Grand Slams. 

    Isner told the Washington Post's Kelyn Soong that the Olympics don't rise the level of Grand Slams. “If you ask Roger (Federer), I don’t think he dreamed of winning Olympic gold. He probably dreamed of winning Wimbledon seven times, like he has. … Our biggest events are the Grand Slams and are always going to be the Grand Slams." 

    Latvia's Ernests Gulbis told Jacky Naegelen of Reuters, "I really don't like that in Olympic Games there is no points and no prize money. It's a little bit like tennis tourism, from my side."  

Can’t-Miss Events

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    Angelique Kerber hits a backhand at the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal.
    Angelique Kerber hits a backhand at the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal.Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

    Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci Reunion

    Team Italy's Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci will reunite to play doubles. 

    Prior to splitting in 2015, Errani and Vinci had won five Grand Slams and 23 WTA Tour titles. Their split came as a surprise because they were close friends off the court.

    Errani and Vinci issued a joint statement (via WTA.com), "It's our common purpose to start new individual career paths and set brand new goals to try to reach, also for you to enjoy and take pride in."

    What a treat to see this dynamic duo back together.

     

    Mixed Doubles 

    In 2012, Azarenka settled for a bronze medal in singles. However, she took home gold in mixed doubles with fellow Belarusian Max Mirnyi. The pair defeated Andy Murray and Laura Robson at the All England Club in London

    Coincidently, Miyrni won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles while partnering with Serena. 

    Mixed doubles is often overlooked at Grand Slams. The prize money is a fraction of what even doubles players make.

    Olympics mixed-doubles pairings aren't finalized until the Games start. This makes for interesting last-minute pairings. Might Serena or Venus decide to team up with Jack Sock? Stay tuned.   

    Semifinals 

    The semifinals are always compelling because medals are on the line. There are plenty of top players who have never won an Olympic medal. This includes Muguruza, Kerber, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

    Serena is the only singles medalist from the last Olympics competing this time around. Venus is the only other top-10 player with a singles medal. 

    Regardless of who reaches the semifinals, these medal round matches should prove intriguing. 

Locks for Gold

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    Serena Willams and Venus Williams attack the ball during a doubles match at Wimbledon 2016.
    Serena Willams and Venus Williams attack the ball during a doubles match at Wimbledon 2016.Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    Serena Williams

    Williams hasn't played a match since Wimbledon. She'll be a rested, yet rusty player when she arrives in Rio. This won't be a problem. 

    In a Players Tribune article on about the five toughest opponents she's ever played, fellow American Christina McHale described what it's like to take on Williams. "She’s powerful but precise. Intense but smooth. Competing against someone who has no weaknesses is overwhelming." 

    Kerber, Muguruza and of course Venus, can challenge Williams. They've all beaten her before. However, Williams has her eyes set on a record-setting fifth gold medal.

    Serena and Venus Williams

    The Williams sisters have won the gold medal in doubles at three of the last four Summer Games. They've played in just two Grand Slams this year, but they are 14-0 in Grand Slam finals. 

    Unlike with traditional great doubles pairings, the Williams sisters employ few team tactics. They are simply two of the greatest female players of all time on the same side of the net. They are ruthless, relentless and have no problem smashing overheads right at their opponents. 

    Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna

    India's Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza are the closest thing to a lock in mixed doubles, a sport where you're only as good as your female player.

    In Mirza, Bopanna has a superb doubles player who creates dazzling angles. In Bopanna, Mirza gets a magician at the net. They've played together before, which is key in a tournament with last-minute pairings. 

Dark Horses to Watch

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    The Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova during a doubles match at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
    The Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova during a doubles match at the 2012 Summer Games in London.Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova

    In 2012, this doubles team from the Czech Republic was runner up to the Williams sisters at Wimbledon and the Olympics. They also lost a tough close match against  the Williams sisters at this year's Wimbledon. 

    Like Errani and Vinci, Hradecka and Hlavackova split after a successful run as partners. They won the 2013 U.S. Open and 2011 French Open. 

    The pair upset the Williams sisters at the 2013 U.S. Open. They could sneak by the Williams sisters again.  

    Sam Stosur

    Stosur will become the first Australian female tennis player to compete in four Olympic games. She remains one of the best hard-court players on the tour. She's also one of a handful of women not named Venus to defeat Serena Williams in a Grand Slam final. 

    When on, Stosur's serve is as fast and hard to return as any. 

    Madison Keys

    Keys is coming off a loss in the finals at the Rogers Cup. But she's also at a career-high No. 9. She'll be making her Olympics debut.

    Key's game appears more steady since she hired Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova's former coach. This summer, Keys became the first American woman to debut in the Top 10 since 1999. 

    She told ESPN's Greg Garber, ""I didn't know that it had been so many years since an American woman did that."

    With the Williams sisters in their mid thirties, Keys, 21, is the American heir apparent.  

Potential Breakout Stars

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    Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates a win over Coco Vandeweghe at 2016 Wimbledon.
    Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates a win over Coco Vandeweghe at 2016 Wimbledon.Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

    Pavlyuchenkova reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Although she lost to Serena Williams, it was her best showing at a Grand Slam since 2011.

    As a junior, Pavlyuchenkova won the Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon. She reached the juniors French Open final in 2007, where she lost to Radwanska.

    So when the big-hitting Russian turned pro, expectations were high. But after reaching the quarterfinals in two Grand Slams in 2011, "Pavs," began struggling. 

    She fell out of the top 30. Her error-prone game contributes to inconsistency on the tour. However, she looks as if she's finally figured out how to string together quality wins.  

    Johanna Konta

    It might seem odd to consider a player ranked No. 13 a potential breakout star. However, Konta could be on the verge of inserting herself among the elite. She defeated Venus Williams in the final of the Bank of the West Classic. It was the biggest win of her career.  

    Konta's having a solid hard-court season. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open where she lost to Kerber, the eventual winner. She also reached the quarterfinals at the Miami Open and the Rogers Cup. 

    She gets to play under the British flag. In 2012, she was still an Australian citizen. 

    Daria Kasatkina 

    Kasatkina, 19, is the second highest-ranked teenager (No. 26) on the WTA Tour. She showed off her killer ground strokes during an epic rain-delayed match against Venus Williams at Wimbledon. 

    Her serve remains a liability. However, she's quick and can hit winners from both wings. If the draw falls in her favor, Kasatkina could be a break out star. 

Team USA Outlook

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    Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams (left) stand next to First Lady Michelle Obama. Christina McHale and Madison Keys (far right) at 2013 U.S. Open.
    Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams (left) stand next to First Lady Michelle Obama. Christina McHale and Madison Keys (far right) at 2013 U.S. Open.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The "what's wrong with American tennis" mantra should be applied to men's singles only.

    At the last Olympics, Americans took home gold in women's singles, women's doubles and men's doubles. Team USA also won a bronze in mixed doubles. Americans won more medals in tennis than any other country.

    This year, with three players ranked in the top 10, the Americans have perhaps the strongest team in the women's field. Sloane Stephens, ranked No. 22, took the fourth slot in singles.  

    In doubles, the Americans are led by the Williams sisters, 14-time Grand Slam doubles champions. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won Grand Slams with the Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova, will team with Coco Vandeweghe.

    Ranked No. 34, Vandeweghe failed to qualify for singles on the U.S. team. However, her ranking is higher than several players representing other countries. That's a testament to the strength of Team USA.   

    Depending on the draw, Keys has as good a chance as breaking through to a medal round as Venus Williams. Could the Americans finish 1, 2 and 3? Maybe. 

Predictions for the Biggest Tennis Stars

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    Serena and Venus Williams celebrate winning gold in women's doubles at the 2012 Olympics.
    Serena and Venus Williams celebrate winning gold in women's doubles at the 2012 Olympics.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Serena Williams 

    It's hard to pick against Williams. It's not just that she's arguably the greatest player of all time. Williams understands how to pace herself through big events. She seems to come up with the stuff she needs at just the right time.

    This will be her first tournament since winning her 22nd Grand Slam. It's unlikely she'll feel the type of pressure she does in Grand Slam events. A relaxed Williams is a relentless opponent. Williams should win gold in singles and doubles.  

    Venus Williams

    Venus' best chance of taking home a medal is in doubles with little sis. Although Venus is having a good year, she's had problems taking home titles. Last week, she lost to Konta in the finals at Stanford. 

    The biggest issue for Williams is not her game. Instead, it's her stamina, which has been compromised by Sjogren's Syndrome, an immune disorder that can cause fatigue. 

    Angelique Kerber

    Kerber reached the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics. She lost to then No. 1 ranked Azarenka. Falling one round shy of a chance to play for a medal will surely motivate Kerber.

    She enters the Olympics ranked No. 2 and with a Grand Slam under her belt. Seeded on the opposite side of Williams, Kerber should reach the finals again. 

    Kerber and Williams played such a high quality match in their Wimbledon's final. This would be their third meeting in a major final this year. 

      

    Garbine Muguruza 

    Muguruza is a Grand Slam winner too. It's just that she's sort of taken steps back since winning the French Open. The post first Slam slump is real. 

    What a difference a few months make. After she stormed through the French Open, Muguruza was considered the next big thing. She's done little since. She lost in the first round in Mallorca and the second round at Wimbledon. She's played no other tournaments. 

    Muguruza appears to be in some sort of a funk. Expect an early exit.