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Top tennis players to watch in Rio

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is a favorite for gold in men's singles at the Rio Games.
Susan Mullane

Top tennis players to watch in Rio

Here are five big tennis names to keep an eye on at the Rio Games. 

Hundreds of athletes will compete in the tennis tournaments at the Rio Games, but some are more recognizable than others. Here are five tennis players you should keep an eye on at the upcoming Olympics.

  • Serena Williams fights for second singles gold




Serena Williams will play women's singles and doubles at the Rio Olympics. Credit: USA Today Sports/Mark J. Rebilas

Who else?

It should serve as a testament to Serena Williams’ greatness that the American World No. 1 has been considered a medal favorite at every Olympics since 2004. Unfortunately, she withdrew prior to the Athens 2004 Games due to injury; lost in the quarterfinals at Beijing 2008; and finally earned singles gold at London 2012. (Serena has seen more success in Olympic doubles, winning gold in 2000, 2008 and 2012 alongside sister Venus. Both sisters will compete in singles and doubles at the Rio Games, and could earn medals in either category.)

Who is ... Serena Williams

Learn all about Serena Williams, the highest-ranked American tennis player and reigning Olympic women's singles and doubles gold medalist.

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Serena is now 34 years old, quickly approaching 35 – but still on top of the women’s singles game. After a momentous 2015 that saw her win three Grand Slam titles (she failed to earn the calendar Grand Slam after a semifinal shocker at last year's US Open), she's fought through a rocky 2016 that saw her lose in the finals of both the Australian Open and French Open.

Serena wins Slam no. 22 on Wimbledon day 13

With her 22nd Grand Slam victory, Serena Williams has equalled Steffi Graf's Open Era record. 

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Fortunately, Serena regained momentum at Wimbledon 2016, where she won her 22nd Grand Slam singles title and 14th doubles title on the same day. 

  • Novak Djokovic attempts to re-establish tennis dominance



Novak Djokovic at the London 2012 Games.

Novak Djokovic at the London 2012 Games. Credit: Richard Mackson

The men’s World No. 1 is in a strange spot at the moment. After winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a row (beginning with Wimbledon 2015), he lost in the third round of Wimbledon 2016 to World No. 41 Sam Querrey. It was a huge fall from grace for a player widely anticipated to be the first-ever man to achieve the Golden Calendar Slam (wins at all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single year, plus a gold medal at the Olympics). 

Who is ... Novak Djokovic

Learn more about Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the current World No. 1 in men's singles and winner of 12 Grand Slam titles. 

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Before the loss, Djokovic was basically considered unstoppable. Now, that air of invincibility has (slightly) worn off. The Serb won bronze in men's singles at the 2008 Beijing Games, but was shut out of London 2012. He heads to the Rio Games with a single goal: reclaim the tennis throne by claiming gold. 

  • Rafael Nadal attempts to defy age and injury




Rafael Nadal won men's singles gold at the Beijing 2008 Games. Credit: Presse Sports

Spain’s Rafael Nadal turned 30 on June 3. As blasphemous as it might sound, that may have marked his career’s expiration date.

Who is ... Rafael Nadal

Learn more about Spain's Rafael Nadal, the 2008 gold medalist in men's singles and winner of 14 Grand Slam titles.

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Nadal grabbed his first of nine (!) French Open titles in 2005. He quickly established a rivalry with all-time great Roger Federer of Switzerland, but didn’t claim World No. 1 status until August 2008 – just as the Beijing Olympics took place. There, Nadal earned his sole Olympic singles gold medal. 

The Spaniard has fought hard against other “Big Four” members Federer, Djokovic and Great Britain’s Andy Murray ever since. (He unfortunately had to withdraw from the London 2012 Games due to tendonitis.) But Nadal simply hasn’t been the same since 2015, when he failed to earn a Grand Slam title for the first time in a decade. Some say he’s struggling with confidence, though his intensely physical style may have worn down his body.

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Rafael Nadal will be Spain's flag-bearer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

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Just as he began to regain momentum in 2016 – winning a Masters 1000 title and making a dent at the year’s French Open – Nadal withdrew from competition due to a wrist injury. He’s insisted he’ll make it to Rio, but the Games will mark his first tournament since May.   

  • Andy Murray looks to defend singles gold



Andy Murray at the London 2012 Games.

Andy Murray at the London 2012 Games. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel

Andy Murray has long been derided as the weakest among the “Big Four” men’s tennis players. He previously peaked at the right time, however: After a dramatic loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon 2012 final, Murray earned gold over Federer in the London 2012 Games’ singles final – and then won the US Open the following month. 

Murray has found another rival in Novak Djokovic, who has all but dominated men’s tennis for at least the past two years. As a result, Murray has now established himself as the best runner-up in men’s tennis. But at Wimbledon 2016, Djokovic’s early exit enabled Murray to truly shine; the Briton finally won his third Slam title. 

Rio could mark the beginning of another hot streak for Murray. Or he might (appropriately) cement his World No. 2 status with a silver medal.

  • Madison Keys illustrates the future of U.S. women's tennis



Madison Keys will play women's singles.

Madison Keys will play women's singles. Credit: Susan Mullane

You may not have heard of Madison Keys - yet. But the 21-year-old has already started making waves in the tennis world, and she's been on an especially hot streak in 2016. 

Who is … Madison Keys?

Learn more about the top ten-ranked American tennis player nicknamed “Madison Avenue”. 

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Her results at this year's Grand Slam tournaments are telling: Keys advanced to the fourth rounds of the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. She made it to the final of the prestigious Italian Open in May, losing only to World No. 1 Serena Williams.

In a largely inconsistent women's singles field, Keys has been steady in 2016. A tournament win at June's AEGON Classic landed her in the world rankings' top ten, where she currently stands as the World No. 9. 

 

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