Top tennis players to watch in Rio
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 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.
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
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).
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
Spain’s Rafael Nadal turned 30 on June 3. As blasphemous as it might sound, that may have marked his career’s expiration date.
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.
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 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
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.
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.