Picking a winner of the Olympics is all about judging who has the greatest motivation. For some countries, the Games mean more, traditionally at least, than for others. The average person in Eastern Europe, so the general thinking goes, knows more about the Olympics than they do about grand slam titles. Certainly that was true for the Russian players – Yevgeny Kafelnikov won in Sydney in 2000 and the 1-2-3 in the Beijing women’s event was Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva.
This time, with all the top players bar the injured Rafael Nadal – who won the gold medal in 2008 – present, it promises to be one of the most hotly contested Olympic events in history. Throw in the fact that it is on grass, at Wimbledon and the motivation is likely to be even greater.
Andy Murray will be hoping to banish memories of his near-miss at Wimbledon by winning gold but Paddy Power make him only their third favourite at 6-1 behind the clear top two, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Federer won Wimbledon earlier this month and is chasing his first Olympic singles gold – as is Djokovic, but the Serb just about shades favouritism at 13-8 to the Swiss’s 7-4. Behind Murray there is then a massive gap to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at 20-1.
The 64-man draw promises to be a tough, tough event, and the best-of-three set format, up until the final, means that there could well be more upsets than usual.
On paper, there is no question that Federer has the best draw, with Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga and Tomas Berdych all in the bottom half. The Swiss has a couple of potential dangers in the early rounds but it would be a big surprise if he does not at least make the last four.
With Murray, it is all about how he has overcome the disappointment of going so close at Wimbledon, where Federer dashed his hopes in the final. The Briton looks to be content, which is a good sign and though he has a very difficult draw, we said the same thing at Wimbledon.
Djokovic, too, looks confident and he absolutely revels in a team environment. Something about it seems to bring out the best in him and having been beaten by Federer in the semi-finals, taking his No 1 ranking with him, the Serb will be keen to win gold. Grass gives Federer a better chance but it is not as if Djokovic cannot play on it – he did win Wimbledon in 2011 after all. If it stays dry, then the conditions will be more in his favour and at the prices, he is better value with his motivation absolutely not in question. Winning gold for Serbia would be a massive achievement for him.
If you are looking for an each-way shot then there is little point in looking in the bottom half, where things are so loaded. Instead, let us take a punt and assume that if Federer is to be upset, then someone could come through from his section to reach the final.
If it was not for Federer, David Ferrer would surely be nowhere near as big as 33-1, with Paddy Power paying half the odds for reaching the final. The Spaniard played his best ever Wimbledon earlier this month, is in the form of his life and is a physical beast. With no Nadal, he’s Spain’s leader this time and he could well upset the odds.