We're going to do something to make out preview of the Olympic men's tennis tournament more interesting - we are going to pretend that Novak Djokovic isn't going to win. If we can pretend that more contenders have a legitimate chance of success then it will be much more interesting. There is a case to be made that he won't win, too - after all, he was the victim of a shocking upset in the third round at Wimbledon recently. So, with the possibility that this is a tight, wide-open contest in our minds, for now at least, let's take a look ( Odds are from BetOnline).
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First, the logistics. The tournament is a 64-person field, so there will be seven rounds - one fewer than grand slam events. The top 56-ranked players in the world were automatically eligible, but only four players could come from one country, and a few big-name players didn't accept the invitation - Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and others due to injury, and Milos Raonic and others because they were afraid of the chaos that Rio promises.
So, the field is mostly what you would expect, but there are a few guys you won't be too familiar with. The court will be familiar, though - it is the same hard-court surface that the U.S. Open and many other big tournaments are played on. The tournament starts on Saturday, Aug. 6, and the final takes place the next Sunday, the 14th. The final notable difference is that because of the bronze medals the losers of the semis still have a game left to play.
Novak Djokovic (-150): Djokovic is looking to complete his Golden Slam - the four grand slam tournaments plus Olympic gold. If successful he will join Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal in that elite club. Let's not kid ourselves - he is going to do it.
He has been just sensational this year, winning both the Australian and French Opens and five other tournaments. He's only entered 11 tournaments, so his win percentage is freakish. His loss at Wimbledon was mystifying, but he bounced right back and crushed the field in Toronto's Rogers Cup. On hard court he has been even better - 33-1 so far this year. He's beaten everyone he will face here - most multiple times. He's the best player in the world right now, and it's not even close.
If he's healthy - which he seems to be - and hungry - which he unquestionably is - then he's very tough to beat. He has played in this tournament twice before, winning bronze in 2008 and losing the bronze medal game in 2012. He wasn't nearly the player then that he is right now, though - and the field was deeper. This is his tournament to lose. Frankly, I'm a little surprised he isn't favored by more.
Andy Murray (+200): The odds suggest that Murray is the only guy with a legitimate shot at challenging Djokovic. He is the defending gold medalist, so he deserves that respect. He's also clearly second best behind Djokovic right now - he was the runner-up both in the Australian and French Opens, and he took advantage of Djokovic's early departure at Wimbledon to win that tournament again. He has two other wins to his credit as well.
He's only played three hard-court tournaments this year, though, and after the Aussie he was upset in his second game in each of the other two tournaments. The surface certainly doesn't give him an edge. He's been off since Wimbledon, so he's fresh, but I'm not sure that that is enough to close the gap. He's playing for second at this point.
Rafael Nadal (+1400): Nadal has won 14 grand slams and 2008 Olympic gold, but the 30 year old has been playing like he's about 90 this year. He was knocked out in the first round at the Australian and withdrew in the third round at the French. He didn't play Wimbledon and actually hasn't played since the French in late May. He does have two wins this year, but both were on clay and were a long time back. He missed out on London in 2012 because of a knee injury. He should be a touch healthier here, but it's all but impossible to believe he'll be anywhere near his best.
Kei Nishikori (+1600): Nishikori struggled through injuries during the grass season, being forced to withdraw due to injury both at Wimbledon and in his prep tournament for that slam. He came back for the Rogers Cup and, with help from an advantageous draw he made the finals. He was humiliated by Djokovic there, though - the fifth time he has lost to the likely gold medallist this year alone. That's a big problem. No value here.
Gael Monfils (+3300): The fact that Monfils is the fifth betting choice in this tournament is proof of how shallow the pool is in Rio. Monfils just isn't a truly elite player. He was crushed by Djokovic in the Rogers Cup semis last time out. He won his first tournament in two years earlier this year, but it was at a lower-level event. He lost to Nadal in a finals earlier this year. He's just not at the right level to seriously bet. So, in that way he's just like everyone else - except maybe Murray if you are feeling crazy.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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