Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic, particularly with Rafael Nadal not looking fit enough, Serena Williams dominating, Sania Mirza bringing some glory and Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes, hopefully, putting their differences behind them in a bid to bring a medal back to India – that is the tennis narrative of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
With Roger Federer sitting out the rest of the season because of a knee injury and Nadal nowhere near the player he was anymore, the most obvious pick for the gold medal match in the men's singles is Djokovic vs Murray. Both of these players are in their prime, playing some outstanding tennis, winning Grand Slams and dominating the men's circuit.
Djokovic's hold on the Grand Slams ended at Wimbledon, when he was dumped out in the third round by Sam Querrey, but with the world number one clinching the Toronto Masters title in his first tournament back from that shock defeat, the Serbian will go into the men's event of the Rio Olympics as the favourite. Djokovic will also have another crack at a medal in the doubles, making the likelihood of him leaving with at least one gold pretty high.
The man most likely to stop him from clinching gold in the men's singles is Murray, the winner of a third Grand Slam title and a second Wimbledon crown last month. While most will say Murray only won the title because Djokovic exited the All England Championships early, the fact that the confidence is back, Ivan Lendl is in his corner again and the feeling of Djokovic is mortal after all pervading through, this men's singles competition might not be a foregone conclusion, after all.
While the draw will be poorer for the absences of Federer, Stan Wawrinka, who was a late withdrawal due to injury, Milos Raonic, the Wimbledon finalist who pulled out citing the Zika Virus, Tomas Berdych, Dominic Thiem, Richard Gasquet abd Nick Kyrgios, the fact that the final is still likely to be Djokovic vs Murray does not change.
Djokovic is a beast on the hardcourts, the surface on which the Rio Olympics 2016 tennis event will be played, and that will give him an edge over Murray and the rest of the competition, even if the Brit comes into this tournament as the defending champion.
Surface is not even a topic of conversation in the women's singles – because this tournament is, as most of them are, Serena's to lose. Coming off a fabulous victory at Wimbledon, where she had to fight off a stiff challenge from Angelique Kerber in the final, Serena is as clear a favourite as they come in any event in the Olympics.
After equaling Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 Grand Slams with her Wimbledon win, Serena will now eye two gold medals – the women's singles and the women's doubles with her older sister Venus. The Williams sisters clinched the Wimbledon women's doubles title this year, and with Venus looking in rude health, only a brave man would bet against them winning a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
One of the teams looking to upset the Williams sisters' applecart is Sania Mirza and the unheralded Prarthana Thombare. Sania will not have the comfort of playing with Martina Hingis – and Hingis will rue the fact that she will not be able to form that dream partnership with Federer in the mixed doubles -- her usual doubles partner, at the Rio Olympics 2016, but who knows -- a fast start, some momentum, the draw opening up, and a medal could very well come India's way.
The best bet for India, however, remains in the mixed doubles and the men's doubles. Sania partners Bopanna in the mixed doubles, and, on paper, they have the capability of going deep in the tournament. Doubles, though, is so much about understanding, having that telepathy of knowing just what your partner wants, where he/she is going to move, and while the fact that they are from the same country will help, it remains to be seen if Sania and Bopanna have that on-court chemistry going for them.
Those very same doubts exist with the men's doubles team as well, with another controversy swirling up after Bopanna chose Saketh Myneni over Paes, while trying to justify that move by saying he plays best with a doubles partner whose USP is power and serve.
The two have mended, or at least tried to, fences since then, after AITA vetoed Bopanna's choice and picked Paes as his partner, with the Indian pair looking impressive in the Davis Cup win over South Korea last month.
Professionalism is all about being able to do your jobs properly no matter what the situation. There have been many cases where teammates have not gotten along too well, particularly in football and cricket, and while tennis is a little different – there are only two players, after all – being professional, putting your differences aside – be that on-court or off-court – and just putting it all out there in a bid to win a medal for your country should not be that difficult a thing to do.
Hopefully, Paes and Bopanna find their mojo – again a kind draw early on will help – and bring back a medal for India.