Rio 2016: Can Anyone Prevent a Murray vs Djokovic Gold Medal Match?

Following a number of high-profile withdrawals, the men’s singles draw for the Rio Olympics has now been finalised. Despite diminished numbers, there are still plenty of top class players in the competition. That said, can anyone prevent what seems like an inevitable gold medal match between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic?

The short answer is, probably not. Both Murray and Djokovic have shown remarkable consistency in 2016. The Scot is on a winning streak and hasn’t lost a match since he faced his Serbian rival in the final of the French Open. Similarly, despite his shocking exit from Wimbledon, Djokovic has only lost four matches all year. The World #1 also has the added motivation of trying to capture that elusive Olympic gold medal.

As things stand, nobody else in the draw can currently compete with the Scot and the Serb. The two are on another level both physically and mentally.

Djokovic highlighted this perfectly at the Rogers Cup. Despite not playing his best tennis, he still emerged victorious at the end of the week. He was under the cosh at various points against Gaël Monfils and Tomáš Berdych, but still came out on top [1].

Djokovic, like Murray, knows exactly when to raise his game and can shift through the gears at just the right moment. This is an ability that many other players on the tour can only dream of possessing.

Conversely, both find themselves with potential banana skins in the first round of Rio. Djokovic will face Juan Martin Del Potro, the man who defeated him in the bronze medal match at London 2012. The Argentine also made a huge statement of intent when he dumped Stan Wawrkinka out of Wimbledon.

Although he’s shown glimmers of the form that led him to a US Open title in 2009, Del Potro is still struggling for consistency on the tour. In essence, there’s absolutely no doubt that Djokovic is the heavy favourite in this match.

Murray, on the other hand, will face Djokovic’s Serbian compatriot, Viktor Troicki. Troicki is one of the highest ranked unseeded players in the draw, with a world ranking of #35. Murray would certainly prefer an easier first round opponent, but the British #1 shouldn’t be particularly worried as he boasts a 7-0 winning record against the Serb.

The World #2’s route to the final could include facing David Ferrer in the quarterfinals and Kei Nishikori in the semis. There’s also the possibility of a third round match against Fabio Fognini. The fiery Italian has defeated Murray twice, most recently on clay during a 2014 Davis Cup match. Moreover, an alternative outcome could see Murray face either Cilic, Monfils, or Dimitrov in the semifinals.

There are two main roadblocks that could prevent Djokovic from reaching the gold medal match. They are a potential quarterfinal encounter with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and semifinal clash with familiar foe, Rafael Nadal.

Whilst it won’t be plain sailing for Murray or Djokovic, it’s fair to say an early exit for either would constitute a huge shock. However, as we saw with Djokovic at Wimbledon, shocks can and do happen.

A gold medal clash between the top two would be the first time they’ll have met since Ivan Lendl re-joined the Scot’s team. Therefore it could be the first time we witness just how significant the “Lendl effect” is for Murray.

The Best of the Rest

There are other high-caliber players in the draw, but who is most likely to stop Murray or Djokovic? Alternatively, assuming a final between the world’s top two players does materialise, who are the bronze medal contenders?
Rafael Nadal
Let’s be honest, nobody knows which Nadal is going to turn up in Rio. We’ve seen the Spaniard make successful returns from injury before, but he’s not played competitive tennis since Roland Garros in May [3]. He may be fresh, but at the same time he could also lack match sharpness.

Furthermore, Nadal’s draw is by no means a cakewalk. He could face impressive youngster Borna Coric in round three as well as David Goffin in the quarters. Were he to win those he would then meet Djokovic, a player he hasn’t defeated since the final of the 2014 French Open.
Kei Nishikori
Nishikori is not only many people’s favourite for the bronze medal, but is also the player who’s most likely to prevent a Murray vs Djokovic final. The Japanese pushed Murray to the limit earlier this year in a five-set Davis Cup epic. He also defeated Murray at the 2014 ATP Tour Finals. However, it must be stressed that Murray is still the firm favourite were the two to meet in the semis.

Nishikori’s passage to the semifinals could also be challenging. His section could result in him facing either Gaël Monfils or Marin Čilić in the quarters.
David Goffin
Compared to Nadal and Nishikori, Goffin is a relative dark horse in this competition. However, he’s been threatening to break into the top ten all year and has a relatively kind draw. The Belgian’s passage to a quarterfinal meeting with Nadal should be relatively straightforward.

Given that Nadal is returning from injury, Goffin may never get a better opportunity to reach the semis and guarantee himself a shot at a bronze medal.

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