Special report: 2008 Olympic Games
By Sportswriter Wang Jimin
BEIJING, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Beijing will witness the best lineup since tennis returned as a full medal sport in Seoul 1988 as world number ones Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic head a strong field at the Olympic tennis tournament next month.
Fifty-six players in both men's and women's singles gained direct entry based on their singles rankings immediately after last month's French Open with 16 of the men's top 20 and 15 of the women's top 20 confirmed for the tournament which will run from Aug. 10-17.
Swiss Federer, who was beaten by Spaniard Rafael Nadal in finals of the French Open and the Wimbledon, is attempting to winhis first Olympic medal after a surprise defeat in Athens four years ago by Czech Tomas Berdych.
"The Olympic medals are something that would make me very proud. To bring back a medal home to Switzerland would be very nice because we don't win that many, but I'm obviously gunning for the gold medal," said Federer, who had his first Olympic taste in Sydney where he finished fourth.
Federer will be joined by compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, who now ranked 10th in the world.
World number two Nadal, on a surge after two Grand Slam wins this season and poised to take over the number one slot, is also eager for the Olympics to get underway.
"To play in the Olympics is very special, because when you're very young you always see the Olympic Games on television," said Nadal, who will be making his singles debut in Beijing having played doubles with Carlos Moya at Athens four years ago.
"You represent your country, that's the same as the Davis Cup, but at the same time it's completely different. When I play Davis Cup I always have this big motivation and I think in the Olympics I am going to have the same."
Spain boasts an all-star men's squad and claimed all four entries in singles' draw, featuring David Ferrer (5th), Nicolas Almagro (12th) and Tommy Robredo (14th) apart from Nadal.
Medal hopefuls will also include Russians and Argentines who both filled four slots in the men's draw. The Russians will be headed by world number four Nikolay Davydenko while the Argentine contingent is led by David Nalbandian.
In women's singles, Serbs, Russians and Americans are posed to be the best bets. World number one and newly-crowned French Open champion Ivanovic, defeated by China's Zheng Jie in the third round of the Wimbledon, will be making her Olympic debut. Her compatriot Jelena Jankovic, now ranked second in the world, also looks to the coveted title.
But the Serbian charge should be wary of the Russia's big names including Maria Sharapova (3rd), Svetlana Kuznetsova (4th), Elena Dementieva (6th) and Dinara Safina (9th).
The Williams sisters, who claimed the Olympic titles in both singles and doubles at Sydney 2000, rode on the Wimbledon triumph in July and will eye more at Beijing.
Olympic tennis has produced women's champions familiar even to casual fans. Gold medalists have included Jennifer Capriati as a 16-year-old in 1992, evergreen star Lindsay Davenport in 1996, Venus Williams in 2000, and Justine Henin in 2004. All are winners of multiple Grand Slam titles.
In contrast, men's top players seem to put the Wimbledon, Roland Garros and the Australian and US Opens as the benchmark of success.
Chile's Nicolas Massu and American Mardy Fish, the finalists in2004, have never reached a major semifinal. Marc Rosset of Switzerland and Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia were other surprise gold medalists.
Host China's chances of landing tennis gold at the Games was boosted by Zheng's latest success at Wimbledon despite a largely bleak 18-month run for China's leading women players.
In the best performance by a Chinese player at a grand slam to date, wildcard and 133rd ranked Zheng beat top seed Ivanovic, 15thseed Agnes Szavay and 18th seed Nicole Vaidisova, bowing out to Serena Williams after a second set tiebreak in the semi-finals.
Zheng, who missed most of last year with an ankle injury, is a former Wimbledon and Australian Open doubles champion as well as an Asian Games doubles and singles champion.
Before the injury she had won 10 doubles titles with her long-time partner Yan Zi and three singles titles but only added the Sydney doubles title after returning this season.
But she is still considered the best chance of China retaining the Olympic women's doubles gold medal won by Sun Tiantian and Li Ting in Athens.
"After the August Olympics I might apply more efforts on the singles, but as for the Beijing Games, my focus is still on the doubles," said Zheng, who just turned 25 on July 5.
"Everybody wants more medals, but I think my partner Yan Zi andI appear more hopeful in the women's doubles and we have been preparing for it for a long time."
Olympic champion Sun will team up with Peng Shuai as the other Chinese pair in the 32-team women's doubles line-up.
The biggest threats for China's hopes of tennis gold in the event will come from the United States, which will be represented by Liezel Huber/Davenport and the Williams sisters.
Liezel Huber is in the U.S. team as a doubles player after competing for South Africa at the 2000 Olympics. The world number one doubles player gained American citizenship in 2007.
The Williams sisters, who just played two matches together during 05-07 seasons, have played 12 matches thus far this season and notched up a Grand Slam doubles title at the 2008 Wimbledon.
The main challengers also include Chinese Taipei's Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung, Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues/Virginie Ruano Pascual and Ukraine's Bondarenko sisters.
In men's doubles, Israel's Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram, America's twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, Athens' gold medalists Fernando Gonzalez/Massu and bronze medalists Ivan Ljubicic/Mario Ancic are among the medal hopefuls.
Countries are allowed a maximum of six players in the Olympic tournament with no more than four in the singles. They are allowed two doubles pairs.
Tennis was a part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but was withdrawn after the 1924 Paris Games. It returned as a demonstration event in the 1984 Los Angeles Games and became a full medal sport again in 1988.