Battle of attrition may determine women's gold medalist
The Serbs are struggling, while the Williams sisters, beset by injuries, have seen little action since Wimbledon. The Beijing winner might be the player who stays the healthiest.
This could be one strange tournament.
The Serbian glamour girls, beset by injuries, will soon swap places at the top of the rankings. The Williams sisters also appear vulnerable thanks to lingering injuries. Maria Sharapova is already out because of an ailing shoulder.
So, whoever remains standing has won half the battle.
First quarter: Pole position
Things haven't gone how Ana Ivanovic wanted after she claimed her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in June.
Instead of carrying the momentum to Wimbledon, the soon-to-be-deposed world No. 1 exited in the third round. At last week's Rogers Cup in Montreal, she again suffered a third-round exit, and this time, an inflamed right thumb didn't help matters.
Clever Pole Agnieszka Radwanska has managed to stay healthy and is ranked a career-best ninth; she has reached at least the quarterfinals in four of her past five events, including Wimbledon. Radwanska is on course to face the harder-hitting Vera Zvonareva, the ninth seed, or Shahar Peer in the third round.
Second quarter: Tough for Serena
It all depends on that left knee.
If it's up to scratch, Serena Williams should ease into the latter rounds, despite a tricky draw and lack of match practice. If not, a season that held so much promise could get even more disappointing: Healthy at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, Williams has reached a solitary Grand Slam final in 2008.
She faces Belarussian Olga Govortsova in the first round. Govortsova had a breakout season in 2007, though she hasn't maintained that form and is coming off a hip injury sustained at the Rogers Cup.
Williams' potential second-round foe is streaking Italian Sara Errani. Errani is riding a 10-match winning streak, claiming back-to-back tournaments on clay and hard courts. Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, like Radwanska, is a thinker on the court and could be up next.
Fifth-seeded Russian Elena Dementieva suffered a blip at the Rogers Cup but otherwise has had a fine season. She's healthy, too.
Third quarter: Venus' return
The good news for Venus Williams is that she has a seven-match winning streak. The bad news is that she hasn't played since claiming a fifth Wimbledon title last month.
The elder of the Williams sisters, who's bothered by a right knee injury, appears to have an easier draw than her sibling. First up is outgoing Swiss teen Timea Bacsinszky, who's not exactly on a roll heading into the Olympics. In the second round she could play Indian Sania Mirza, who also has been hampered by injuries this year.
Victoria Azarenka, a teen from Belarus, would be a much different proposition in Round 3.
One of the most intriguing first-round matches sees underachieving third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova face former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and local favorite Li Na, who's also healing from injuries.
Perhaps the most interesting draw of the quarters, this one features the hot Dinara Safina, the always-entertaining Jelena Jankovic, the in-form Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, Lindsay Davenport and China's Zheng Jie, who is somewhat of a sentimental favorite and captivated the public en route to a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon.
First to Safina: She has posted a 27-3 record in her past 30 matches and won back-to-back titles in Los Angeles and Montreal. She could meet Davenport, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, in the second round. Beset by a knee injury, Davenport has contested one match since the middle of April, so this one shouldn't be close.
Zheng, an aggressive baseliner, figures to give Safina a much sterner test in the third round should they face each other, especially because the crowd will support its countrywoman.
Jankovic, who farcically will take over the top spot Monday, injured her knee at Wimbledon and is still feeling the effects. She blew a 5-1 opening-set lead to Cibulkova in the quarterfinals in Montreal and hasn't reached a final since winning the Italian Open in May. Barring a huge upset, Jankovic should tussle with Cibulkova, who plays well above her size, in the third round in Beijing.
Azarenka and Safina are no strangers.
The latter triumphed in the quarters in Los Angeles, then in the semis in Montreal. The second encounter was tighter, as it went three sets.
Radwanska is the sort to take advantage if her opponent is off, so much depends on Dementieva. Radwanska has won their past two meetings in straight sets.
Prediction: Safina, Dementieva to advance
Few will forget Safina's charmed run at the French Open. A round after saving a match point to get past Sharapova, Safina did the same against Dementieva in the quarterfinals.
The two then squared off in the semifinals of a Wimbledon warm-up in the Netherlands, but this one was no contest, as Safina won 6-3, 6-2. Safina leads their head-to-head matchups 5-2.
Gold medal: Safina
Silver medal: Dementieva
Bronze medal: Radwanska
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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