Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Venus takes court on day one of Olympic tennis

Published:Saturday | August 6, 2016 | 8:18 AM
Serena Williams of the United States (left) removes a hairband in the colours of her national flag next to her sister Venus Williams, before a practice session on the central court in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Wednesday.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP):

With a 64-player field and 16 seeds - half that of the majors - the Olympic tennis draw sets up some intriguing first-round matchups.

Play opens today, though many of the big names won't start their tournaments in Rio de Janeiro until tomorrow. Novak Djokovic does take the court today, but in doubles, not singles.

Here's what to look for on Day One of what is scheduled as a nine-day event - weather permitting.

DJOKOVIC DOUBLES: Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam singles champion, teams with Nenad Zimonjic for Serbia in doubles. They face Croatia's Marin Cilic and Marin Draganja in the first round Saturday.

Djokovic and Zimonjic are 6-7 as a pairing in their careers, including a first-round defeat at the 2008 Beijing Games.

The 40-year-old Zimonjic is a three-time major doubles champion.

In singles, at least, Djokovic has dominated Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, winning all 14 of their meetings.

Cilic is scheduled to play twice today, opening his singles tournament with a potentially tough matchup in Grigor Dimitrov. Two years ago, Dimitrov made his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon at 23, seemingly a harbinger of big things to come for the player nicknamed "Baby Fed" - as in Federer.

A first-time major champion did indeed break through at the next Grand Slam tournament, but it was Cilic, who is seeded ninth in Rio. Dimitrov, meanwhile, hasn't made it past the fourth round at a major since, and his ranking is down to 34th.

VENUS RISING: It's been 16 years since Venus Williams won her singles gold medal at the Sydney Games. At 36, she's rolling into Rio with her best results in more than half a decade.

The older Williams sister is No. 6 in the world - her best ranking since early 2011. And she's coming off a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon - her deepest run at a major since the 2010 US Open.

Williams faces 62nd-ranked Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, a 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist, in the first round Saturday on Center Court. The Williams sisters open their bid for a fourth Olympic doubles gold medal tomorrow.

FALLING STARS: For Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, one player will move on today with a chance for a momentum-building run in Rio. The other will see her tournament end in singles after one match.

At times in recent years, Stephens and Bouchard have each looked poised to crash the top of the rankings, but it has yet to happen. Stephens, a 23-year-old American, stunned Serena Williams to reach the 2013 Australian Open semi-finals; Bouchard, a 22-year-old Canadian, was the runner-up at Wimbledon the next year.