(BEIJING, August 7) -- Tennis celebrates the 20th anniversary of its return to the Olympic Games as a full medal sport with one of its strongest fields as nine of the top 10 men and eight of the top 10 women will play in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games tournament.
In addition, the sport will see a change at the top of both the men's and women's rankings during the Olympics.
The Men's Singles features all of the world's top eight players and between them they have won 21 titles this year.
Rafael Nadal of Spain, who will take over the No. 1 ranking August 18, has won seven titles this year, including his fourth consecutive French Open and his first Wimbledon crown. He will be making his Olympic singles debut having only competed in doubles at the Athens 2004 Games. Nadal has lost only twice in his past nine tournaments.
Top seed Roger Federer, winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, will be keen to improve on a relatively poor season in which he has won only two titles – at Estoril, Portugal and Halle, Germany.
The Swiss player is playing his third Olympics, having narrowly missed out on a medal in Sydney and suffering a surprise second-round defeat in Athens.
In his Olympic debut, Novak Djokovic, winner of the 2008 Australian Open, is part of a strong squad from Serbia. They are competing as an independent nation at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1912.
Four other top 10 entrants –David Ferrer of Spain, American James Blake, Argentinean David Nalbandian and Cincinnati Master's winner Andy Murray of Great Britain - will make their first appearance in the Olympics. Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who played in the Athens Games, completes the top eight seeds in the men's singles.
Serbia has the top two women's seeds. Current No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who won the 2008 French Open and was Australian Open runner-up, plays in her first Olympic Games. Ivanovic will lose the top spot in the world ranking to compatriot Jelena Jankovic on Day 2 (August 11) of Olympic Tennis.
Another leading contender is Wimbledon champion Venus Williams of the United States, who in Sydney 2000 became just the second woman in Olympic history to win singles and doubles gold at the same Olympics.
Serena Williams, who lost to her sister Venus in this year's Wimbledon final, will be competing in singles action at the Olympics for the first time but won the doubles gold in Sydney.
Russian Dinara Safina, who won back-to-back titles before coming to Beijing, will also be making her first Olympic appearance. Filling out the top eight seeds are 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova; 2000 Silver medalist Elena Dementieva, both from Russia; and Agnieszka Radwanska from Poland.
Kuznetsova reached the quarterfinals in Athens, while Safina and Radwanska will be making their Olympic singles debuts.
While logic would dictate that the higher-ranked players dominate the Olympic Tennis events, since 1988 the Men's Singles has never been won by a player ranked in the top five. In contrast, the Women's Singles has always been won by a player ranked in the top 10, including two world number ones.
American Lindsay Davenport, the 1996 Gold medalist in singles at Atlanta, is one of seven gold medalists at Beijing 2008. The Williams sisters won the Women's Doubles in Sydney while Venus also captured the gold in singles. Canadian Daniel Nestor won the Men's Doubles in Sydney. There are three defending champions from Athens competing in the Beijing Games.
Nicolas Massu of Chile, who captured double Gold in Greece, will again compete in the Men's Singles and Doubles. Massu will team up again with countrymen Fernando Gonzalez, also playing in the singles, to try and defend their Men's Doubles title. The Chilean players delivered their country's first Olympic Gold medals by winning in Athens.
Nestor, who is currently the No. 1 doubles player, won the Men's Doubles old in Sydney and will attempt to win another Olympic medal in doubles in Beijing.
The US team of Bob and Mike Bryan are top seeds in the doubles. The twins hope to do better than their quarterfinal finish four years ago in Athens.
Sun Tiantian, who partnered Li Ting to Women's Doubles gold four years ago, this time teams up with Peng Shuai as China bids to become just the second Olympic host nation to win a tennis title.
The United States achieved that feat at Atlanta in 1996 when Andre Agassi won the Men's Singles; Davenport won the Women's Singles; and Gigi Fernandez and Mary Joe Fernandez the Women's Doubles. China's best hope would again appear to be in the Women's Doubles, where both of its teams are among the top eight seeds.
Overall, there are 14 previous medalists taking part in this year's Olympic Tennis event.
Since the return of Tennis to the Olympics at Seoul in 1988, more than 20 nations have won medals. The USA leads the way with 15 medals, including nine gold, although they failed to win a title four years ago.
Spanish players have picked up nine Tennis medals in the last five Olympic Games but are still seeking that elusive gold. Germany and Chile are the only other nations to win more than one Olympic Tennis title in the last 20 years.
In total, 174 players from 48 NOCs are taking part in the Olympic Tennis event: 89 men and 85 women, including four first time players from El Salvador and Togo.
Leander Paes of India, who won a Men's Singles bronze in Atlanta in 1996, returns to play in his fifth consecutive Olympics, as does Mark Knowles from the Bahamas, while Nestor and Lee Hyung-taik from the Republic of South Korea are both participating in their fourth Olympic Games. On the women's side, Ai Sugiyama of Japan and Tamarine Tanasugarn from Thailand are also competing in their fourth Olympic Games.
Competition starts on Sunday, August 10 with first round matches in all four events. The Women's Singles and Men's Doubles finals are on Saturday, August 16 and the Men's Singles and Women's Doubles finals will be contested Sunday, August 17.