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London – France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fears his Olympic dream could come to a premature end after the world number six was handed a tricky first round clash against Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci.
After two strong showings on his last two visits to Wimbledon, Tsonga is expected to mount a strong challenge for a medal in the Olympic tennis event, which gets underway at the All England Club on Saturday.
The 27-year-old became the first player to come from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in a Grand Slam in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2011 and then reached the last four at the All England Club earlier this month before losing to Andy Murray.
With that kind of pedigree, Tsonga could pose a serious threat to tournament favourite Federer and world number two Novak Djokovic, but he is more concerned with his first round opponent.
Bellucci, ranked 40th in the world, has never been past the fourth round of a major, but the left-hander has been in good form of late.
He reached the semifinals at the Stuttgart Open and won his third career title at Gstaad, beating world number eight Janko Tipsarevic in the final, and Tsonga believes he is in for a tough battle to reach the second round.
“It's not a good draw. I know it will be difficult. In the first round I will play a player who is confident and has been playing well the past few weeks,” Tsonga said on Friday.
“At least I feel good. I had a good Wimbledon so I'm sure I will play well on this surface. I will give my best and I hope I will come back with a medal.”
Tsonga, an Australian Open finalist in 2008, is competing in the Olympics for the first time and the flamboyant Frenchman admits the experience is a dream come true.
With that in mind, he is desperate to conquer his nerves against Bellucci and enjoy a long run.
“Playing in the Olympics? It's something crazy for me. I dreamed about it when I was a kid and now I'm here. I lived the Olympics from the inside, it's something beautiful.”
Meanwhile, Tsonga's compatriot Julien Benneteau has set his sights on a revenge mission against Federer.
Benneteau was on the verge of a stunning upset of Federer when he stormed into a two-set lead against the Swiss great in the Wimbledon third round this year, only to crumble as the eventual champion hit back to win in five sets.
Benneteau, who has been drawn against Russia's Mikhail Youzhny in the opening round, is scheduled to face Federer again in the second round and he said: “It's a difficult first round and if I win I will have a rematch with Roger but we will see.
“We know that Roger wants to win the gold in singles, it's one of his major goals this year after Wimbledon and he won that, so it's going to be tough, but you never know.”
While Benneteau can't start dreaming of downing Federer just yet, Spain's David Ferrer, ranked fifth in the world, believes there will be plenty of shocks at Wimbledon as the event is only played over the best of three sets, meaning even a couple of poor games can be fatal.
“There are going to be more surprises,” Ferrer said. “It's more difficult to break on grass and in five sets you have more margin. The Olympic Games always bring some surprises.”
Ferrer's compatriot Nicolas Almagro is just happy to be competing after struggling with a shoulder injury.
“This has been a difficult week for me,” the world number 10 said. “I have spent most of the time seeing the doctor, trying to heal my shoulder.
“It's obvious that if these weren't the Olympic Games, I would have ruled myself out and I wouldn't be here, but this is a tournament I am very excited to play and it is worth the effort.” – AFP