Kiwi tennis players Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell are heading to the Olympics again – and confident they can make an impact in Tokyo.
The doubles duo were named in the New Zealand team on Thursday, with their participation to be ultimately confirmed when the International Tennis Federation releases the final Olympics entry list in early July.
Venus and Daniell competed at the 2016 Games, which they both nominate as a career highlight, even though they fell at the first hurdle, to the eventual silver medallists.
They have both improved their games considerably since then, particularly World No 16 Venus, who has become established in the doubles elite. He won the 2017 French Open with Ryan Harrison and reached the 2018 Wimbledon final alongside Raven Klaasen. The 33-year-old has qualified for the ATP finals in London in each of the last four years and has 14 doubles titles to his name.
World No 41 Daniell's progress has been less spectacular, but nevertheless steady, and his current partnership with Austrian Philipp Oswald has yielded some impressive results, with three finals appearances together already, including one win.
The Tokyo field will have 32 teams, which means three wins will be required to be in contention for a podium finish.
"Absolutely I do think it's realistic," said Daniell of their medal prospects. "Mike has been playing at the highest levels for many years now, and in my most recent partnership I've been consistently beating the top teams in the world.
"So we know we can do it with the partners that we've been playing with, and I don't see any reason why we can't do it together. We have a fair amount of experience playing together on court and we are very comfortable with each other, we know each other well. We've got a good shot."
Although Daniell was quick to point out that tennis, especially in doubles, is a sport of fine margins.
"Doubles is fickle, tennis is fickle," said Daniell. "It's not like you can get a good time or throw a good distance and you know you're a shoo in for the finals day. It's all about performing again and again. We can't take anything for granted but I'm confident going in that we can do some damage."
Their last outing together was at the Adelaide International in February, where they reached the quarter-finals. Venus estimated they have teamed up "a couple of times" a year since Rio, mainly in Davis Cup. But their relationship stretches back more than a decade, allowing for good chemistry on and off the court.
They also have complimentary styles.
"He's got huge shots," said Daniell. "He's intimidating when he's connecting. I am a little bit more of a 'handsy' sort of player, trying to use the angles and use touch and that sort of thing. The combination of those two things can be pretty hard to deal with."
Their first round loss in Rio was bittersweet. They played well – at times to an exceedingly high level – against the strong Canadian pairing of Daniel Nestor and Vasik Popisil. They had match points in the final set, before eventually falling 4-6 6-3 7-6 (8), as Nestor and Pospisil went on to reach the final. "A bit of a heartbreaker," admitted Daniell.
Croatia's Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic (current world No 1) will be favourites in Tokyo, just ahead of the French, Colombian and Argentinean combinations. But there will be strong teams across the event, especially as accomplished singles exponents like Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Pablo Carreno Busta chase a doubles medal.
Daniell and Venus expect to have around a week of preparations together in Tokyo, accompanied by Tennis New Zealand high performance manager Christophe Lambert. Heading into the Olympics they will both compete at Wimbledon, before Venus plays Hamburg (clay) and Daniell lines up at Newport (grass).
Artem Sitak has been named as a non travelling reserve, in the event of any injuries.