July 30, 2021

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Tokyo Olympics women’s singles draw – the breakdown

(Photo: ITF Tennis)

There are too many players missing from the Tokyo Olympic women’s singles draw.

But there are some knockout opening matches – matches that will mean that a lot of hearts will be broken from the get-go.

Section I: Barty rules

No. 1 seed and Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty leads this section, with her potential third-round opponent the Roland Garros finalist, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The rest of the section are beatable.

Although we hear that the courts (unlike the fall events in Tokyo where they were known to be lightning fast) are quite slow.

That might make Barty’s opening opponent, Sara Sorribes Tormo, a little more dangerous than she might otherwise have been.

Anna-Lena Friedsam was one of the last entries into the draw, after Angelique Kerber declined to play.

Sara Errani, also outside the top 100, was one of the alternates to the original entry list.

Section II: Krejcikova the class of the field

Belinda Bencic, who had such great hopes of playing mixed doubles with Roger Federer, would have been disappointed by his withdrawal from the Games because of a setback with his surgically-repaired knee.

But she won’t be happier when she sees that her first-round opponent will be American Jessica Pegula, who has been a very tough out in 2021.

Homegirl Misaki Doi gets one of the lower-ranked players in the draw, last-minute add Renata Zarazua (ranked No. 137 at the entry deadline).

And Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez also has a tough one.

She gets the hard-hitting Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine – who returned just a few weeks ago after being cleared of a suspension for a positive dope test.

Yastremska hadn’t played for eight months when she returned last week in Hamburg, Germany. Although she looked good. The tournament was on clay.

She hasn’t played on an outdoor hard court since the 2020 US Open.

The winner would likely play Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, who just won the tournament in Prague on hard court.

Krejcikova looks like the favorite to get out of this section, and potentially play Barty in the quarterfinals.

Section III: Hard-hitting 3rd-rounder ahead

A third round between Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina would be a rematch of their recent match at Wimbledon.

Although it would apparently be in much slower conditions than grass.

Samantha Stosur, into the draw as a former champion as she gets to the end of the road, will be in tough against the hard-hitting No. 15 seed from Kazakhstan.

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif, who qualified by winning the African Games, gets a beatable first-round opponent in Rebecca Peterson of Sweden.

Garcia vs. Vekic is a match between a struggling player, and one who is returning from knee surgery.

It is not the most compelling section of the draw – until that potential third-round matchup.

Section IV: Kvitova vs. Muguruza?

Garbiñe Muguruza faces a tough one right from the jump against Veronika Kudermetova, one of the other young, hard-hitting players on Tour.

She also is a better mover than Muguruza, which on the slower court might prove to be an advantage.

Veronica Cepede Royg is in, despite her ranking, because of her performance at the Pan American games a few years ago.

Jorovic is in on a protected ranking.

Muguruza vs. Kvitova certainly looks like the play here.

And in this quarter, a quarterfinal match against (potentially) Sabalenka or Rybakina really does set up a matchup between two generations of power hitters.

Section V: Big challenges for Pliskova

The return of Carla Suárez Navarro to tennis after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been a happy story.

Her draws? Not so much.

Sloane Stephens in the first round at Roland Garros. Ashleigh Barty in the first round at Wimbledon.

And now, a confident Ons Jabeur in the first round of the Olympics.

Even if she’s unseeded, Jabeur has been one of the best players on form in the last few months.

But it sets up to be a great tennis matchup.

Pliskova has the pesky Cornet. Ostapenko has Elena Vesnina, who reached the Wimbledon doubles final and is playing on a protected ranking in singles after having been away mommy-ing for three years.

And Jennifer Brady, who has been out since retiring after the first set of her third-round match against Coco Gauff at Roland Garros, is in tough in the first round against Camila Giorgi.

Brady’s exploits on the hard courts in New York last summer put her as one of the premium players on that surface. But to say she’s rusty would be to understand the case.

Section VI: Wide open for Sakkari

A solid bracket, with Maria Sakkari facing a tough opponent right from the start in Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.

Newlywed Elina Svitolina (who probably hasn’t practiced a ton in recent weeks, for obvious reasons) gets a REALLY annoying opponent in Laura Siegemund.

Siegemund will do whatever she has to do to get under Svitolina’s skin.

Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic faces Yaroslava Shvedova, who is similar to Vesnina in that she’s in on a protected ranking (No. 47), as she returns after having twins.

And another Japanese player gets a winnable first round, as Nao Hibino takes on Nina Stojanovic of Serbia.

It could be Sakkari vs. Tomljanovic. or Kontaveit vs. Svitolina.

Tough to tell how it will all shake out.

Section VII: Challenges for Swiatek

Poland’s Iga Swiatek has a very winnable match in the first round against Mona Barthel, who was a late ITF selection after withdrawals from the event.

But her potential second round against Paula Badosa might prove quite a different challenge.

Yulia Putintseva is always a pesky opponent.

And No. 12 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium is a player who rarely beats herself.

So if Swiatek has aspirations, she is going to have to navigate some tricky territory.

Section VIII: Osaka’s path looks good

 

The long-awaited return to tennis for Naomi Osaka coincides with the Olympics happening in the country of her birth.
No pressure, kid.

But the draw definitely cooperated for the 2021 Australian Open champion.

Opening against Zheng Saisai, she has one of two lower-ranked players in the second round.

And to get to the quarterfinals, she could face Kiki Bertens – in her career finale – or perhaps Alison Riske, who is absolutely thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to compete in Tokyo after several higher-ranked countrywoman bowed out.

It’s hard to see Osaka not getting through this section to potentially play Swiatek.

Unless she’s not fit, or the tension and stress of the moment proves to be a lot to handle.

It is going to be the most fascinating journey to watch.

Potential late rounds

Quarterfinals:

[1] Barty vs. [8] Krejcikova
[3] Sabalenka vs. [7] Muguruza
Jabeur vs. [14] Maria Sakkari
[6] Swiatek vs. [2] Osaka

Semifinals:

Barty vs. Sabalenka
Sakkari vs. Swiatek