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Tokyo Olympics 2020 (tennis) : Women's singles draw analysis, preview & prediction

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka
FEATURED COLUMNIST

After a year of waiting, the Tokyo Olympics is finally all set to get underway on 23 July. And despite the withdrawal of a few established names, the women's singles event in tennis has attracted several top players who would be eager to make their country proud.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty leads the field, with four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka seeded second. Wimbledon semifinalist Aryna Sabalenka and Ukraine's Elina Svitolina round out the top four seeds, but there are many other stars present too.

Main draw action kicks off on 24 July, with the final and the bronze medal match scheduled for 31 July. On that note, here's an in-depth look at how the women's event is likely to pan out:

1st quarter: Ashleigh Barty and Barbora Krejcikova on a collision course

Ashleigh Barty
Ashleigh Barty

Top seeded players: [1] Ashleigh Barty, [8] Barbora Krejcikova, [9] Belinda Bencic, [13] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Expected quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty vs Barbora Krejcikova

Dark horse: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Fresh from winning the Wimbledon Championships, Ashleigh Barty will be looking to add the coveted Olympic gold to what has been a phenomenal season already. However, Barty's path to the title round is fraught with landmines.

The 25-year-old begins her campaign with a tricky opener against Sara Sorribes Tormo, who has the Guadalajara title to show for this season. While Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova could be another threat to Barty in the second round, things get even tougher for the Aussie after that.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 Roland Garros runner-up, is slated to face Barty in the Round of 16. That said, the Russian would first have to get past Sara Errani and one of Heather Watson or Anna-Lena Friedsam.

The quarterfinal in this section, meanwhile, could see an exciting showdown between the last two Major champions. If the seeds hold up, Barty and French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova are likely to meet each other for the second time in a month.

Barbora Krejcikova (L) & Ashleigh Barty at 2021 Wimbledon Championships
Barbora Krejcikova (L) & Ashleigh Barty at 2021 Wimbledon Championships

Barty came out on top during their SW19 face-off, but Krejcikova has come to the Olympics with the best possible preparation. The Czech won her maiden hardcourt title at home in Prague last week, and that could give her all the confidence she needs to topple Barty this time around.

But before she makes it to the quarters, Krejcikova might need to take care of Belinda Bencic or Jessica Pegula, who are her potential third-round opponents.

Predicted quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty def. Barbora Krejcikova

2nd quarter: Elena Rybakina, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova look to topple Aryna Sabalenka

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka

Top seeded players: [3] Aryna Sabalenka, [7] Garbine Muguruza, [10] Petra Kvitova, [15] Elena Rybakina

Expected quarterfinal: Aryna Sabalenka vs Garbine Muguruza

Dark horse: Veronika Kudermetova

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka finds herself in an absolutely packed quarter. The Belarusian will start her Olympic journey against Poland's World No. 45 Magda Linette. And she can't afford to relax after that either, as she could come up against Caroline Garcia or Donna Vekic - both of whom have the potential to cause an upset.

Sabalenka's path only gets rockier with 15th seed Elena Rybakina possibly waiting in the Round of 16. The two were involved in an enthralling tussle at Wimbledon recently, where Sabalenka came out on top in three sets.

Sabalenka might also have to contend with the likes of Garbine Muguruza or Petra Kvitova for a semifinal spot. Muguruza is the leader in hardcourt match wins this year, with 20 under her belt already. And given that the Tokyo Olympics is on hardcourts, the Spaniard will fancy her chances of going deep.

Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza

However, Muguruza has drawn the dangerous Veronika Kudermetova in the first round. Kudermetova triumphed at Charleston earlier this year, and could be a handful for Muguruza even though the former World No. 1 has a 2-0 lead in their head-to-head.

If Muguruza can find her range, she could face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in what should be a blockbuster third-round match. Kvitova, the Rio Olympic bronze medalist, is coming into Tokyo on a three-match losing streak, and Muguruza would be eager to avenge her loss to the southpaw at Doha in March.

Predicted quarterfinal: Garbine Muguruza def. Aryna Sabalenka

3rd quarter: Elina Svitolina to contend with Karolina Pliskova, Jennifer Brady and Maria Sakkari

Elina Svitolina
Elina Svitolina

Top seeded players: [4] Elina Svitolina, [5] Karolina Pliskova, [11] Jennifer Brady, [14] Maria Sakkari

Expected quarterfinal: Elina Svitolina vs Karolina Pliskova

Dark horse: Ons Jabeur

Fourth seed Elina Svitolina will be hoping for a turnaround in fortunes in what is her first post-wedding tournament. Things haven't been nearly as rosy for the Ukrainian on court recently as they have been off it; since her quarterfinal loss to Iga Swiatek in Rome, Svitolina has won a total of just four matches in four events.

The 26-year-old has a relatively easy opener, against Germany's Laura Siegemund. But she would need a boost of confidence before possibly facing Wimbledon quarterfinalist Ajla Tomljanovic in the next round.

French Open semifinalist Maria Sakkari could be awaiting Svitolina next, provided the Greek can make it past World No. 28 Anett Kontaveit in the opening round.

The other half of this quarter has quite a few top names huddled together. Fifth seed and Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova will be keen to continue her resurgence after a slow start to the season. But the Czech needs to be sharp right from the outset, as she could meet Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in the second round.

Ashleigh Barty (L) and Karolina Pliskova after the 2021 Wimbledon final
Ashleigh Barty (L) and Karolina Pliskova after the 2021 Wimbledon final

Jabeur has come to the Olympics on the back of a maiden quarterfinal appearance at the grasscourt Major, and will be a tough nut to crack with her variety. The winner of the potential Pliskova-Jabeur match could find 11th seed Jennifer Brady or former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko standing in their way next.

Predicted quarterfinal: Maria Sakkari def. Ons Jabeur

4th quarter: Naomi Osaka faces Iga Swiatek challenge

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka

Top seeded players: [2] Naomi Osaka, [6] Iga Swiatek, [12] Elise Mertens, [16] Kiki Bertens

Expected quarterfinal: Naomi Osaka vs Iga Swiatek

Dark horse: Elise Mertens

All eyes will be on reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka as she returns to competition after a break. The Japanese pulled out of the French Open after opening up about her battle with mental health. Osaka, who also withdrew from the subsequent Wimbledon Championships, will be eager to let her racquet do the talking as she seeks Japan's first tennis gold.

The four-time Slam champion has drawn World No. 52 Saisai Zheng in the opening round, where she should be the overwhelming favorite. After a possible second-round face-off against Wimbledon quarterfinalist Viktorija Golubic, Osaka could meet 16th seed Kiki Bertens in her third round.

It is the quarterfinal matchup which should present the former World No. 1 with her first stern test of the Olympics.

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka could face off in a mouthwatering quarterfinal showdown that would pit two good friends against each other. Swiatek has won a couple of titles this year and has made the second week of every Major played in 2021. The 20-year-old will be eager to challenge Osaka in Tokyo, but she herself has a couple of tough hurdles to overcome first.

Swiatek might have to contend with French Open quarterfinalist Paula Badosa, who is in a rich vein of form. 12th seed Elise Mertens, who won the Wimbledon women's doubles crown, is another player who could possibly dash Swiatek's hopes.

Predicted quarterfinal: Naomi Osaka def. Iga Swiatek

Semifinal predictions

Ashleigh Barty def. Garbine Muguruza

Naomi Osaka def. Maria Sakkari

Prediction for Gold Medal match

Naomi Osaka def. Ashleigh Barty

Prediction for Bronze Medal match

Maria Sakkari def. Garbine Muguruza

Edited by Musab Abid
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