The women’s singles draw for the Olympic Tennis Event was made on Thursday and World No 1 Ash Barty faces a tricky opener against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, while 2nd-seeded Naomi Osaka, who is the subject of intense attention as one of the faces of the Games even before the furore that blew up over her decision not to fulfil her media duties in Paris, takes on Zheng Saisai of China.
So many exciting events in my life. Now it’s so nice to be at the Olympics. It was unbelievable to have a wedding and right now, with the Covid restrictions, it was unbelievable to have two families join together. But now we are here. We have to prepare and hopefully to play well here in Tokyo. The goal, for me, is to get that Olympic medal. For my country, Olympics is a big thing. Elina Svitolina
The final entry list features 15 of the WTA Top 20, including Barty and Osaka in a field that also includes the top 9 players on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, reflecting current form on the women’s tour.
“I think making your first Olympic team, particularly as an Australian, we have such a rich history and the Olympics is something I’ve always dreamt of and obviously super excited to get out there and represent the green and gold,” Barty said in a statement ahead of the Games. “It’s a massive united team and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Fresh off her Wimbledon triumph, the Australian top seed is making her Olympic debut, looking to add Olympic gold to her 2 Grand Slam trophies, but she has a tough road through to the Tokyo final, starting against the World No 48 from Spain.
Barty, who is currently 35-6 for 2021, has achieved her dream by winning Wimbledon, although she earlier admitted that she grew up wanting to be an Olympic medallist.
Sorribes Tormo was a recent second round casualty at Wimbledon, but proved a fighter, pushing former champion Angelique Kerber to 3 sets.
The meeting in Tokyo will be the first ever match between the pair, though Barty will be aware of the threat of her opponent, with the Spaniard winning 11 of her last 13 matches on the hard court.
While Barty and the 24-year-old Spaniard have never met before, if the Australian wins her first two matches she could meet Russian veteran Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, currently ranked 18, in the third round at the Ariake Tennis Park, and Czech Barbora Krejcikova, the current Roland Garros champion, in the quarter-finals.
Pavlyuchenkova, the 13th seed is still riding the wave of her surge to the Roland Garros final in June, and she starts with fellow former French Open finalist Sara Errani of Italy in her first round.
“It feels great,” Pavlyuchenkova said of reaching her second Olympics, following her debut at Rio 2016. “I always like playing for my country, playing with the team.
“We have this Olympic spirit with all the other athletes. I love it. I think it’s special. It’s something we can’t have every day, obviously – it’s every four years. It’s a good change.”
With the sun beating down from bright blue skies onto the azure courts at the Ariake Tennis Park in the days leading up to the Olympic Tennis Event, conditions, and conditioning, are going to be as significant a factor as the players stood across the net.
“It’s definitely very hot and humid here, but I think it’s tough for everybody,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “We’ve had quite a nice preparation with the team in Sakhalin, we came here in advance to try and get adapted, and I’ve started to feel a little bit better now.”
Meanwhile, Osaka, the 2nd seed, has not played a match since opening up about her mental health issues and pulling out after one round at Roland Garros, with the 23-year-old then deciding not to play at Wimbledon.
A 4-time Grand Slam winner, Osaka remains a heavy favourite to triumph on the hard courts in Tokyo with all her majors coming on that surface, but will playing with huge home expectations.
“I have allowed myself to dream that dream of winning the gold medal,” she said at the Miami Open.
Osaka holds a 2-1 career edge over Zheng, but the Chinese, ranked 52, can be a tricky opponent, while the first seeded opponent she could face is No 16 Kiki Bertens, who is playing the final tournament of her career, with Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, a possible quarter-final obstacle for the Japanese.
“It’s going to be nice playing with Poland on my T-shirt,” Swiatek said, “but if I could win a medal, it would probably be the highlight of my career.”
World No 3 Aryna Sabalenka will open her Games campaign against Poland’s World No 45 Magda Linette and if the Belarusian wins, she will next play either France’s Caroline Garcia, ranked 73, or Croatia’s Donna Vekic, ranked 47.
“I’m really happy to represent my country, my people and I want to do everything I can to make sure that Belarus is proud of me,” Sabalenka told the ITF website. “I want to represent my country as strong people who can fight through everything.”
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, the No 4 seed who got married to Gael Monfils a few days ago, opens her account against Germany’s Laura Siegemund while Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic starts with Alizé Cornet from France, who has had an upsurge in recent weeks and is ranked 66.
“It’s unbelievable to be fair,” said Svitolina, the 26-year-old Ukrainian, the honeymoon scheduled for November. “So many exciting events in my life. Now it’s so nice to be at the Olympics.
“It was unbelievable to have a wedding and right now, with the Covid restrictions, it was unbelievable to have two families join together.
“But now we are here. We have to prepare and hopefully to play well here in Tokyo.”
Svitolina is hoping to improve on that quarter-finals effort of 5 years ago.
“The goal, for me, is to get that Olympic medal,” she added. “For my country, Olympics is a big thing.
“They really support you unbelievably when the athletes are competing in the Olympics, so it’s very special for Ukraine.
“I definitely will do my best to prepare to get that medal.”
In her opener, 7th seed Garbiñe Muguruza from Spain encounters Veronika Kudermetova, ranked 33, who competes in Tokyo as a representative of the Russian Olympic Committee after Russia was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences.
Swiss 9th seed Belinda Bencic meets American Jessica Pegula, ranked 27, while Czech No 10 seed Petra Kvitova, who is the only remaining medalist from Rio in the absence of gold medal winner Monica Puig and Angelique Kerber, takes on Italian Jasmine Paolini in their respective first round matches.
Britain’s Heather Watson, who is ranked 68 opens against 119th-ranked Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany and, if she pulls off the win could well meet Pavlyuchenkova in round 2.
No 14 seed Maria Sakkari from Greece opens against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, who is 28th on the WTA rankings, and the pair have met competitively 9 times up until now, with the Greek leading 5-4, with the winner to face either Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic, ranked 90, or Japan’s Nao Hibino (77).
In the Women’s Doubles, Czech top seeds Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova take on Hsieh Yu-Chieh & Hsu Chieh-Yu of Chinese Taipei; while Japan’s No 2 seeds Shuko Aoyama & Ena Shibahara open with an encounter with the Swiss pairing of Belinda Bencic & Victorija Golubic.
No 3 seeds Kiki Bertens & Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands face a tough opener against French former World No 1s Caroline Garcia & Kiki Mladenovic, and Spaniards Garbiñe Muguruza & Carla Suarez Navarro will take on doubles World No 1 Elise Mertens & Belgian partner Alison van Uytvanck, who are unseeded and dangerous floaters in the draw.
The entry list and draw for the mixed doubles event will both be published on Tuesday 27 July.
Players from 46 countries will compete for Olympic glory as the competition starts on Saturday at the Ariake Tennis Park, the site of the WTA 500 Toray Pan Pacific Open which has been under construction for renovation since the 2018 season.
Tennis was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 but was removed after the Paris 1924 Games, returning 64 years later at the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, where Steffi Graf won gold for West Germany.
A few months later, she won the US Open to become the only player in tennis history to complete The Golden Slam.