The women’s field ay the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati next week features 9 of the top 10 players in the world led by Ashleigh Barty, who returns to competition after the Olympics in Tokyo, with only Sofia Kenin absent due to injury.
Barty, the 2021 Wimbledon champion, begins her 87th week as the WTA’s No. 1 ranked player on Monday and the Australian returns as top seed, as she was in 2019 when she reached the semi-finals.
The Aussie fell in a tough first-round loss at the Tokyo Games against Sara Sorribes Tormo but walked away from her Olympic debut with a bronze in mixed doubles.
Playing her first WTA Tour event since her emotional victory at Wimbledon last month, Barty faces a qualifier in the second round after receiving a first round bye, and could face defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the Round of 16, with a trio of major champions looming as a potential quarter-final opponent in Barbora Krejcikova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Sloane Stephens.
In fact, if Stephens gets past her qualifier opponent in the opening round, she could face Muguruza in the second.
The top 8 seeds are Barty, No 2 Naomi Osaka, No 3 Aryna Sabalenka, No 4 Elina Svitolina, No 5 Karolina Pliskova, No 6 Iga Swiatek, No 7 Bianca Andreescu, and No 8 Garbiñe Muguruza; while the projected quarter-finalists by way of these seedings are Barty vs. Muguruza, Svitolina vs. Swiatek, Sabalenka vs. Pliskova, and Osaka vs. Andreescu.
Osaka, a 4-time major champion, made her return to the court at the Olympics late last month for the first time since withdrawing from Roland Garros in May because of mental health issues, and anchors the 4th quarter, along with Andreescu, who is making her Cincinnati main-draw debut.
With a bye into the second round, Osaka could face 17-year-old Gauff in her opening match.
The young American made her 7th quarter-final of the season in Montreal this week but has to deal with a qualifier before earning a 3rd meeting with Osaka.
No 3 seed Sabalenka and 5th seed Pliskova anchor the 3rd quarter and could face each other in their third straight tournament.
Pliskova edged Sabalenka in a gripping Wimbledon semi-final, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, and the two are slated to meet on Saturday in the Montréal semi-finals, while they could clash in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati.
To get there, Sabalenka and Pliskova will have to navigate equally dangerous early rounds.
Pliskova could face Yulia Putintseva in the second round before a familiar and frustrating foe in the 3rd round in Jessica Pegula.
The American is in good form after booking her 4th WTA 1000 quarter-final of the past 12 months in Montréal and is 4-0 against Pliskova this season.
Sabalenka will face either Paula Badosa or Petra Martic in her opening match, with her occasional doubles partner Elise Mertens a potential Round of 16 opponent, while also looming in the Belarusian’s section is an increasingly dangerous Elena Rybakina and former World No 1 Simona Halep.
This week in Montréal, Halep played her first match in 3 months after recovering from a calf tear, taking a red-hot Danielle Collins to 3 tough sets.
Seeded No.12 in Cincinnati, Halep opens against Poland’s Magda Linette and could face Pliskova in the 3rd round.
French Open champion Krejcikova, who has won 22 of her past 24 matches, will play her first-round match against San José finalist Daria Kasatkina.
No 4 seed Elina Svitolina and No 6 seed Iga Swiatek anchor the 2nd quarter of the draw, but the early-round intrigue is focused on two big matches.
The 2019 champion Keys will open against No 11 seed Petra Kvitova, while recent Wimbledon semi-finalist Angelique Kerber will take on French Open semi-finalist Maria Sakkari, with the winner to face Svitolina in the 2nd round.
Swiatek could run into an on-fire Ons Jabeur in her opener in the second round after the Tunisian knocked off Kasatkina and Andreescu in Montréal en route to the quarter-finals and faces Anett Kontaveit in the first round.
First round matches of note include a rematch of the Tokyo Olympics Gold Medal match that Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic won over Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, while Keys, the 2019 Western & Southern Open champion, takes on two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova in the opening round and 2-time Cincinnati finalist Angelique Kerber faces Maria Sakkari.