Not surprisingly, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, fresh from her Wimbledon triumph, has larger-than-life Olympic dreams.
“I think you have to allow yourself to think ‘what if?’ and ‘why not me,?’ so that would definitely be a dream come true,” she told the International Tennis Federation. “But I know that every single person in that draw, every single one competing in an Olympics, has got the same thing.”
And with good reason.
All six major finalists this year are in the 64-player field, and they probably all harbor dreams of winning the gold medal in Tokyo. No.2 Naomi Osaka beat Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open to start the year, while No.11 Barbora Krejcikova held off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at Roland Garros, and Barty prevailed over Karolina Pliskova at the All England Club.
They’re all ready to go Saturday (Friday at 10 p.m. ET) at Ariake Tennis Park, where 16 first-round matches open play.
Here’s what the quarterfinals – three match-wins would get them there – would look like if the seeds hold:
- No.1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No.8 Barbora Krejcikova
- No.3 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.7 Garbiñe Muguruza
- No.4 Elina Svitolina vs. No.5 Karolina Pliskova
- No.2 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 6 Iga Swiatek
There are some terrific opening-round matches on the card.
Based strictly on ranking, here are the top five: No.12 Belinda Bencic vs. No.27 Jessica Pegula; No.9 Muguruza vs. No.33 Veronika Kudermetova; No.19 Maria Sakkari vs. No.28 Anett Kontaveit; No.3 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.45 Magda Linette; No.1 Barty vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo.
The worldwide pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games and, one year later, has created challenges for organizers and participants.
“I think it’s going to be different without a doubt, but if anything, it’s going to make it more special,” Barty said, “knowing that it was such a challenge to be able to get there. To be able to get there and enjoy it, that’s all that matters.”
Here’s a breakdown of the top Day 1 matches:
No.6 Iga Swiatek vs. Mona Barthel
Since winning the French Open as a teenager last October, Swiatek has held up remarkably well, winning two titles in 2021 (Adelaide and Rome) and going deep in the majors. She advanced to the quarterfinals in her title defense at Roland Garros and the fourth round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Swiatek is 27-8 for the season and would face the winner of Paula Badosa-Kristina Mladenovic.
Barthel, a 31-year-old German, is ranked No.210 and has lost her past four main-draw matches.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Swiatek (2018 Prague quarterfinals).
No.8 Barbora Krejcikova vs. Zarina Diyas
Since falling to Swiatek in Rome’s Round of 16, Krejcikova has been a revelation, winning 20 of 21 matches.
She took the title in Strasbourg, then ran the table at Roland Garros. After a fourth-round effort at Wimbledon, she recently won the title in Prague.
Krejcikova, 25, is part of a strong Czech Republic contingent that includes No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova – the only player in the singles field with an Olympic medal (bronze, 2016, Rio de Janeiro). Krejcikova is 34-10 for the year.
Diyas, a 27-year-old from Kazakhstan, reached the quarterfinals at the Ladies Open Lausanne 2021 a week ago. This will be the third match played on Centre Court.
No.9 Belinda Bencic vs. Jessica Pegula
Pegula is actually higher in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen standings, with some outstanding results in 2021.
The 27-year-old American, ranked No.27 (two spots off her career high, which she reached last month), made the quarters at the Australian Open, defeating Victoria Azarenka and Elina Svitolina in the process. She qualified in Doha and knocked off Karolina Pliskova – for the first of four times this year, along with Dubai, Miami and Berlin.
Switzerland’s Bencic has reached two finals this season, in Adelaide and Berlin.
Head-to-head: 1-0, Benic (2015 ‘s-Hertogenbosch).
No.14 Maria Sakkari vs. Anett Kontaveit
Statistically speaking, this looks like one of the most evenly matched first-round matchups. This will be their 10th meeting.
Sakkari holds a narrow head-to-head lead, but they’ve split in 2021, with Kontaveit winning in the Melbourne 500 and Sakkari returning the favor in Madrid.
Sakkari, a 25-year-old from Greece, broke through at Roland Garros with a run to the semifinals – losing to Krejcikova 9-7 in the third set. She beat Swiatek in the quarterfinals.
Estonia’s Kontaveit, 25, is having a steady season. She reached the final in Eastbourne and quarterfinals in Doha and Stuttgart.
Head-to-head: 5-4, Sakkari.
Leylah Fernandez vs. Dayana Yastremska
This is a meeting between two of the best young players in the game.
Fernandez, 18, won her first career title back in March in Monterrey. The Canadian is 14-12 for the season and earlier reached a career-high No.66 ranking.
Yastremska, a 21-year-old from Ukraine, has played only three matches this year. She got to the semifinals at the Hamburg European Open and already has three WTA titles on her resume.