The draw is out for the Western & Southern Open, a WTA 1000 event in Cincinnati, Ohio, that begins Monday. The 2021 edition has no shortage of blockbuster early matches, highlighted by a gold medal rematch in the first round and potential second-round clashes between No.2 Naomi Osaka and 17-year-old Coco Gauff and major champions Garbiñe Muguruza and Sloane Stephens.
Top Eight Seeds: No.1 Ashleigh 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, No.8 Garbiñe Muguruza
Projected Quarterfinals by Seed: Barty vs. Muguruza, Svitolina vs. Swiatek, Sabalenka vs. Pliskova, Osaka vs. Andreescu
Defending Champion: Victoria Azarenka, won by walkover from Naomi Osaka
No.1 Ashleigh Barty returns to action
Barty is set to play her first tour event since her emotional victory at Wimbledon last month. 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.
Barty leads the top quarter and will face a qualifier in the second round. She could face defending champion Azarenka in the Round of 16, with a trio of major champions looming as a potential quarterfinal opponent: 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.
French Open champion Krejcikova will play her first-round match against San Jose finalist Daria Kasatkina. The Czech has won 22 of her past 24 matches.
Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys primed for a powerful opener
No.4 seed Elina Svitolina and No.6 seed Iga Swiatek anchor the second 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 Kvitova, while recent Wimbledon semifinalist Angelique Kerber will take on French Open semifinalist Maria Sakkari. The winner will face Svitolina in the second round.
Swiatek could run into an on-fire Ons Jabeur in her opener in the second round. The Tunisian has already knocked off Daria Kasatkina and Bianca Andreescu in Montreal en route to the quarterfinals. She faces Anett Kontaveit in the first round.
Aryna Sabalenka and Karolina Pliskova eye another showdown
No.3 Sabalenka and No.5 seed Pliskova anchor the third quarter and could face each other in their third straight tournament. Pliskova edged Sabalenka in a gripping Wimbledon semifinal, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, and the two are slated to meet Saturday in the Montreal semifinals. The duo could clash in the quarterfinals 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 third round: Jessica Pegula. The American is in good form after booking her fourth WTA 1000 quarterfinal of the past 12 months in Montreal 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. Also looming in Sabalenka's section is an increasingly dangerous Elena Rybakina.
Also looming in the third quarter is former No.1 Simona Halep. This week in Montreal, Halep played her first match in three months after recovering from a calf tear, taking a red-hot Danielle Collins to three tough sets. Seeded No.12 in Cincinnati, Halep opens against Poland's Magda Linette. She could face Pliskova in the third round.
Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff on a second-round collision course
No.2 Osaka, who made her return to the court at the Olympics late last month for the first time since withdrawing from Roland Garros in May, anchors the fourth quarter, along with No.7 seed Bianca Andreescu, who is making her Cincinnati main-draw debut.
With a bye into the second round, Osaka could face 17-year-old Gauff in the second round. The young American made her seventh quarterfinal of the season in Montreal this week. To earn a third meeting with Osaka, Gauff will have to defeat a qualifier in the first round.
The bottom quarter also features a rematch of the Tokyo 2020 gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova, which Bencic won 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 to become the first woman to win tennis gold for Switzerland.
Notable first-round matches
Barbora Krejcikova vs. Daria Kasatkina, Maria Sakkari vs. Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova vs. Madison Keys, Ons Jabeur vs. Anett Kontaveit, Simona Halep vs. Magda Linette, Johana Konta vs. Karolina Muchova, Danielle Collins vs. Shelby Rogers, Belinda Bencic vs. Marketa Vondrousova.