Djokovic, Barty, Osaka headline Olympic tennis draws

  • Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic will continue his quest for a calendar-year 'Golden Grand Slam', while Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka are projected to meet in a blockbuster clash for the women’s singles gold medal. 

The attention of the tennis world is about to focus on Tokyo and an Olympic event with storylines everywhere you look. 

Tennis will take place at Ariake Tennis Park from 24 July to 1 August in what are forecast to be brutally hot, humid conditions in Tokyo.

The singles draws were made on Thursday, with world No.1 and top seed Djokovic set to face Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien in the first round.

Jan-Lennard Struff looms for the Serb in round two, while the first seed he could encounter is No.16 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the third round.

Australia's Barty, like Djokovic the top seed and reigning Wimbledon champion, was handed a tough opening assignment in Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, and a potential third-round meeting with Russian 13th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, this year’s Roland Garros finalist.

Osaka makes her competitive return after a near two-month absence and opens against China’s Zheng Saisai; should she win that, she would face either Viktorija Golubic or Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who both performed strongly at Wimbledon. 

Barty v Osaka: a blockbuster clash for gold?

“Barty and Osaka are clearly the best two players over the past two-and-a-half years; between them they've now won six majors,” Atlanta 1996 gold medallist Todd Woodbridge told ausopen.com.

“And that would be the match-up that we all would probably expect, and like, to see.

DRAW: Olympic tennis event women’s singles

“I think for Naomi, coming back in this environment is actually quite smart, because she'll be heavily protected from the things that have worried her within the media. 

“Although there's the pressure of playing for your nation, I think no crowds and those types of things make for a gentle easing back in to playing. 

“But she hasn't played a lot of tennis now for a couple of months, and she's got to find confidence in her game. She is a confidence player, so it will be interesting to see how she finds that in the opening couple of matches.”

World No.2 Naomi Osaka of Japan trains on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park ahead of the Tokyo Olympics tennis event. (Getty Images)

The women’s draw is especially stacked, with 15 of the world’s top 20 making the trip to Tokyo – including the top nine players in the 2021 points race to the WTA Finals. 

Barty and Osaka may well be on course for a highly-anticipated clash in the final, but that’s if the world No.1 and No.2 can see off multiple threats lurking throughout the 64-player draw.

These include third seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who has landed in the top half with Barty, as well as recent Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the past two Roland Garros champions in Poland's Iga Swiatek and Czech Barbora Krejcikova – seeded sixth and eighth respectively – and No.7 seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

Of that group, Muguruza’s match-up against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova represents arguably the toughest first-round test.

Djokovic a heavy favourite

While the men’s tournament is comparatively watered down given 13 of the top 25 players have withdrawn, Djokovic nevertheless faces threats for the title, with five of the world’s top seven set to compete.

In his half of the draw alone, Djokovic could contend with Russia's fifth seed Andrey Rublev – a potential quarterfinal opponent – as well as No.4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany and seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, the Polish rising star who reached the Wimbledon semifinals. 

DRAW: Olympic tennis event men’s singles

Should Djokovic progress to the gold medal match, lying in wait could be Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas – who stretched him to five sets in the Roland Garros final – or No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who is at his best on hard courts in a three-set format. 

Medvedev, Rublev and Hurkacz, however, face tough first-round opponents in Alexander Bublik, Kei Nishikori and Marton Fucsovics, respectively.

“Novak sees it as an opportunity to really cement himself as the greatest of all time by potentially winning a 'Golden Slam,'” Woodbridge said.

"I would have thought his absolute goal was to win the Grand Slam first, because he's been to an Olympics and he has a medal … and that would definitely set him apart from anybody and any other achievement in the men's game. 

“But to try to do the five (events), I think is very ambitious. If there's anyone who can do that, then it is Novak. 

“He is by far the favourite – it's about how he recovers mentally and physically from Wimbledon. Given the way he's trained and the way his routines are, he'll do that well. 

“I don't foresee anybody really beating him at this particular point.”

Britain's Andy Murray, who won the past two singles gold medals in London 2012 and Rio 2016, faces Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the best of the first-round matches.

Auger-Aliassime, who just weeks ago notched his first major quarterfinal at Wimbledon, won his last meeting with Murray in the second round of the 2020 US Open.

Projected quarterfinals

WOMEN
[1] Ash Barty v [8] Barbora Krejcikova
[3] Aryna Sabalenka v [7] Garbine Muguruza
[5] Karolina Pliskova v [4] Elina Svitolina
[6] Iga Swiatek v [2] Naomi Osaka

MEN
[1] Novak Djokovic v [5] Andrey Rublev
[4] Alexander Zverev v [7] Hubert Hurkacz
[8] Diego Schwartzman v [3] Stefanos Tsitsipas
[6] Pablo Carreno Busta v [2] Daniil Medvedev

First-round matches to watch

WOMEN
[1] Ash Barty v Sara Sorribes Tormo
[7] Garbine Muguruza v Veronika Kudermetova
[5] Karolina Pliskova v Alize Cornet
Ons Jabeur v Carla Suarez Navarro

MEN
[5] Andrey Rublev v Kei Nishikori
[7] Hubert Hurkacz v Marton Fucsovics
[9] Felix Auger-Aliassime v Andy Murray
[2] Daniil Medvedev v Alexander Bublik

Aussies: first-round matches

[1] Ash Barty v Sara Sorribes Tormo
John Millman v Lorenzo Musetti
Ajla Tomljanovic v Yaroslava Shvedova
James Duckworth v Lukas Klein 
Sam Stosur v [15] Elena Rybakina

Ash Barty arrives for the Tokyo Olympics
Wimbledon champion and world No.1 Ash Barty (centre) arrives at the Narita International Airport ahead of the Tokyo Olympics tennis event. (Getty Images)