Naomi Osaka during a practice session ahead of the Tokyo Olympics
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the world, a bevy of top players have pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics. Former medalists Venus and Serena Williams, as well as Victoria Azarenka, are among the names that will not feature in the quadrennial event in Tokyo.
Despite the withdrawals, the women’s singles draw has quite a few established names who will be eager to win a medal for their respective countries.
With the Olympics just a couple of days away, here’s a look at the top five contenders for the women’s singles gold.
#1 Ashleigh Barty (Australia)
Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty is targeting Olympic gold in her best-ever season
A near-one-year hiatus from tennis due to the pandemic did little to diminish Ashleigh Barty‘s competitive spirit.
The Aussie returned to the tour stronger than ever and won the very first tournament she played — the Yarra Valley Classic. She followed it up with a successful defense of her Miami crown.
The 25-year-old carried that momentum into the clay and grass seasons as well. She won the title at Stuttgart and finished runners-up at Madrid. Although an injury cut short her Roland Garros journey, Barty bounced back in style at Wimbledon, where she claimed her second Grand Slam crown.
The Aussie’s resilience and composure have been the key factors behind her spectacular 2021 season in which she has posted a 35-6 win-loss record so far. With the kind of form she has shown this year, it will take a herculean effort to stop the top seed from clinching gold at the Olympics.
#2 Naomi Osaka (Japan)
Naomi Osaka will return to action in Tokyo
Since winning her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka has made more headlines for her actions off the court than on it.
The Japanese recently withdrew from the French Open due to mental health issues and then pulled out of Wimbledon as well.
The Olympics will mark her return to action for the first time in nearly two months, and the Japanese will want her tennis to do all the talking.
If Osaka can fully focus on the job at hand, she definitely stands a chance of adding the prized Olympic gold to her illustrious resume.
#3 Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus)
Aryna Sabalenka is looking to make Belarus proud at the Olympics
Aryna Sabalenka‘s hard-hitting game has come alive in what has been a scintillating season for the Belarusian. Her fabulous 34-11 win-loss record – which includes a couple of titles and a first-ever Grand Slam semifinal – paints a picture of her dominance.
Sabalenka began her season by winning the title in Abu Dhabi, but it was her exploits on clay that made people sit up and take notice. She won her maiden claycourt title in Madrid and finished as the runner-up in Stuttgart.
She suffered an early exit at Roland Garros, but bounced back brilliantly at Wimbledon, where she made the semifinals for the first time in her career.
The World No. 3’s struggles at Grand Slams were an open secret and the fact that she was able to conquer her demons on the biggest stage in tennis would have filled her with confidence ahead of the Olympics.
#4 Iga Swiatek (Poland)
Iga Swiatek is eyeing Poland’s first tennis medal at the Olympics
Many players struggle to deal with the weight of expectations after winning their maiden Major, but Iga Swiatek isn’t one of them. The Pole has backed up her 2020 French Open win with solid performances this season, rising to a career-high No. 8 in the world rankings.
Swiatek clinched titles in Adelaide and Rome as she continued to make rapid strides on the women’s tour. The 20-year-old also reached the fourth round of the Wimbledon Championships in just her second main-draw appearance at the grasscourt Major.
Swiatek’s love for the big stage will hold her in good stead as she looks to deliver Poland its first tennis gold at the Olympics.
#5 Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic)
Barbora Krejcikova is looking to add Olympic gold to her French Open success
Barbora Krejcikova is part of a star-studded Czech team that also features two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova. All three women will fancy their chances of finishing on the podium, but there’s no doubt that Krejcikova has the best shot.
Deemed to be a doubles expert until the end of last year, the 25-year-old has proven she is no slouch on the singles court and is currently in the middle of a breakthrough season. The Czech first gave a glimpse of her talent during her runner-up finish in Dubai in March.
But it was during the claycourt season that Krejcikova truly shot into the spotlight. Her maiden WTA title at Strasbourg was followed by a dream run to the title at the French Open.
Krejcikova refused to stop there. After a fourth-round appearance at the Wimbledon Championships, the Czech secured her first hardcourt title in Prague last week.
Krejcikova has already had a phenomenal season and the Olympic gold medal will be the icing on the cake.