In Tokyo, all roads lead to Osaka for Ash Barty who, despite receiving a treacherous draw, looked in peak condition as she seeks to add a historic Olympic gold to her growing trophy collection.
Barty, still riding a high after her Wimbledon triumph, will have to do it the hard way after Thursday’s draw threw up plenty of hurdles en route to a potential final with local favourite, and the fiercest challenger for Barty’s world No.1 crown, Naomi Osaka.
Her first challenge: Spanish world No.48 Sara Sorribes Tormo, who will come up against Barty in ominous form..
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The 25-year-old sweated it out for an hour on Centre Court on Thursday during an intense session as she blew out whatever cobwebs might have built up during her Wimbledon celebrations.
Barty cannot face Osaka until the gold medal match but things could get tricky, fast, with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lying in wait in the third round and a potential quarter-final reunion with 11th seed Barbora Krejcikova, who Barty beat in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
After that? The possibility of either two-time grand slam winner Garbine Muguruza or world No.3 Arnya Sabalenka in a blockbuster semi-final.
Osaka, meanwhile, will have a much more palatable run to the final – with her first real test not coming until the quarter-finals, where she could meet Poland’s Iga Swiatek.
“Having Ash in the team is fantastic,” said five-time Olympian Sam Stosur, who will face Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.
“Any other event we kind of operate the same, we all get along well anyway, we practice together in different tournaments. Now we’re in the same uniform, but otherwise I think we’re united anyway.”
John Millman shapes as the best men’s hope after the withdrawals of Alex de Minaur (Covid-19) and Nick Kyrgios, and he faces a tough assignment with Italian young gun Lorenzo Musetti in the first round – and a potential third-round with Novak Djokovic on the horizon.
Fresh from her own Wimbledon success story, in which she fell to Barty in the quarter-finals, Aussie No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic will open with Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova – before a potential second-round showdown with fourth seed Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine.
Tomljanovic said she felt a sense of responsibility to lift when donning the green and gold of her country.
“You want to make the people around you proud and you feel like you’re representing them.. somehow it’s just different, it’s the whole country (behind you). You feel more responsibility to do more than your best,” she said.
The first round of the tennis begins on Saturday, with men’s and women’s singles and doubles at the Ariake Tennis Park.
Originally published as Barty cops horror draw in quest for Olympic gold