Tokyo Olympics: Barty and Osaka face tough routes to final as Djokovic opens against Dellien

By Sports Desk July 22, 2021

Ash Barty and home favourite Naomi Osaka start their respective quests for Olympic gold against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Zheng Saisai, while Novak Djokovic opens against Hugo Dellien.

In a stacked women's draw, world number one and Wimbledon champion Barty has a tough opening assignment and could face French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 13th seed, as early as round three.

Spectators may not be in attendance at Tokyo venues for the Olympics but Japanese fans will be rooting for Osaka, who returns to action after a two-month hiatus with the four-time grand slam winner having spoken openly about mental health and anxiety issues.

Viktorija Golubic or Maria Camila Osorio Serrano would await Osaka if she can get through round one, but a dream final with Barty is no shoo-in given 15 of the world's top 20 on the WTA Tour are in action including each of the nine leading the race for the 2021 WTA Finals.

Aryna Sabalenka (3), Elina Svitolina (4), Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova (5), Iga Swiatek (6) and Garbine Muguruza are all featuring in Tokyo.

 

The men's side has been hit by a spate of withdrawals, with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem among those not playing in the Japanese capital.

The main talking point surrounds whether the all-conquering Djokovic can continue his march towards a calendar Golden Slam – a sweep of all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year.

Any notion of a free ride for the Serbian is wide of the mark, though. His side of the draw could see him come up against Andrey Rublev (5), Alexander Zverev (4) and Hubert Hurkacz (7), while Stefano Tsitsipas (3) – beaten by Djokovic in the French Open final – and Daniil Medvedev (2) are among the potential final opponents.

Andy Murray, gold medal winner in 2012 and 2016, faces Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in a tricky first-round match.

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    Opening-day honours went to Bjorn Borg's Team Europe at TD Garden in Boston, where the defending champions moved into the box seat thanks to wins for Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud in the singles on Friday.

    John Isner and Denis Shapovalov managed to get Team World on the board in the evening's final doubles match against Alexander Zverev and Berrettini 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 10-1.

    Roger Federer and Rod Laver were in the crowd as Team Europe – headlined by newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and consisting of six of the world's top 10 – made a strong start courtesy of Norwegian Ruud, who overcame Reilly Opelka 6-3 7-6 (7-4), improving his career record to 3-0 against the towering American, and beating him in straight sets for the first time.

    Italian star Berrettini then overcame Team World's Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 10-8 in the competition's longest match at two hours, 52 minutes.

    Berrettini escaped with the second set after facing two break points in the penultimate game before prevailing against the Canadian in a thrilling match tie-break.

    "One of the best matches bar none that I've ever seen played, absolutely just enthralling," said captain John McEnroe, whose Team World are eyeing their first Laver Cup trophy.

    Rublev rallied past Argentina's Diego Schwartzman, who won the opening set and led 6-2 and 8-5 in the match tie-break before losing 4-6 6-3 11-9.

    "Today we are a bit more lucky; Matteo won a tough match against Felix in a super tiebreak, now you saw my match," said Russian star Rublev.

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    "This happens. This is tennis, this is sport. It’s emotions. Someone has to win, someone has to lose."

    On day two, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Zverev headline the day session against Team World's Nick Kyrgios and Isner.

    In the evening, Medvedev will meet Shapovalov before Rublev and Tsitsipas team up for a doubles battle with Kyrgios and Isner.

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    Top seed Hurkacz beat Daniil Medvedev and Roger Federer on the way to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, and previously beat Murray in Cincinnati.

    Hurkacz is ranked 13th in the world and is pushing for a place at the ATP Tour Finals, and he edged closer to a fourth career title by defeating Murray again in Metz.

    The 24-year-old prevailed 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 over the former world number one, who was playing in his first ATP Tour quarter-final of the year.

    "Andy is an unbelievable competitor, he has achieved so much throughout his career," Hurkacz said. "He is coming back from a tough injury and playing at a very high level, so he is amazing and you can be inspired by his results."

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    Fifth seed John Millman succumbed to fellow Australian James Duckworth, who will face Ilya Ivashka for a place in the final.

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    Estonian Kontaveit, ranked 30th in the world, claimed her fourth top-20 win of the season as she prevailed 6-4 6-3 on Friday.

    Kontaveit also defeated Bencic in the 2020 Australian Open, meaning she is 2-0 in their head-to-head rivalry.

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    The other semi-final will see top seed Iga Swiatek face Maria Sakkari.

    Last year's French Open winner Swiatek reached her first semi-final since May – when she landed the prestigious title in Rome – by overcoming Elena Rybakina 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

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    Greek star Sakkari ended Swiatek's reign as Roland Garros champion in June, beating the Polish 20-year-old in the quarter-finals in Paris.

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