Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty are the two pre-tournament favourites for the US Open. But the women's singles field is a crowded one this year.
The US Open, the final Grand Slam of the tennis calendar, is set to take place from August 30 (Monday) onwards. As always, there will be plenty of focus on the women’s singles draw, which this year is surprisingly stacked. This is despite the absence of Serena Williams, who pulled out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury. Yet it is fair to say that there are two names who will be the main favourites going into the Grand Slam – Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty. Both women have been the top players in the division through the year 2021.
Osaka has long been seen as a star in the waiting, and the Japanese player is currently a four-time Grand Slam champion. Yet her form as of late has petered off, leaving many to question if she can go the distance at Flushing Meadows.
Barty, meanwhile, has form and momentum on her side. The defending Wimbledon champion has also come into her own this year, finding the consistency to match her talent.
Yet there’s enough talent on the tour that neither of these women might end the Grand Slam run with a win. Plus, the women’s draw is always prone to an upset or two, especially for the top players.
Osaka knows a thing or two about winning the US Open; she’s won the Grand Slam in 2018 and 2020. What’s more, she’s only 23 years old and therefore possesses the ability to get even better in the future.
However, it is safe to say that 2021 has been a mixed bag for the Japanese star.
She started the year well enough, winning the Australian Open by beating Jennifer Brady in the finals. She even dispatched Serena Williams in the semi-finals.
Yet the French Open came about and brought with it plenty of trouble. She refused to speak to the media in Paris, saying press conferences affected her mental health.
This earned her a fine as well as plenty of negative attention. As a result of the backlash, she withdrew entirely from the tournament.
She was back in time for the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the flame in the opening ceremony. But she crashed out in the early stages of the tournament, thus failing to secure a medal.
As such, she is coming into the Grand Slam underprepared and severely lacking match fitness. However, Osaka is trying to be positive about the situation at hand.
“I know there are a lot of things I need to fix within my game, so in a weird way I’m kind of glad that I lost, because there are so many things that I want to fix before New York,” Osaka said.
“I feel like my level is not that far off.. if I want to keep being more positive with myself, I need to think about the things that I could improve on. There are definitely a lot of things.”
The same, however, cannot be said about Barty. The Australian has been on a roll since winning at Wimbledon earlier this year. She might have also crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics early, but she won the Cincinnati Masters.
As such, going purely on form it is tough to look past Barty. Besides these two tournaments, she’s also won titles at Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart in 2021 alone.
Barty won the French Open in 2019 but had to wait two years for her second Grand Slam title. And, based on what she said ahead of the tournament, she’s not planning on waiting around much longer to win a third.
“I hadn’t even thought about it, (the fact she’s won two out of four Grand Slams)” Barty said. “It took me 25 years to get the first two, so let’s hope it doesn’t take another 25 to get the next two. We’ll leave it at that.”
Barty is also currently sitting atop the WTA rankings. To make things better, she’s been world number 1 for 83 straight weeks now. That’s impressive no matter how you look at it.
And it is this combination of factors that makes her such a tough opponent to beat at present. She is on top of her game and riding the wave of momentum. But, as the old adage goes, never say never.
There are a number of competitors in the women’s ranks who could well cause an upset. Chief of this lot is Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova, who surprised everyone by winning the French Open this year.
There’s also world number 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon this year. And speaking of Wimbledon, 2021 runner-up Karolina Pliskova would also count herself among the favourites at America.
Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open winner would like to prove her win was not a flash in the pan. Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the 2020 US Open winner who skipped last year’s event, will also be keen to get back into the thick of things.
2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland has not done as much as she would have liked in recent times, and would want to change that.
Then there’s Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who would want to build on that win with a good showing at Flushing Meadows.
All in all, the women’s draw of the final Grand Slam of the year could serve up some wonderful entertainment for tennis fans.