Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (taking place in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), five Last Word On Tennis writers-–Vithun Illankovan, Damian Kust, Anurag Sahay, Jakub Bobro and Yesh Ginsburg–-make their Women’s Singles predictions. We will also have a separate roundtable for the Men’s Singles.
Tokyo Olympics Women’s Roundtable Predictions
Champion – Who will win gold at Tokyo 2020?
Vithun:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
I do feel Osaka is rather overrated by some and is quite fortunate that there are two hardcourt Grand Slams each year otherwise she would only have half as many Grand Slams. She has never beaten a Top 20 player on clay or grass courts, never won a title whilst having the pressure of being World No.1, and has never successfully defended a title.
However, this tournament is on hard court, she is ranked No.2, and is not defending champion. In addition to the favorable conditions she needs in order to succeed, she has also been given a good draw. With a decent record in Japan, this should be a very winnable tournament for Osaka, especially as top seed Ashleigh Barty has just won Wimbledon and nobody on the WTA Tour has won two consecutive titles of elite magnitude (Grand Slam, WTA Finals, Olympics) within the same season since 2015. Therefore, I predict Osaka to win and the media to hype her to near-GOAT status.
Damian:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
We know nothing about her form as she hasn’t played since the French Open, but she’s been very dominant on hard courts in the past couple of years, and often performs very well at home. I think the draw has turned out in a way that Osaka will have a bit of time to play herself into form (only Golubic is a threat before the quarterfinals). Then she should be ready to take on Swiatek in the last eight.
Anurag:  Ashleigh Barty (AUS)
Gold medalists are flag-bearers who do their country proud time and again. Barty is the epitome of Australia’s sporting spirit. Although she is making her debut and she might get another chance to represent Australia in the next edition, this is probably her best shot at the Gold
Jakub:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Is it the smartest move to pick a player who hasn’t played in two months? Probably not, but I’m doing it anyway. Osaka has been on a mental health break since withdrawing from the French Open after being threatened with a default, but there’s no reason to not consider her one of the favorites at any hard court tournament. The lack of a crowd might be a bit of a blow, but with the exemption of Viktorija Golubic, Osaka’s section does not contain many threats, giving her a good opportunity to play herself into form before a potential quarterfinal showdown with Iga Swiatek.
Yesh:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Osaka has had her share of troubles and controversies this year, but she’s literally home now. She has always been at ease with the media obligations in her country, and she’ll want to do well. Most importantly, her game is nearly unbeatable on a quick hard court. It has taken stunning displays of aggressive tennis to even win sets off Osaka on hard courts. As long as the Japanese woman is dialed in, no one will beat her. And it looks safe to assume she’ll be dialed in.
Dark Horse – Who will go furthest in the draw, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?
Vithun:  Maria Sakkari (GRE)
The Greek player is in the weakest section of the draw that is likely to produce a surprise semifinalist. After reaching the semifinals of the French Open, there is no reason why she cannot repeat that here with her draw. However, she is gaining a bit of a reputation of cracking under pressure (such as her French Open semifinal defeat despite having a match point) and so unfortunately 4th place would suit her well, especially given that 4th place at the last Olympics went to serial pressure-cooker Madison Keys.
Damian:  Maria Sakkari (GRE)
The first person I looked for in the draw was Jennifer Brady, but the section of the draw that she’s found herself in is an absolute nightmare. Sakkari, on the other hand, has Anett Kontaveit in Round 1, but a bit of fresh air after that. Her potential third-round opponent will be Elina
Svitolina Monfils, and I’d see Sakkari as the favorite in that one. The Greek has been playing very well on hard courts this year, pretty much avoided upsets, and feels like a player who should be extra motivated representing her country. This seems like a good opportunity to make the quarterfinals, anything more would be a bonus.
Anurag: Ons Jabeur (TUN)
Olympics goes beyond sport–it is a meeting of cultures. This is Jabeur’s big opportunity to bring African tennis to the fore. She has been through a statement-making season and I reckon there are very few players in her half of the draw who can deny her a moment in the Sun. She has one hurdle to deal with–Karolina Pliskova in the second round–and I think she has the game to script an upset. Semifinal is where I see her.
Jakub: Jessica Pegula (USA)
The hype around Jessica Pegula has died down a little bit since the tour switched to natural surfaces, but there is no reason why the American shouldn’t regain her hard court form here. Pegula is probably the favorite against the ninth seed Belinda Bencic in their first round and should certainly not be counted out against Barbora Krejcikova, so a quarterfinal for her is definitely a possibility.
Yesh:  Elina Svitolina (UKR)
Elina Svitolina (now Monfils) is at a new stage in her life and career, recently married to Gael Monfils. The Ukrainian is still a prodigious talent, though she has struggled in bigger events throughout her career. Still, she should be relaxed and confident coming into the games. And, unlike almost everyone else in Tokyo, her spouse is allowed to travel with her, due to also being a competitor. Her draw is pretty easy until the third round, and if she gets past Sakkari or Kontaveit a semifinal (and possible Bronze Medal) shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Early Exit – Who will suffer the earliest exit, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?
Vithun:  Belinda Bencic (SUI)
I am rather disappointed in Bencic as she has so much potential but does not demonstrate it nearly enough. With her current level of play I don’t expect her to get past her first round opponent Jessica Pegula, who is higher than Bencic in the Race to Shenzhen (ranking points gained in 2021). Another seed due an opening round exit is Kiki Bertens. In her final season on tour the Dutchwoman is sadly not signing off in style with no match wins against anyone ranked in the Top 140. With her first round opponent Marketa Vondrousova ranked in the Top 50, Bertens will know she is in trouble.
Damian:  Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
Some of the top seeds have comfortable draws, but a few of them really could have had more luck. Aryna Sabalenka takes on in-form Magda Linette in her opener, while Ashleigh Barty will not have an easy time slugging it out against Sara Sorribes Tormo. Karolina Pliskova is coming straight from the runner-up finish at Wimbledon and should have a lot of confidence, but an early trio of opponents like Alize Cornet, then Ons Jabeur, and likely Jennifer Brady or Jelena Ostapenko is just brutal. After almost getting the ultimate glory at the Championships, she might be in for a letdown here.
Anurag:  Elina Svitolina (UKR)
The Olympics couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Ukrainian whose participation looks like a mere formality. Svitolina crashed out of Wimbledon early and I believe she will underperform in Tokyo as well. We are seeing a different version of her this year as she is in the midst of a melange of events in her personal life. Svitolina’s potential second round opponent Tomljanovic and a potential quarterfinal opponent in Jabeur are going to make it that much more harder for her. She is seeded for the semifinals, but I am looking at a second round exit.
Jakub:  Maria Sakkari (GRE)
Sakkari was dealt a tough opener in Anett Kontaveit, though one that she could not know any better. Despite both of them being just 25, Kontaveit and Sakkari have already played each other nine times. Though Sakkari leads the head-to-head 5-4, Kontaveit won their two most recent matches on hard, including a match from a Melbourne lead-up event this year.
Yesh:  Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
Nothing against Plsikova here. The Czech is in good form, finally, and should play well in Tokyo. The problem is her draw. Pliskova received an absolutely brutal draw. Alize Cornet is no pushover in the first round, and it only gets tougher from there. Ons Jabeur is playing the best tennis of her career. A third-round matchup against Jennifer Brady or Jelena Ostapenko is just no fun (for Pliskova, at least) either. The Cezh just has too many potential pitfalls to trust to go deep.
Main Photo from Getty.