Ashleigh Barty or Naomi Osaka: Who will come out top this year?

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Ashleigh Barty retained her place at the top of the women’s world rankings with victory at the Miami Open this weekend. She had been leading 6-3, 4-0 when opponent Bianca Andreescu retired from the clash with an ankle injury.

Only Naomi Osaka could have toppled Barty from her perch, but the Japanese ace crashed out in the quarter-finals. Barty was triumphant this time round, but the remainder of the year is likely to be a fight for dominance between the two stars.

Who is likely to perform better at the remaining Grand Slams this year?

Roland Garros – May 17th to June 6th

Barty won her first and only Grand Slam so far at the French Open in 2019. In the same year, she went on to win the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, establishing herself as a force in women’s tennis.

The 24-year-old then missed out on the majority of 2020, maintaining her place at the top of the world rankings due to an altered points system. The COVID-19 pandemic had made playing at overseas tournaments almost impossible for Barty. The Miami Open was actually the first competition she played outside of Australia since the global health crisis began.

In Barty’s absence, Polish teenager Iga Świątek stepped up and took home the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen at Roland Garros last year. Barty will be desperate to regain her crown, especially given her improving record on clay.

According to the WTA, Barty has a record of 154-53 on clay over the past five years, a winning percentage of 74.4 percent.

On the other hand, Osaka struggles on clay, with a winning percentage of 67.6 percent. She has exited the French Open in the third round in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and it is fair to say the Roland Garros is not her favoured Grand Slam.


Wimbledon – June 28th to July 11th

A Wimbledon title has evaded both Barty and Osaka during their careers so far.

Osaka exited the Grand Slam in the third round in 2017 and 2018, while Barty reached the fourth round in 2019. The tournament was cancelled last year because of the pandemic.

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Barty again boasts a better record on grass, winning eight of the nine WTA matches she’s played on the surface. This included victory at the Birmingham Classic in 2019. In fact, Barty claimed back in 2019 that grass was her favourite to play on.

As on clay, Osaka is yet to establish herself on grass. After triumphing at the Australian Open this year, however, the 23-year-old explained why she was not as dominant on those surfaces and revealed she was confident this would soon change.

“I think on clay, I feel like I don't play bad,” she said.” I honestly thought I played pretty well last year. I just didn't go far in the Grand Slam like everyone expected me to. But I think that's also a process.”

“I feel like I have everything that I need to do well on clay and on grass, but it's just [about] feeling comfortable. I don't think I feel totally comfortable on either surface because I didn't really play on red clay or grass growing up and I've played on hard basically my whole life. So, yeah, just more experience.”

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US Open – August 30th to September 12th

The Arthur Ashe Stadium is fast becoming Osaka’s stomping ground. She first defeated Serena Williams in an infamous final in 2019, before overcoming Victoria Azarenka in a three-set thriller in 2020.

As established, hardcourt is Osaka’s favoured surface and she will go into this year’s US Open as the favourite.

This is not to write Barty off, however. She missed out on last year’s tournament due to the pandemic, and it would have been interesting to see whether she could have stopped Osaka in her tracks. Her current record at the US Open is two fourth round exits.

Last time Barty and Osaka played, it was in the final of the 2019 Australian Open. Osaka came back from one set down to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Tennis fans will be chomping at the bit to see this match-up in another final, and such a tie could come at the US Open. 

It’s also worth remembering that Barty and Osaka are just two names among a wealth of talent in women’s tennis. Other contenders for world number one come the end of the year include Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina.

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