Ashleigh Barty & Naomi Osaka: World’s top two players return for Cincinnati Open

Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty

As the US Open draws nearer, the Cincinnati Open is next on the WTA calendar as players look to gain form ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year.

The tournament, which has been branded as the Western and Southern Open, is a WTA 1000 event in Ohio, that begins on Monday 16th August.

This year, a number of the world’s top stars are in action and the draw has thrown up some enticing matchups early on.

In the first round, there is a rematch of the Tokyo Olympics gold medal match between Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and the Czech Republic’s Markéta Vondroušová. Bencic claimed gold in three sets two weeks ago and is seeded 10th for this event.

Meanwhile, world number one Ashleigh Barty and four-time major winner Naomi Osaka return to the fold.

Both players suffered early exits in Tokyo and will be keen to rediscover their touch ahead of the season’s fourth major at the end of this month.

As the second seed, Osaka has a bye through to round two, where she could face US teenager Coco Gauff.

The 17-year-old has shown impressive form in 2021 and is currently ranked 24th in the world. The French Open quarter-finalist will face a qualifier in her first-round tie.

Barty also has a free pass in the first round and is guaranteed to face a qualifier in the second round. However, a potential third-round match against Victoria Azarenka looms provided the Belarusian can win her first two matches.

Azarenka is the defending champion in Cincinnati after Osaka withdrew from the final last year because of a hamstring injury.

The 32-year-old has not won a competition since though and enters this event on the back of a quarter-final loss to compatriot Aryna Sabalenka at the Canadian Open.

World number four Elina Svitolina and former French Open champion Iga Świątek anchor the second quarter of the draw.

Svitolina will face the winner of Maria Sakkari and Angelique Kerber, while Świątek could face the in-form Ons Jabeur in the second round.

The Tunisian beat Świątek in the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this season and claimed victories against Daria Kasatkina and Bianca Andreescu at the Canadian Open.

Overall, there is plenty of star quality in the field and given Osaka and Barty’s recent struggles, the tournament appears to be wide open.

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