Naomi Osaka is taking things "one notch at a time" at Tokyo 2020 after another convincing performance in round two on Monday.

With Ash Barty having suffered a shock exit a day prior, Osaka is now the favourite for glory on home court and with Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek among the round-two casualties that status is sure to only be enhanced.

There was better news for Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova at the Ariake Tennis Park, though, in a women's draw stacked with top-tier talent.

OSAKA NOT GETTING AHEAD OF HERSELF

Back after a self-imposed two-month hiatus, defending US and Australian champion Osaka has not missed a beat and was too good for Viktorija Golubic in a 6-3 6-2 victory.

Osaka won 24 of 26 service points in the first set and 37 of 45 in the second, facing break point only once in a one-sided affair.

"It would mean a lot to win gold here, but I know it's a process," she said. "I know these are the best players in the world and honestly I haven't played in a while, so I'm trying to take it one notch at a time.

"All in all, I'm just really happy to be here. I haven't been in Tokyo for a couple of years."

Svitolina was not as comfortable with the fourth seed rebounding from losing the opening set to defeat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6 6-3 6-4. Maria Sakkari (14) awaits in the next round.

Carla Suarez Navarro earned her first win since recovering from cancer in round one and battled valiantly against Karolina Pliskova (5) before eventually losing in three sets.

Garbine Muguruza (7), Barbora Krejcikova (8) and Belinda Bencic all coasted through in straight sets, as did Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (13) and Elena Rybakina (15).

TEARS FOR IGA 

Swiatek, whose father was an Olympic rower, would have had strong designs on a deep run at the Games but was beaten 6-3 7-6 (7-4) by Paula Badosa.

The Pole was left in tears after the defeat, and was still sobbing at her chair several minutes after the end of the match.

Sabalenka also bit the dust, going down in three sets to Donna Vekic, while Petra Kvitova lost the deciding set of her tie with Alison Van Uytvanck 6-0 to bow out with a whimper.

Top seed Danielle Collins sealed her first WTA singles title on Sunday with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Elena-Gabriela Ruse at the Palermo Open.

American Collins, who was top-seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, did not drop a set all week on her way to a memorable win in Sicily. 

Collins had lost all six of her previous tour-level semi-finals, but she showed superb composure to brush aisde world number 137 Ruse with the minimum of fuss in one hour and 50 minutes. 

The victory meant she became the 14th first-time singles champion on the WTA Tour this season, on the same day Maryna Zanevska became the 13th maiden winner in Gdynia. 

"After everything I've been through, moments where I almost thought about retiring, and after everything we've gone through with the pandemic, it's nice to be able to see the crowd in the stands again," Collins said.

 

Maryna Zanevska fought back from a double-break down in both sets of the Poland Open final to claim her first WTA Tour title at the expense of Kristina Kucova.

Zanevska twice found herself trailing 3-0 in the battle between two first-time WTA singles finalists, but rallied to win 6-4 7-6 (7-4) on the clay in Gydnia on Sunday.

World number 165 Zanevska had never played in a quarter-final on the main tour before making the last four in Lausanne last week and the in-form Belgian now has a first title to her name.

The 27-year-old was granted a special-exempt entry into the Gdynia main draw due to her run in Switzerland and is now projected to re-enter the top 120 in the rankings.

Kucova was left to reflect on what might have been, having started both sets so strongly before failing to press home her advantage in a topsy-turvy championship match.

The Czech, ranked 150th, saved four match points before forcing a tie-break but was beaten in an hour and 51 minutes.

Ash Barty says she will keep fighting for an Olympic gold medal despite her shock opening-round defeat by Sara Sorribes Tormo in Tokyo.

The world number one fell at the first hurdle at Arianke Tennis Park, going down 6-4 6-3 against her Spanish opponent.

There were no such problems for Naomi Osaka; the home favourite overcame China's Zheng Saisai in straight sets.

BARTY TO KEEP FIGHTING FOR GOLD MEDAL

Crowned Wimbledon champion this month, Barty was unable to build on that momentum; amassing a whopping 55 errors.

World number 48 Sorribes Tormo took full advantage to set up a second-round showdown with France's Fiona Ferro.

Naomi Osaka is feeling "a little bit refreshed and happy again" after returning to tennis with a convincing 6-1 6-4 triumph over Zheng Saisai in her Tokyo 2020 opener.

The four-time grand slam winner has not featured since the first round of the French Open two months ago where she abandoned her campaign following a warning she risked expulsion over her refusal to take part in news conferences during the tournament.

Osaka, who is the reigning US and Australian Open champion, then decided to skip Wimbledon after opening up on her battles with anxiety and depression.

The 23-year-old was granted the honour of lighting the flame for Tokyo 2020 on Friday and two days later made a successful return at the Ariake Tennis Park, where she represents one of Japan's greatest medal hopes for the Games.

"I feel like, more than anything, I'm just focused on playing tennis. This, playing the Olympics, has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I feel like the break I took was very needed," she said.

"But I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and happy again.

"I felt really nervous being in Japan and playing here for the first time in maybe two years, and for it to be my first Olympics. 

"It was definitely really nerve-wracking. But I am glad I was able to win, she is a very tough opponent.

"It's been a while since I played but I feel, more than anything, just happy to be out here. We are playing in a pandemic, and it is really tough for everyone."

Asked how she felt to be talking to the press again, she said: "For me, honestly I don't feel that weird about it.

"It might feel weird to you guys, but I don't know. I'm happy that I guess you guys are asking me questions but more than anything I was just focused on playing tennis and I guess I feel a little bit out of my body right now."

Osaka then revealed that her starring role in Friday's opening ceremony came about in March.

"I was super honoured," she said. That’s a position you dream about and not anyone can do it so when they asked me if I wanted to I was very surprised but very honoured and I'm just happy to be here and happy to play, especially in Tokyo."

The playing conditions have been a quite literal hot topic over the first two days, with the sweltering heats causing issues for players.

Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic were among those to speak out about the decision not to play matches later in the day Tokyo, where temperatures have regularly been above 30 degrees.

Osaka, though, has no such issues, adding: "It feels fine for me. I have played a couple of tournaments here, of course they resurfaced it since I was last here, but I love being here, and I actually really like the weather."

Ash Barty's chances of winning singles gold at Tokyo 2020 came to a juddering halt at the first hurdle as she suffered a shock 6-4 6-3 to Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo.

The world number one and recently crowned Wimbledon champion was among the favourites for glory in the women's event but put in an uncharacteristically error strewn display at the Ariake Tennis Park.

In total, the amiable Australian racked up a whopping 55 errors in a match that lasted a little over an hour and a half.

Sorribes Tormo had never faced off against Barty before but kept cool amid the stifling Tokyo conditions to progress to a second-round tie with Fiona Ferro of France.

It also marked the first time the 24-year-old had ever beaten a player ranked number one in the world.

Barty's Tokyo adventure is not over just yet, though. On Saturday she and childhood friend Storm Sanders made it through round one of the women's doubles with a 6-1 6-2 beating of Japanese Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya.

Naomi Osaka lighting the Olympic cauldron will have helped increase the exposure for the sport of tennis around the world, according to Novak Djokovic.

Osaka was given the honour of carrying the torch on the short final leg at the Japan National Stadium before walking the steps to light the flame and end the opening ceremony.

The four-time grand slam champion is the face of the Tokyo Games in her home country, creating extra pressure on her shoulders as she bids to strike gold.

Djokovic appreciates the absences of legendary names Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is a blow, but he believes Osaka's presence is crucial for tennis in the battle for media coverage at the Games.

"It cannot be better for our sport, you are representing yourself, your country but also your sport in the Olympic Games, you're trying to get the hype and the attention towards our sport as much as you possibly can, so we're all contributing to that in the Olympic Village," Djokovic said when asked about Osaka's role in Friday's ceremony.

"There's a lot of attention towards the tennis players which is great, from the other athletes which is very nice to see, very nice to experience.

"Obviously you don't have Roger or Rafa. They are big stars and legends of our sport, but still there's quite a lot of great athletes, top players. Naomi is a home favourite and a lot of eyes are on her.

"Being at home playing is a lot of pressure, but it's great for our sport just in general to see that there's a lot of attention towards it."

 

Djokovic was speaking after overcoming Hugo Dellien with ease in his opening outing in the men's singles tournament, the Serbian triumphing 6-2 6-2 in just over an hour.

The quick win allowed the recently crowned Wimbledon champion to avoid staying out for too long in the Tokyo heat, an issue that led to Daniil Medvedev calling for matches to be pushed back to later in the day, allowing players to compete during the evenings when the temperatures have dropped.

"I agree with him 100 per cent," Djokovic said of Medvedev's suggestion. "I actually asked as well.

"My team captain, Viktor Troicki, was speaking to the referee a couple of times. To be honest, I don't understand why they don't start matches at say 3pm.

"I've heard for tennis there is some kind of curfew they have to finish at midnight, but if that's the case, I've just finished the last match and it's not even 5pm, we still have seven hours to play. 

"They have lights on all the courts, they're going to make life much easier for all of us tennis players, I just don't understand why they don't move it. 

"It's actually for the television broadcasters even better, because the later you play, the better it is for the United States and the time zones in Europe.

"I don't know, maybe the ITF (International Tennis Federation) can give you a better answer to why they chose to be played in the middle of the day. I doubt they will change the decision, but we're hoping that they will."

Iga Swiatek says adjusting to the tricky Tokyo conditions will be key to winning gold after she came through her Olympics opener on Saturday.

The Polish athlete was the highest-ranked seed in action in the women's singles in the Japanese capital and comfortably dispatched of Mona Barthel 6-2 6-2.

World number one Ash Barty gets her individual campaign underway on Sunday but the Wimbledon champion was a doubles victor on the first day of action on the tennis courts.

SWIATEK OUT TO ADJUST

Swiatek was on court for a little over an hour, breaking serve six times and firing down 13 winners to Barthel's eight.

The tough hot and humid conditions were a big talking point at Ariake Tennis Centre on Saturday, and Swiatek – whose father represented Poland as a rower at the 1988 Olympics – had her say.

"I'm pretty happy that I'm into the second round and for sure not only the temperature was hard, but also the sun because on one side it was pretty hard to serve," she said. 

"But we had to adjust quickly and change our toss, so that was hard, but you know I would say the players who can adjust quicker are going to be the best ones here."

KREJCIKOVA BENEFITS FROM DIYAS RETIREMENT

Eighth seed Barbora Krejcikova was 5-2 up against Zarina Diyas before her opponent had to withdraw with an ankle problem.

The Czech now meets Leylah Annie Fernandez in the second round. Fellow seeds Belinda Bencic (9), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (13), Maria Sakkari (14) and Elena Rybakina (15) all made it through round one.

But Kiki Bertens, the 16th seed, was sent packing 6-4 3-6 6-4 by Marketa Vondrousova.

BARTY REVELS IN TEAMING UP WITH CHILDHOOD FRIEND

Barty is fresh off her triumph at SW19 earlier this month, and the amiable Aussie started her Olympics adventure alongside long-time friend Storm Sanders.

The sixth feeds hammered home pair Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-1 6-2.

"Playing with my childhood friend in what is a dream for both of us is really cool. And to be here in some of the most unique circumstances I think ever for an Olympic Games, it's really awesome for us," Barty said.

"We're very grateful and thankful that we're able to be here to play and to experience what is really cool Games."

Naomi Osaka will make her playing entry to the Olympic Games a day later than expected after her first-round tennis match was put back to Sunday.

Japan's big hope for gold will play China's Zheng Saisai in her opener at the Ariake Tennis Park.

The match was billed to be first on the centre court at 11:00 local time on Saturday, only for Games organisers to announce it has been moved back by a day.

The move came amid mounting expectation that Osaka would have a prominent role to play in Friday's opening ceremony, meaning she would have little time to rest between taking part in that event and playing Zheng.

Osaka abandoned her French Open campaign after one match, having been warned she risked expulsion for refusing to take part in news conferences during the tournament.

The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion, who has spoken of struggling with anxiety and depression, then elected to skip Wimbledon.

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.

Novak Djokovic has leapt from one bubble into another as he attempts to become the first man in tennis history to win all four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.

The only men to have won each of the singles majors across their careers, plus Olympic gold, are Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, and now Djokovic aims to move to the brink of winning all five in his remarkable 2021 season.

Fresh from dominating at Wimbledon, and with the Australian and French Open titles already in the bag, Djokovic heads into the Tokyo Games as a red-hot favourite, seeking to set himself up to complete a historic campaign at the US Open.

Naomi Osaka will enter the Games with almost as much expectation behind her too, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion eyeing glory for hosts Japan.

But tennis has thrown up a host of shock results in its short Olympic history. Here, Stats Perform looks at the sport's place in the Games.

 

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT, AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all opted out of the Olympics.

Williams made her mind up prior to suffering a leg injury at Wimbledon, although she is already a member of the career Golden Slam club.

Federer reached his decision after revealing he also suffered a physical setback at the All England Club, and Nadal elected to take a two-month break after relinquishing his French Open title.

Don't expect to see them again at the Olympics, given Williams and Federer will be pushing 43 by Paris 2024, and Nadal will be 38. Federer won a doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, but his singles peak was the silver medal he earned in 2012, Andy Murray crushing Swiss hopes in the final at Wimbledon.

Dominic Thiem, Bianca Andreescu, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Denis Shapovalov are among other confirmed absentees, with fitness issues a factor for some, less so for others.

The COVID-19 crisis is a mitigating factor in why so many stars are staying away, and directly responsible in the case of some players, such as Britain's Johanna Konta and Dan Evans, who both tested positive recently.

But tennis was only fully restored to the Olympic programme in 1988, after being dropped post 1924, and if players are seen to be favouring the grand slams over the Games, that is not such a great look for the sport.

At a time when the International Olympic Committee has shown it is willing to shake up the sports on its programme, tennis could perhaps do with a headline-making Tokyo 2020.

Murray, the two-time defending men's champion, will target an improbable hat-trick. A hat-trick for the injury-hit former world number one would be a sensation, and Osaka landing gold in the women's tournament would surely be one of the great moments of the Games.

 

DJOKOVIC FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GRAF

When Steffi Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini in the women's singles final at Seoul, it completed what we know now as the calendar 'Golden Slam'. She had already won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and the feat of the then 19-year-old West German has yet to be repeated.

Now Djokovic is three-fifths of the way to a similar clean sweep of the majors and the Olympics, with the US Open getting under way on August 30 in New York.

He teetered on not going to Tokyo, and perhaps he is to some extent endangering his chances at Flushing Meadows by spending more time travelling and enduring bubble life, while others rest up.

But Djokovic is a fiercely proud Serbian and could not resist a great chance of winning gold for his country. He landed bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing but in 2012 he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match, and a cruel draw at Rio four years later saw him assigned Del Potro in the first round.

Top seed Djokovic bowed out in two tie-breaks to the powerful Argentinian, describing the outcome as "one of the toughest losses in my career".

There is no danger of a hat-trick of defeats to Del Potro, which may help Djokovic. Del Potro has been battling for two years to get back to fitness, undergoing four rounds of right knee surgery in a bid to get back on tour.

 

RAISING THE BAR AT THE OLYMPICS

How the Olympic village functions in Tokyo will be distinctly different to at previous Games, given the pandemic restrictions in place that could be a real buzzkill.

But in the past there have been countless cases of athletes becoming inspired by their surroundings and going on to perform above their usual level.

It can be a party village, and it can also be an eyebrow-raising experience as global superstars rub shoulders with competitors who might struggle for recognition in their home towns. More than anything, the shared team experience, fighting for a collective cause, can make a middling athlete believe they can be great.

Monica Puig was a massive tennis outsider in 2016 but the then world number 34 won the women's singles, stunning Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route. That gave Puerto Rico their first ever Olympic gold medal.

In 1992, a tournament that featured the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker finished with a staggering final match-up of Marc Rosset versus Jordi Arrese, who in his home city of Barcelona was edged out 8-6 in the fifth set by the Swiss world number 43. Nobody would have predicted that head to head for gold.

Similarly, at Athens 2004, Nicolas Massu beat Mardy Fish in the gold medal match of a tournament that featured Federer, Andy Roddick, Carlos Moya and Tim Henman.

In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Lindsay Davenport, who had just turned 20, took inspiration from being the daughter of an Olympian, with dad Wink having played volleyball for the United States at Mexico City in 1968.

Davenport was beginning to make an impact on the WTA Tour but was only the ninth seed at the Olympics, yet she swept through the rounds before sinking Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 7-6 (10-8) 6-2 in the final.

"It's like one of those things I look back on and I'm like, 'Was that me?'," Davenport told The Tennis Podcast last year.

"It doesn't seem like it was real. I'd made the transition to the pro tour pretty well, but I liked hanging out between eight and 16 in the rankings. I was very insecure, unsure of what could I do. I liked doing well but I wasn't sure I wanted to do too well because it seemed really overwhelming to be one of those top players.

"Here I go at 20 years old to Atlanta for two or three weeks, in a setting that seemed so comfortable. Look at all these athletes, you have all different shapes and sizes, you have players that are really working hard but have so much in common and you get to hang out with them, breakfast, lunch, dinner in the village."

Davenport was a future world number one and three-time grand slam singles champion, but at this point in her career being an American at an Olympics in the United States was just a thrill.

"You're sharing this with your team-mates who are some of my best friends in Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles. It was the best time ever," she said.

"By the time the tournament actually started we were like, 'Yeah, I'll go play my match and then we'll go back to the village and we'll hang out', and everything went so fast in those few weeks.

"And there I was left standing, winning at the end because I was so incredibly happy and excited with everything that was going on. I kind of forgot what was my job.

"When it became a reality of even just making the team in '96, it was so huge also for my family with having a second generation Olympian."

Roger Federer is in the draw for the US Open, but it remains unclear whether he will be fit to take part in the final grand slam of the year.

The United States Tennis Association confirmed on Wednesday that Federer was one of six former men's champions to receive direct entry into the draw.

Federer this month withdrew from the Olympic Games, citing a setback with his knee, on which he had two surgeries in 2020.

The Swiss, though, expressed his desire to return the tour, with Flushing Meadows providing his last chance to add to his tally of 20 major titles in 2021.

A five-time winner in New York, Federer has not reached the final at the US Open since 2015.

In the women's singles draw, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have each received direct entries into the draw.

Reigning champion Osaka missed Wimbledon having withdrawn from the French Open after the first round to protect her well-being amid a fallout following her decision to not attend post-match media conferences.

Williams is still awaiting a record-tying 24th grand slam title, the 39-year-old forced to retire from her first-round match at Wimbledon because of an injury to her right leg.

Having seen crowds return to a range of tour events, former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash understands the disappointment of tennis moving back to behind closed doors at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Each of the three grand slam events to have taken place this year has been held with fans in attendance, with Centre Court seeing capacity crowds for each of the singles finals at Wimbledon. The US Open, which begins on August 30, will allow 100 per cent fan capacity at Flushing Meadows for the final major of 2021.

However, Cash does not believe the lack of spectators at the Games will have too much of an impact on the players who have elected to travel to Japan.

"Well it's unfortunate that the Olympics won't have any fans. I think that's a real disappointment," Cash told Stats Perform.

"But 95 per cent of our life is played on an empty practice court and stadiums.

"Certainly, when you're coming through, nobody's watching you. It's only when you get to Wimbledon or something that you play with crowds, and they can make a difference. We've also been playing most of the year without them.

"To go back [to no fans] it's unfortunate, but it's not something unusual for the players. The crowd certainly does make a difference. It makes a difference with attention and with the crowd roaring and whistling or whatever they want to do."

World number two Naomi Osaka, who will return to action having withdrawn from the French Open to protect her well-being and subsequently skipped Wimbledon, is one athlete who could have benefited from the home support in Japan.

Though he is unsure of how boisterous the home crowd would have been in Tokyo, Cash still feels for the 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam winner.

 

"With no crowds there that's disappointing for her," he added. 

"But you know, it's sort of something we've become used to on the tour - playing with empty crowds and the nerves still kick in, it is all about winning, and players tend to learn to block the crowds out quite well.

"They stay in their own world when they're on the tennis court. The urgency and the intensity of a match is not really going to change that much because the players really want this for themselves."

Wimbledon champion Ash Barty has "a great chance" of securing Olympic glory for Australia in Tokyo.

That is the view of former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, though he warned there is plenty of scope for upsets in both the men's and women's singles.

Monica Puig claimed a surprise victory at Rio 2016 - then ranked 34th, she stunned Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route to give Puerto Rico their first-ever gold medal.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are two greats on the men's side who have not tasted Olympic glory, something the Serbian will look to put right this year as he pursues a Golden Slam.

Cash, though, would not be surprised to see the Olympics throw up another surprise result, even though he hopes to see compatriot Barty come out on top in the women's tournament.

He told Stats Perform: "The women's draw is very, very even. If you don't play well in one of those matches, you're out. 

"There's no such thing as an easy first round really in a tournament such as the Olympics, particularly the men’s side where it's best of three sets. So if you slip up, you're gone. 

"There's no chance of coming back from two sets to one down, because it's over. So that's trickier for somebody like Djokovic who can typically run people into the ground.

"Ash has got a great chance of winning the Olympics, but I think probably there's 30 girls who think they can do that as well and they're probably right. 

"We've seen some unusual results in the Olympics and shorter form tournaments like that, also on the men's side.

"It's very hard to say, but obviously, [Barty] is in great form and full of confidence - that goes a long way to winning a gold medal."

 

There have been a host of high-profile withdrawals from the tennis in Tokyo.

Rafael Nadal, Federer, Dominic Thiem, Matteo Berrettini, Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin, Simona Halep and Coco Gauff among a large list of top players who will be missing.

Some absences were unavoidable due to injuries or positive coronavirus cases but some players have opted to rest amid a hectic calendar, avoiding Japan's strict COVID-19 rules in the process.

Cash has mixed views on the subject but does feel playing at the Olympics should be seen as a rare and valuable opportunity.

"I think I think they would [look back fondly at winning a medal]," said Cash.

"It’s certainly one of the regrets in my career that I didn't play the Olympics [in 1988]. I had a niggling injury and decided to rest. 

"Looking back, I thought I could have won a medal, maybe even a gold medal. I would have probably given it a really good shot. 

"In my era it wasn't the pinnacle. I think Novak Djokovic has talked about that now, he said, ‘The main thing for me is winning slams, they're the pinnacle of our game’. 

"But to win a gold medal, it's pretty cool. You'll find that the players who do win a gold medal, if you tell the grandkids, 'I won a Wimbledon trophy' or 'I won a gold medal', they’ll go, 'Oh, where’s the gold medal?'

"Having said that, there's a lot of players who aren't playing the Olympics this year. Certainly for a few years, it was a novelty - I'm not sure if it's wearing off or not. 

"But to perform for your country, I think is an honour and we haven't had the opportunity to do that much in the last couple of years. 

"With the Davis Cup, the men's competition is really just a fading, unfortunately, dying competition, which not many people really care about any more.

"That's very, very sad, so the Olympics is often the best opportunity to represent your country."

 

Cash delved deeper into the dilemma players are likely to have faced.

"I wouldn't put any criticism on anybody for the personal choice after these last 18 months," he said. "It's their choice, everybody's got a different journey in this and it's part of their careers. 

"With COVID and all that sort of stuff that's going on - the bubbles - some of the stresses are unknown like being away from family and friends for months on end and not actually have any break. 

"Everybody's got their own different stories, some of them are injured, some were coming back from injury, some think 'I'm not going to make a trip to Japan' - with all the restrictions it's not going be fun. 

"It's not going to be a fun Games where you can go there and watch the other athletes. In Los Angeles [the 1984 Games] the highlight was actually to go and watch the track events, which I did.

"That's not going to happen, you're in a hotel, you're in the village or, you're gonna go straight to the tennis and back only to a certain area of the village, I think it's going to be locked down for tennis players only. 

"You may not be able to mingle with the other athletes. So I think a lot of the fun has been taken out of this. 

"But again, it's representing your country and trying to get trying to get a gold medal. So some players will go to great lengths to do that."

Naomi Osaka is less likely to claim Olympics glory on home soil in Tokyo because her lack of match practice will be a disadvantage, according to Pat Cash.

Japan's Osaka has not played since withdrawing from the French Open after one match at the end of May, having revealed she would skip press conferences as "people have no regard for athletes' mental health".

Prior to taking a break from the sport, four-time grand slam champion Osaka revealed she had suffered "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018.

The 23-year-old said this month she wants "some level of privacy and empathy" from the media when she returns to action and but also discussed her excitement at playing in a "dream" Olympics.

Former Wimbledon champion Cash insists Osaka has the game to triumph but feels it is a tougher task now given her main opponents are coming off two grand slams in quick succession.

"Yeah, she said [she was taking] time out – it's hard to know if she's going to be match hardened," Cash said to Stats Perform.

"I think that's the thing about playing Wimbledon, the grass court season. Are you match toughened? 

"That goes a huge, huge way [to achieving success, and not having that] is putting yourself under pressure and especially under those circumstances if it's for a gold medal."

 

Cash feels the quality and depth of opposition in the women's draw is another obstacle in Osaka's bid for gold.

Wimbledon winner Ash Barty, beaten finalist Karolina Pliskova, former French Open champion Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka are scheduled to be among the highest-ranked competitors for Osaka at the Olympics.

Cash added: "There are a lot of good players too. Going back onto the hard court, I think that favours certain players who hit the ball hard like Sabalenka for instance.

"But there's 30 girls who really do think they can win a gold medal there and I think that's true. 

"So it's very hard to predict who will win, obviously Japan want Osaka to win, but with her being out, I think it's less likely than in a normal circumstance where she's playing matches. 

"But she's such a talent that she really could come out there and blast players away, so I wouldn't put it past her."

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