WTA Cincinnati draw: Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff set for early meeting as big guns return to action

Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka share a hug

Grand Slam winners Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova as well as Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Belinda Bencic will all kick off their North American hard-court swing at the Western & Southern Open next week.

Having opted to delay the start to their US Open preparations following the Tokyo Games, the quintet will return to action in Cincinnati.

World No 1 Barty will start her campaign against a qualifier in the second round, but she could meet former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round while one of reigning French Open champion Krejcikova, former US Open winner Sloane Stephens or two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza could be a quarter-final opponent.

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Section two is headlined by fourth seed Elina Svitolina, who will face either Maria Sakkari or Angelique Kerber first up, while Petra Kvitova and Swiatek are the other two dangerous players in the section.

Osaka and Gauff have met twice on the WTA Tour with the former winning their first meeting at the 2019 US Open before Gauff turned the tables at the 2020 Australian Open.

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu is the projected quarter-final opponent, but the seventh seeded Canadian faces Karolina Muchova or British No 1 Johanna Konta in the second round while recently crowned Olympic gold medallist Bencic, who takes on Marketa Vondrosouva first up, could be a third round rival.

The player who comes through Section 4 is projected to meet third seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals, but the Belarusian is likely to face Karolina Pliskova, who beat her in the last four in Montreal, in the quarter-final.