Former champion Halep sets first contest against top seed Badosa

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No matter the tournament, no matter the draw size and quality, every player will respond to a question about their chances of success with “there are no easy draws” or “[my next opponent] is very tough.”

Some will even deny that they look at any draw beyond their next opponent, which in Madrid in particular, is probably wise. For in Madrid, more than almost anywhere on the women’s tennis tour outside the four Majors, such comments hold particularly true.

One of the three Mandatory 1000 events on the tour, along with Miami and Indian Wells, the Mutua Madrid Open awards the maximum 1,000 points to the champion, in a draw containing a full 64-woman line-up: No byes for the top seeds here. The other four 1000s, such as Rome which follows hot on the clay heels of Madrid, award 900 point to their champions in draws that also benefit the top eight seeds with first-round byes.

So Madrid has always been a prestigious, rewarding—and hugely challenging event.

There were a couple of lucky ‘breaks’, perhaps, for some of the unseeded women who might have been drawn against the super-star of the season so far, new world No1 Iga Swiatek, who pulled out after winning four consecutive tournaments, three of them in that 1000 category. Thirty match-wins in a packed three months took their toll on the 20-year-old’s shoulder: She will regroup to prepare for the defence of her Rome title.

The reigning French Open champion, Barbora Krejcikova, ranked No3, also continued her long absence this season with an elbow injury, and No6 Anett Kontaveit had to withdraw with illness.

But despite all that, and the absence of last year’s runner-up and Australian Open champion, Ash Barty—who retired earlier this year—Madrid did enjoy one special boost. The 16 seeds would, for the first time, be topped by a Spanish woman, world No2 Paula Badosa. Meanwhile, one of the stand-out young stars to emerge in the last year, the teenager Leylah Fernandez, picked up the last seeding spot vacated by Swiatek.

But just how tough some of the opening matches have been—and those that have materialised in the second round too—has already been amply demonstrated.

The three-time champion, Petra Kvitova, was beaten in the first round by the 35-ranked Jil Teichmann, and in straight sets. The Swiss will go on to play Fernandez who came through Andrea Petkovic in three sets.

Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, ranked No4, was also beaten in her opener by world No33 Amanda Anisimova. More seeds in the shape of Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko, also lost in the first round.

Maria Sakkari, seeded No5, came through a scare against the unseeded but 22-ranked Madison Keys after two and a half hours and three sets, and it was a similarly tough test in Round 1 for the 12th seed Jessica Pegula, who also needed three sets to beat world No31 Camila Giorgi.

And with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and the returning Bianca Andreescu also playing unseeded in Madrid, there was potential for many more upsets, too.

Certainly many eyes would be on Halep, a two-time champion who has recently joined up with Patrick Mouratoglou as her new coach. Not that her performances had been bad this season, but after a trial on her own, the signs for her partnership with the renowned French coach were positive after a good win against world No40 Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-3.

Now, however, she finds herself facing that home favourite, Badosa, who swept the last nine games against No25 Veronika Kudermetova to win 6-3, 6-0.

It is a mouth-watering prospect: the multiple champion against the top seed and in front of Badosa’s fans. For the Spaniard’s assault on the ranks has been a captivating one. It was only a year ago that she reached the semis of her first 1000 event in Madrid, becoming the first home player to make the semis, and the only wildcard to do so. She was ranked 62, went on to reach the quarters at the French Open, and then to win another of those three mandatory 1000s, Indian Wells.

And to make her showdown in the second round all the more appetising—it will be the first time Badosa has played Halep.

So what of the other big Spanish name in the draw, former world No1 and Major champion, Garbine Muguruza? She too faced a difficult opener, No38 Ajla Tomljanovic, who had beaten the Spaniard twice before, and three of their matches—all played on hard courts—had gone to the full three sets.

Muguruza, the 2016 Roland Garros champion, had never reached the same heights on the fast Madrid clay. Indeed, since winning the WTA Finals last November, she had won only five matches. But after a stern start, the Spaniard got the better of the Australian, 7-5, 6-2.

Osaka, after her latest long lay-off following the US Open, dipped sharply in the ranks from the heights of last summer, but began to show all her old form in Miami to jump back up to 36 with a final finish. Now she played her first clay match against serious opposition, Anastasia Potapova, ranked down at 78 but fresh from winning her first singles title in Istanbul.

The former junior No1 and Wimbledon girls champion was still only 21 years old, so there was clearly more to come from the Russian, but it would have to wait for another day and tournament. Osaka blitzed the win in a scant hour, 6-3, 6-1.

In a half packed by US Open champions and finalists, the most recent winner, No9 seed Emma Raducanu, began her campaign after seeing the 2019 champion Andreescu rise to the challenge of the dangerous 42-ranked Alison Riske. The Canadian swept to the second round with a 6-0 third-set decider.

In contrast, the 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens was beaten by Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina.

Raducanu faced the world No49 Tereza Martincova, who she beat to win her first clay match in the BJK Cup in Prague a fortnight ago. The Briton won two more clay matches in Stuttgart last week, before losing to Swiatek, but this would be her debut in the rather different conditions of Madrid.

She was tested hard in the early goings, as the Czech got off to a powerful and aggressive start and served for the set at 5-3. But Raducanu was gradually finding her rhythm and adjusting to the pace of the court with each game, and her pin-point strikes to the corners earned a break back. With the games now closely contested, they headed to a tie-break, where Raducanu pumped herself up and began to make crowd-pleasing winners to claim the set, 7-6(3).

From there, she stepped up a level as Martincova lost confidence and focus, made errors, and the Briton cruised to a victory, 6-0, much to the delight of the crowd. And there was huge demand for signatures and selfies from fans, who have clearly taken the charming player to their hearts.

She will now attempt to reach the third round against Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, ranked 60, and with one win over the Briton already, last year. And beyond that could be Muguruza—which will be a test against the Madrid faithful as well as the former No1.

Former champions in the draw: Sabalenka (defending); Kvitova [3 times]; Halep [twice] NB only Halep made it to Round 2.

Additional Major champions in the draw: Raducanu, Muguruza, Osaka, Andreescu, Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka [also twice runner-up in Madrid], Sloane Stephens

Clay champions this season in the draw: Belinda Bencic [Charleston]; Potapova [Istanbul]

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia