A Clash Of Paris Champions Booked For Madrid

Iga Swiatek (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek, playing on clay for the first time since her crowning moment last fall at Roland Garros, ran her winning streak on red dirt to nine with her second-round victory at the WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open Saturday in the Spanish capital city.

The World No. 17 Swiatek’s gritty performance saw her finally beat 59th-ranked qualifier Laura Siegemund of Germany on her 11th match-point try to win 6-3, 6-3 in one hour and 40 minutes with the roof closed on Manolo Santana Stadium.

The Polish teenager’s victory in her Mutua Madrid debut this week sets up an appealing third-round match against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, winner of the 2019 French Open title, on Monday.

From the start, the 14th seed Swiatek looked headed toward an easy win against the German after taking a commanding 6-3, 3-0 lead. However, her double-break lead in the second set was quickly erased after Siegemund, who hit just two winners and made 13 unforced errors in the opening set, settled down and became focused. Siegemund leveled the score at 3-all with consecutive breaks of Swiatek’s serve, but couldn’t consolidate the second break. Swiatek held for 5-3, and it set up a most fascinating – if not arduous – ending to this second-round match.

After Swiatek quickly gained a 0-40 lead with three match points in her advantage, one by one, Siegemund erased them all and some more for good measure. It set a pattern that lasted through a total of 26 points, including 10 deuce points. Finally, after Siegemund valiantly had saved 10 match points, her luck ran out when her attempt to serve and volley ended up with a backhand drop volley hitting the net. A relieved Swiatek had finally won. Whew!

Swiatek hit 13 winners and made 21 unforced errors compared to Siegemund’s 15 winners and 40 unforced errors. Swiatek converted six of 19 break-point chances while saving six of the nine break points that she faced from Siegemund, who was looking for her first Top 20 victory of the season. Swiatek outpointed her opponent 73-56.

Tennis TourTalk asked Swiatek during her virtual press conference what she could learn from the experience of winning on her 11th match point opportunity. Without hesitation, she responded: “I learned that you have to be patient (laughs). It was really hard to close the match.

“Match points are pretty stressful because you know that you’re almost at the end. Sometimes, a crazy idea may come up. I just tried to be focused on my basic game, to play safe. But I made a lot of little mistakes. It was pretty annoying. It showed what a great fighter Laura is. … She was fighting to the end and she’s not giving away anything for free. I knew it was going to be hard, but it doesn’t happen very often [that you get] to play 11 match points.”

Barty takes scenic route to reach third round

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is enjoying her tennis this year – no matter how far the journey takes her away from her home in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. So far, she’s won titles in Miami and Stuttgart after starting the year in Australia by capturing the Yarra Valley Classic in a tune-up for the Australian Open, and is in the chase for winning her second clay title of the year in Madrid.

On Saturday, inside Manolo Santana Stadium with the roof closed, the top-seeded Barty garnered her WTA tour-leading 22nd win, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 over 80th-ranked qualifier Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia. The victory was Barty’s 13th straight on clay, but it didn’t come easy against Zidansek, who was a finalist on clay in Bogotá last month. After consolidating a ninth-game break to win the opening set, Barty was broken in consecutive games and found herself staring at a double-break deficit, down 1-5. Zidansek’s second ace – her ninth winner of the set – closed it out and it was on to a decider.

It was in the third set that Barty began to exert herself – after committing 13 unforced errors in the second set – and took control of the match. She saved an early break point in her first service game to hold, then broke Zidansek and consolidated it for a quick 3-0 lead. Later, Barty’s ninth ace gave her a comfortable 5-2 lead and after Zidansek held, the Aussie served a love game for the win to move into the third round.

“It was just a very tough match today,” Barty said of her one hour and 58-minute contest during her on-court interview afterward. “I know Tamara has played a lot through qualifying and obviously was very comfortable playing. I know it was important for me to serve well and I think toward the end I found a little bit more. It was a very tough day.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Barty emphasized that there were a lot of close games between her and Zidansek throughout the match and that there was no cause for concern regarding losing the second set.

“I don’t think there was a lot in it by any means,” Barty told Tennis TourTalk. “We had a lot of close games in the first set, early in the second set. In the third, as well, there were a lot of close games.

“Sometimes, you can get yourself in a little bit of a rut, but I thought my response early in the third was good. I was more aggressive and got the match back on my terms.

“You can only take it one point at a time; you can only play one point at a time on a tennis court. You have to be prepared to play every single point to the best that you possibly can. Once it’s done, it’s done. You move on and get ready for the next point.”

After two rounds of the third WTA 1000 of the season – and first on clay – Barty said she’s enjoying her tennis. “I’m enjoying being back out here,” she said. “It’s beautiful to play here in Madrid in front of some fans. It’s amazing. I’m very happy to be back.”

Next, Barty will face Swiatek, a matchup that she looks forward to. “Real exciting,” she said. “I’ve hit with her once in Melbourne a few months ago. She’s got a seriously impressive game. Moves very well on the clay court, can slide off both legs, controls her body really well on clay. Likes to use her hopper, gets around, controls the court with her forehand.

“It’s a challenge that we go into with a really clean slate, a bit of a period trying to figure each other out and how our games match up.”

Saturday’s WTA Mutua Madrid Open results

Sunday’s WTA Mutua Madrid order of play

Around La Caja Mágica

Other Saturday second-round matches:

• Three-time Madrid champion and current No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova hit five aces and 33 total winners en route to beating her longtime rival, No. 26 Angelique Kerber of Germany, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 22 minutes. It was her eighth career win against Kerber in 14 meetings.

The Czech star, who won Madrid in 2011, 2015 and 2018, broke Kerber four times – twice in each set – and put away the victory on her third match-point opportunity. In Monday’s third round, she will face No. 28 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who knocked out defending champion and No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 6-4, 6-3, hitting a solid forehand winner on match point to advance.

Kudermetova, who three weeks ago, won the Volvo Car Open on green clay, won on her first match-point opportunity by hitting a crisp forehand winner past Bertens – her 23rd winner during  the one hour and twenty-minute match.

• Fifty-fourth-ranked qualifier Anasasija Sevastova of Latvia, who was a Madrid semifinalist in 2017, took out No. 15 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 6-3, 6-3, on Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Stadium. After needing five set points to close out the opening set, Sevastova served out the second-round victory on her first match-point chance, winning with a drop shot. Next, she faces 62nd-ranked Spanish wild card Paula Badosa, who is the only Spaniard remaining in the main draw. She beat No. 40 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, in two hours and one minute, thanks to hitting 24 winners and converting eight of 13 break point chances against Teichmann. Badosa outpointed her opponent 93-79 to move into the third round at Madrid for the first time.

• In her first Mutua Madrid Open, World No. 25 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia advanced to the third round with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 51 Sloane Stephens of the United States in one hour and 56 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Stadium. She hit 27 winners, broke Stephens seven times and outpointed the American 99-85.

Next, Jabeur will play No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who survived a two hour and 40 minute three-setter – and a five-minute delay when the lights went out on Manolo Santana Stadium at 11:58 p.m. five points into the decisive last-set tie break – and rallied to beat 70th-ranked American qualifier Bernarda Pera, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5).

In a match that was nearly a dead-heat statistically – Bencic won 107 points to 106 for Pera – Bencic set up match point with a forehand winner to go ahead 6-5 in the tie break and won it when Pera committed her fifth double fault at a most inopportune time.

What they’re saying

After her first-round win on Thursday, Iga Swiatek was asked on why she likes playing on clay: “I like sliding. I slide even on hard courts. That’s pretty easy for me. I’m not the kind of player that has to every year kind of learn how to do that. I just have to remind myself how I was moving.

“Yeah, I like to play heavy top spins. I like to have a lot of time. Clay is perfect for me. Yeah, basically it’s because when I was younger, I was only practicing on clay. A lot of European girls have this situation. My first coach always taught me to play with big top spin and kick serve. Right now, it’s just natural for me.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Petra Kvitova on what she was most proud of in beating Angelique Kerber for the eighth time in her career: “I served really well in the important points. I think, overall, the level of tennis was very high. I was very pleased I stayed calm during the whole match, no matter the score.”

Paula Badosa on what it means to be the last remaining Spaniard in the Mutua Madrid Open as well as what it meant playing in her country’s biggest tennis stadium in front of fans and advancing to the third round for the first time: “It means a lot. I love this tournament. It’s my favorite tournament. I love to play on clay. I’m feeling good and having good feelings playing on this clay court.

“Today, I felt a little bit nervous. I knew it was going to be a tough match – Jil is an amazing player. But then, I found myself, I found my tennis. I started playing more aggressively. It went very well and I’m super happy.”