A Tale Of When Ashleigh Met Iga In Madrid

Ashleigh Barty (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 4, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The highly-anticipated Mutua Madrid Open battle between recent and reigning French Open champions, Ashleigh Barty and Iga Swiatek, took place under the lights and in open-air at Manolo Santana Stadium Monday evening.

The WTA’s World No. 1 from Australia and the 19-year-old Polish teenager had the time of their lives – playing for the first time against each other – and once the red clay dust had settled after an hour and 41 minutes, it was Barty who emerged with a clutch, satisfying and well-deserved 7-5, 6-4 victory. The triumph advanced Barty to a Wednesday quarterfinal match against long-time rival and three-time Madrid champion Petra Kvitova, who owns a 5-4 career head-to-head advantage over Barty.

“I really enjoyed myself out there tonight,” Barty shared with the media who were virtually plugged into her post-match press conference, including Tennis TourTalk. “I enjoyed the challenge. Iga’s game is exceptional. It’s really, really impressive. I love testing myself and trying to figure out the puzzle tonight and the challenges that she created for me.

“I love the way that she plays. I love the way she takes the game on. She plays without fear. I think the way she controls the court, has the ability to move and neutralize from defensive position is very, very impressive.”

After falling behind 3-0 to start the match, Barty admitted later that it was a period of adjustment for her, but she never doubted her ability to turn the match around.

“I think probably the first half an hour was a bit of an adjustment period for both of us,” Barty explained. “I think it took me some time to get used to Iga’s weight of shot. Obviously, we (meaning she and coach Craig Tyzzer) had a game plan going into it, but I had to adjust that and had to kind of learn on the flight a little bit.

“It took me some time to get used to that and kind of nut down what I really wanted to do out there. Once I was able to do that, I became a lot more clear and was able to control the match a little bit more the way that I wanted to.

“There was certainly an adjustment period,” Barty continued. “Playing to conditions was different. It’s the first time I played with an open roof for a couple weeks now. There was quite a bit of wind coming from one direction. That was an adjustment period more so for me to try and find my range. I was dropping the ball short. She was inside the court, being able to control off both her forehand and backhand.

“That was an important switch for me to try to get depth to neutralize a little bit more, to then try to figure my way around the match, how I wanted to play.”

Barty finished with six aces and hit 20 winners to 19 unforced errors. She saved six of the seven break points she faced and broke Swiatek’s serve three times in three opportunities. Swiatek finished with two aces and committed six double faults. She hit 22 winners to 24 unforced errors. Barty had the advantage in total points, 73-63.

With the victory, Barty has won 14 straight matches on red clay and the loss ended Swiatek’s streak of nine straight clay victories going back to the start of her Roland Garros run last year. As the two French Open champions met at the net, they smiled at each other and as Barty shared, when asked by Tennis TourTalk, she said to Swiatek: “Mate, that was fun. It will be the first of many.”

Badosa’s mantra: ‘Never stop fighting’

Paula Badosa‘s excellent Spanish adventure just keeps getting better round by round in this week’s WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open. Thrust into the spotlight very quickly following the sudden withdrawal of Spanish No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza due to a leg injury and the first-round exit of Spanish No. 2 Sara Sorribes Tormo, losing to World No. 3 Simona Halep, it’s placed the Spanish No. 3 Badosa, ranked 62nd and recipient of a wild card into the main draw, under a tremendous spotlight.

And guess what? The likable Badosa has accepted her role and responsibility with great maturity and shown tremendous passion on the red clay and thrived with the Spanish fans enthusiastically showing their support. She’s advanced to the quarterfinals in back of three straight wins in Madrid, showing plenty of fight and grit against Barbora Krejcikova, Jil Teichmann and Anastasija Sevastova. In Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, she will face No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic.

On Monday evening, Badosa rallied to beat the No. 54 Sevastova of Latvia, 6-7 (0), 7-6 (3), 6-0, in two hours and 35 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Stadium. She became the third Spanish woman to reach the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals following in the footsteps of Annabel Medina Garrigues and Carla Suárez Navarro. Following match point, Badosa was visibly shaken by an enormity of emotion, crying tears of joy while expressing her appreciation to the crowd. Before she left the court, she said in an interview: “It’s the best result in my career and I cannot think of a better place to do it. So, I’m super proud.”

During her virtual interview with reporters, first in English and then in Spanish, Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa what it meant to her to reach the quarterfinals as a wild card in Madrid and to be the lone remaining Spanish woman in the singles draw. She replied: “It’s really special. I was working very hard. I know I was in a high level since Charleston on clay courts. I like to play on clay, as I say always. To reach the quarterfinals here at home is very special, in front of my family, my friends, my people. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Has being able to feel the love and support of the Spanish fans throughout the tournament – especially Monday night – made a difference in how she’s been able to feed off the crowd and do as well as she has? “Yes, of course it’s helped. They pushed me to the last moment. I feel it a lot. The crowd here is amazing. You feel them so close and you feel they’re pushing you every moment. Here, I feel the love,” she expressed.

“Here, we can finally have the fans and I’m happy about that.”

Q & A with Stefanos Tsitsipas

During his recent Media Day for the Mutua Madrid Open, Tennis TourTalk asked rising Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas, currently ranked No. 5 in the ATP world rankings and No. 1 in the ATP Singles Race to Turin, what he learned about himself from playing in such a memorable final against Rafael Nadal in Barcelona 10 days ago, in which he had match points and lost 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5 in a three-hour, 38-minute marathon, and what he’ll be able to take forward into Madrid:

“Probably, that I will have to go for more at certain times during a match and not wait as much for him to give me something or wait for an opportunity his side.

“Sometimes, I feel like I was too passive, thinking about it now. I could have raised a bit more. I could have probably done [a] few more unpredictable things that could have led to something different. That is something that I learned.”

Monday’s Mutua Madrid results 

Tuesday’s Mutua Madrid order of play

What they’re saying

Following her Sunday loss to Karolina Muchova in the second round, Naomi Osaka commented on why she would prefer to peak at the French Open than before: “Yeah, I would say definitely everyone’s goal is to do well at [the] French, and these tournaments are called warmup tournaments, and of course we all come here to win and do well at these tournaments, too. But I would prefer to peak at the French, maybe not do that well at the other tournaments and peak at the French than as opposed to winning this tournament and then kind of going downhill. But I feel all in all like I’m learning a lot. I learned a lot today, and hopefully I can just keep practicing and keep applying and hopefully play more matches in Rome than I did here (smiling).”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Simona Halep on the importance of being able to play in front crowds this week at the Mutua Madrid Open: “It’s very important for everybody, I think, not just for me, to feel the energy, to feel the people. The atmosphere [has been] really good even if it’s not packed. We have many fans, and it’s really nice. I miss them so much. So, hopefully, after this week we have confidence that it’s going to be back to normal soon. You know, I really liked always playing with the fans and having their support, because everywhere I go, I feel like they share with me the positive thoughts and they are supporting me. So, it’s always a nice feeling to have [a] crowd.”