Kissing Clay Is Sweet Taste Of Victory For Badosa

Paula Badosa (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Paula Badosa‘s second victory over Belinda Bencic in a month was sealed by the Spaniard spontaneously getting down on her hands and knees and kissing the red clay. The taste of dirt never felt so sweet.

On Wednesday afternoon, under a sunny and clear blue Madrid sky, the 62nd-ranked Badosa’s remarkable journey continued at the Mutua Madrid Open. She became the first Spanish woman – and first wild card – to reach the Madrid semifinals following her 6-4, 7-5 victory over the No. 8 seed Bencic in one hour and 49 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium before an appreciative crowd of Spanish fans, many who were waving their country’s flag as they cheered for Badosa.

“It means a lot [to be the first Spanish player to reach the semifinals],” Badosa said during her virtual press conference after advancing to the semifinal round. “There’s been a lot of amazing Spanish players – Garbiñe (Muguruza), Carla (Suárez Navarro), Annabel (Medina Garrigues) Conchita (Martinez), Arantxa (Sanchez Vicario) – so making this result means a lot to me, and at home every time they ask me would you like to win, I always say Madrid. So, I am super happy this is coming true.”

The 23-year-old Badosa, who admitted during both her on-court interview and in her virtual press conference that she played nervous, played confidently throughout and never wavered. When Tennis TourTalk asked the proud Badosa what it meant to her to keep her journey alive – especially in Madrid in front of Spanish fans and in her home country, where she’s received plenty of congratulatory messages, including from Barcelona soccer great Gerard Piqué – she said: “It means a lot to do this result at home and show all my people that I’m through to the semifinals. It’s an amazing feeling and I think what I’m most proud of all week is how I controlled my nerves. It wasn’t easy.

“Today was the day I was more nervous. Belinda is an amazing player; she plays aggressive. I knew I had to play aggressive as well. She was playing quite good, serving good. It was quite tough.”

Although her serve was broken twice by Bencic, Badosa converted four of 10 break points and it made the difference in each set. She broke in the ninth game to go ahead 5-4 and served out the opening set, then hit a backhand cross-court winner to break in the 11th game on the final set to lead 6-5. She served out the win on her second match-point opportunity as Bencic sailed one final return long.

It was then that Badosa finally let her emotions flow after securing her quarterfinal victory that advanced her further than any Spanish woman has gone in Madrid. She kissed the clay in celebration. Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa to describe the moment.

“It was a spontaneous moment,” Badosa admitted, laughing as she recalled her moment of celebration that the TV cameras captured so poignantly. “I didn’t think at that moment.

“I love playing on clay, love playing at home. It was a special moment. I didn’t even think what I was doing [kissing the clay]. It didn’t feel so good because I had clay in my face, but I’m happy about it.”

Nadal spoils Alcaraz’s 18th birthday party

When the greatest Spanish tennis player of all time, Rafael Nadal, met the future of his sport, #NextGenATP rising star Carlos Alcaraz, regardless of the outcome, it would be a memorable occasion.

After all, Alcaraz was celebrating his 18th birthday playing his childhood idol, the King of Clay, in front of lots of enthusiastic fans at Manolo Santana Stadium, who showed their appreciation for both players Wednesday afternoon. Also, a healthy and motivated Nadal was starting his run toward a sixth Madrid crown, part of the tune up leading to this year’s Roland Garros later this month.

Nadal can be forgiven for crashing Alcaraz’s birthday party, after beat the Spanish teenager 6-1 6-2 in an hour and 17 minutes, in back of hitting 13 winners while making just eight unforced errors. The World No. 2 and top seed Nadal broke Alcaraz’s serve five times – racing out to a 5-0 lead in the first set and 3-0 in the second – and outpointed the youngster 56-27.

Afterward, fans sangHappy Birthday for Alcaraz and there were Spanish sports stars like Iker Casillas and Raul, who were in attendance to watch the match and enjoy the competition despite seeing the young Spaniard finish with just seven winners and 28 unforced errors. For a brief moment, in the second set, Alcaraz broke Nadal in the fourth game but he was unable to consolidate the break and Nadal stormed his way to the finish line.

At the end, all was good and there were plenty of smiles shared between Nadal and Alcaraz, and the two posed with tournament director Feliciano Lopez with Alcaraz’s birthday cake, which he was presented with as a parting gift.

During Nadal’s well-attended virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk asked him about Alcaraz. “He has a lot of potential. He’s young and [a] good guy,” Nadal said. “He already has a great level of tennis today, but I really believe that he’s going to be a fantastic player in the near future.

“I wish him all the very best. [As a] Spanish player and Spanish [tennis] fan, I really believe that we need somebody like him, and it’s great to have him here.”

And what did Alcaraz learn from his birthday experience of facing Nadal? “This match made learn a lot, because I have to know how to manage the tough moments and know how to play against these kinds of players,” he said. “[These are] tough matches, tough players, and I have to learn how to play against them. So, I think if I could play more matches like this, I will grow up faster as a player.”

Next, Nadal will face Alexei Popyrin after the 76th-ranked Australian qualifier took out No. 14 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy, 7-6 (5), 6-2, in one hour and 35 minutes. Popyrin hit eight aces and won 70 percent (38 of 54) of his first-serve points while converting four of six break-point chances against the World No. 18 Sinner. Popyrin outpointed his opponent 76-65.

Nadal was asked about Popyrin during his virtual press conference. “He has a huge serve, great forehand, young. … Another tough opponent. But here we are in Masters 1000, so we can’t expect another thing. I hope to be ready to play well. That’s what I am going to need every single day if I want to have chances to keep playing, Tomorrow is another tough battle. I hope to be ready.”

Barty masters Kvitova on clay

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is enjoying remarkable results on red clay. With her 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over long-time rival, World No. 12 Petra Kvitova, that leveled their career head-to-head at 5-all Wednesday afternoon on Manolo Santana Stadium, the affable Australian extended her run to 15 straight red clay victories and it advanced her to her first Madrid semifinal. Her 24 match wins places her atop the WTA and she’s now 10-0 against Top 20 players.

Barty hit six aces and 15 winners, broke the ninth-seeded Kvitova four times – twice in each set taking early break leads – and took advantage of her opponent’s 44 unforced errors. Although Kvitova remained vigilant and attacked her way to 28 winners, she was only able to convert two of seven break points against Barty and the top seed outpointed the Czech star 85-75.

Barty closed out the victory on her fourth match-point opportunity as she finished with a flourish, hitting a forehand winner to wrap up a nine-shot rally. The two competitors exchanged a warm embrace at the net after it was over. Barty was at her best when she had to be at her best.

“It was an incredible match,” Barty said during her on-court interview after the match. “We always have very good battles. I enjoy myself a lot. Like always, she makes me play my best tennis when it really counts. It was another great match today.”

Later, during her virtual get-together with international media, Tennis TourTalk asked Barty to describe the atmosphere of playing on Manolo Santana Stadium on a sunny afternoon with the roof open – something she had been wishing for – and with fans: “The sun was in my way at one point (laughs), but it certainly was nice to play in bright blue sky. It was beautiful. Actually, Petra and I said at the start of the match, ‘Hey, it’s a beautiful day – the sun is shining – let’s go out and enjoy it.'”

Next, Barty will face Badosa, whom she lost to in the quarterfinals at Charleston last month, 6-4, 6-3 on green clay. Barty recalled her opponent during her post-match interview. “We played a few weeks ago; she played a great match. It’s time for me to try and change the result.

“I’m very excited to be in the semifinals in Madrid and to get another opportunity to play another match on this court against a girl who is playing some great tennis, is confident and plays the game aggressively. It’s going to be exciting.”

Around La Caja Mágica


• No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev was pushed to three sets by No. 49 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina before winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 13 minutes. The World No. 3 from Russia overcame 30 unforced errors by hitting 19 winners and outpointing the Spaniard 99-83. Medvedev’s victory broke a six-match losing streak on clay. It was his first match since March 31, when he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in Miami.

“I am happy with the win,” Medvedev said during an on-court interview after his victory. “The first set wasn’t easy and I thought it was going to be where I had another 25 break points and I wouldn’t win. I finally played quite well and did well in the third set. I think Madrid is a little faster than other clay tournaments, so better for my game.”

Next, Medvedev (16-3) will face No. 16 Cristian Garin of Chile, who defeated No. 53 Dominik Koepfer of Germany, 6-3, 6-4.

• No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas needed just 54 minutes to advance past No. 35 Benoit Paire of France, 6-1, 6-2. Paire was favoring his abdomen throughout the brief match and Tsitsipas capitalized on the opportunity. The victory gave the Greek rising star an ATP Tour-leading 27 wins.

Next the Monte-Carlos titlist Tsitsipas will face No. 22 Casper Ruud of Norway, who easily advanced over 60th-ranked lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 6-1, 6-2. The round of 16 clash will between Tsitsipas and Ruud will be their first.

• No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany advanced 6-3, 6-2 over No. 43 Kei Nishikori of Japan in one hour and 14 minutes. The former Madrid champion completed a love hold in the final game and won on his first match-point opportunity with a backhand winner, the 24th winner of the match. He hit five aces and outpointed Nishikori 61-42 to advance against Monte-Carlo semifinalist Dan Evans of Great Britain, ranked 26th, who eliminated No. 42 John Millman of Australia, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3. Evans saved eight of nine break points.

“Kei is someone who has done well here, reaching the final and he has beaten me on clay before. I’m definitely happy with this performance,” said Zverev, who has reached the quarterfinals or better in three previous Madrid appearances. “I have practiced my serve since Munich and the altitude helps too. It was a good match from my side, I fell comfortable here. When I get hot, let’s see what happens.”

Aslan Karatsev of Russia upset No. 7 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina for the second time this season following his 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 second-round victory on Wednesday, in which he hit 33 winners to just three for Schwartzman. The No. 27 Karatsev hit seven aces and won 74 percent (34 of 46) of his first-serve points. He also converted four of his 11 break-point opportunities and outpointed Schwartzman 81-66. Next. Karatsev will face No. 44 Alexander Bublik in the third round.

Karatsev beat Schwartzman in straight sets in the Australian Open earlier this year. “I’m not sure if I changed something,” Schwartzman said during a virtual press conference after the loss. “I think he changed. He was missing almost every single shot. After [I was up] 6-2, 2-0, he started to hit too many winners, too many aces. … It was very difficult for me. Halfway through the second set he was playing very hard, very close to the lines, serving too many first serves. I had no chance after that.”

• No. 9 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain was upset by No. 39 John Isner of the United States, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6), in two hours and 22 minutes. Isner fired 32 aces and hit 54 total winners against Bautista Agut and outpointed the 11th-ranked Spaniard 115-109 to advance against No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

• Qualifier Federico Delbonis of Argentina took out Estoril Open titlist Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in one hour and 40 minutes, to advance against No. 8 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy.


• Unseeded Anastasia Pavlyucheknova ofRussia started her week in Madrid with a losing record. Now, after stringing together victories over No. 23 Madison Keys, No. 9 Karolina Pliskova and No. 14 Jennifer Brady, she added to her collection of Top 25 triumphs by beating No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) in one hour and 59 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium to advance to her first Madrid semifinal. Her 2021 season win-loss record improved to 9-8.

“I just found this momentum in the second set, I was so on and focused on every single point I was playing, that I kind of turned off, I think,” a tired but relieved Pavlyuchenkova said during her virtual press conference. “I’m still probably somewhere there, in the end of the second set.”

The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova fired 29 winners to 23 unforced errors and wreaked havoc with Muchova, whom she broke four times in four tries. Although the Russian faced 11 break points on her serve and lost service four times, Muchova never was able to take full advantage. The Czech let three set points in the opening set come and go. Then, Pavlyuchenkova played brilliantly in both tie breaks to advance.

• The final semifinal berth was filled by World No. 7 and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. The just-turned 23-year-old advanced after her opponent, 13th seed Elise Mertens, was forced to retire in the second set with an upper left leg injury. It was her first retirement of the season and it came a game after Mertens left the court during the third-game changeover in the second set to have her left thigh wrapped. Sabalenka led 6-1, 4-0 at the time the match ended.

“I feel really sorry for this, and I hope that she will get better soon,” Sabalenka said during her virtual press conference. “Hopefully she will be ready for the next one in Rome.”

Sabalenka, who improved to 22-6, played solidly against her doubles partner from Belgium. The Belarusian hit 19 winners and converted four of four break points. She outpointed Mertens 48-26 to improve to 5-2 in their career head-to-head.

“In the beginning it was really tough to play against her, because she was using high balls and mixing it with slice and then trying to stay aggressive,” Sabalenka said. “As soon as I understand what she’s trying to do, I was kind of stepping into the court and trying to be a little bit more aggressive, and going through the ball and trying to hit heavy shots.”

• With the No. 1 seeds (Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens) already eliminated, No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, have reached the semifinals following their 6-1, 6-o win over No. 7 seeds Xu Yifan and Zhang Shuai, both of China.

Thursday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play

What they’re saying

Ashleigh Barty about her winning record in deciding sets: “It’s just always staying in the fight. Always staying in the hunt and never letting it slide away. That certainly doesn’t guarantee results, doesn’t guarantee success. It guarantees you give yourself the best chance to do what you do and to figure it out and to find your way.

“I think it’s important not to panic, but everyone emotionally has different ways that they play on the court. I have always been quite calm on the court. That’s just always been my demeanor. But for me, it’s more about just trying myself and knowing that we just keep chipping away and trying to find a way – and then give yourself time to do that.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Rafael Nadal on the atmosphere of playing Carlos Alcaraz on Manolo Santana Stadium in Madrid in front of friends and family – and fans, too: “It was a great feeling. I enjoyed a lot being back in this very important place in front of probably the most loyal crowd in the world for me. I enjoyed playing in front of them – even if it was not the most comfortable start against a very young and great player like Carlos. I think I played a solid match to get through. I’m very happy with the performance.”

Carlos Alcaraz on spending a part of his 18th birthday facing Rafael Nadal in his country’s biggest tennis stadium and in front of cheering fans: “It’s amazing to spend my birthday playing against Rafa and learning from him and here in Madrid. I would have liked to win, but I really enjoyed learning from him. This match made me grow up. I’m happy to spend my birthday like this.”