Sweet 16th Straight Victory On Red Clay For Barty

Ashleigh Barty and Paula Badosa (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As Spanish wild card Paula Badosa‘s wonderful run in Madrid came to a close, another remarkable run continued. Thursday afternoon at the Mutua Madrid Open.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty ran her winning streak on red clay to 16 straight following her 6-4, 6-3 victory over the No. 62 Badosa on Manolo Santana Stadium. The semifinal was all too brief – just 75 minutes – but it showed Barty’s remarkable skill in working herself out of trouble as she did on several occasions to win in straight sets. Barty closed out the semifinal victory with her sixth ace on the second match point.

The victory improved Barty’s win-loss record this season to 25-3 – best in the WTA this season – which includes three titles (Yarra Valley Classic, Miami Open and Stuttgart) and it advanced to her fourth WTA final this season. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Badosa’s bid to become the first Spanish woman in history to reach the final in Madrid fell short – she’s now 0-5 in WTA semifinals in her career – but the Spaniard left the court fighting back the tears to a hero’s applause.

Soon after, Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa what it meant to her, her fans and her country to have reached the semifinals at Madrid this week. She answered: “It means a lot. It’s been an amazing week, a very positive one. Today was a tough match. Ash, I think, played a very good level. She’s very talented, an amazing player. … Today I saw why. …Congratulations to her.

“Of course, I a little bit sad because you never want to lose – and after this week, you just don’t want it to finish. Overall, I have to say I’m happy.”

During her virtual press conference, Barty told Tennis TourTalk: “I’ve learned a lot more about clay, without a doubt,” in response to a question of whether her attitude or approach to clay has changed or remained the same since she began her red clay winning streak at the start of the 2019 French Open. “I promise you I’m still counting down to the grass court season. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

“I think the memories and the learnings now that we’re getting from the red clay have been really cool, to be able to challenge myself in different ways. I think it’s just an acceptance of knowing that each time I step on the court I’m going to learn and I have to take it as a learning experience and not get too wound up on results – the good and the bad. It is what it is and we chip away each day.”

During their semifinal, the top-seeded Barty did what she does best: she served six aces, hit 30 winners to 23 unforced errors, had seven easy service holds and broke Badosa’s serve three times in six tries. Her first-serve percentage facing break points was a superb 80 percent (four out of five). Badosa was hampered by four double faults, including on the third set point in the opener, and her 15 winners were overshadowed by 23 unforced errors.

Badosa converted only one of five break points against Barty, which came at the start of the second set. However, she was unable to consolidate the break and was broken again – thanks to another double fault – in her next service game to trail 3-1. By then, Barty had begun to turn the tide, saving three break points to consolidate at 4-1 with a brilliant drop shot winner. From there, Badosa was able to win just two more points on Barty’s serve.

“There was a small adjustment. I think just learning from some of her patterns, tendencies that came through and showed through in that match in Charleston,” Barty told Tennis Tour Talk.

“I think I was just able to control the court a little bit better. I was able to look after my service games a little bit better, and just build pressure on return games. That’s a massive part of it: not always winning points, but building pressure. Scoreboard pressure can be a big thing. That was a focus for me today. Glad to be able to respond once I was broken and keep the momentum in my favor.”

The Australian outpointed Badosa 66-52 to move into Saturday’s final against World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, seeded fifth, who dominated No. 41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 6-2, 6-3, Thursday night.

Barty’s win reversed the course against Badosa, who is the last player to beat Barty. It came in the quarterfinal round at last month’s Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C., on green clay, won by Badosa, 6-4, 6-3 – the same score Barty won by in Madrid on Thursday. Since then, Barty has won nine straight and her streak on clay goes all the way back to the start of the 2019 French Open. The last person to beat Barty on red clay? Try France’s Kristina Mladenovic in the round of 16 at Rome in May 2019.

“You have to learn from every game, every match you play against an opponent,” Barty stressed during her press conference. “I definitely learned a lot from the match [Paula and I] played in Charleston. She’s had a fantastic week here at home. It’s been a big tournament for her. She played an exceptional level of tennis. … I think this is going to be the first of big tournaments and big matches for her without a doubt.

Nadal remains in chase for sixth Madrid title

Top seed Rafael Nadal reached his 15th Madrid quarterfinal in 18 appearances with his latest victory in the Spanish capital city, a 6-3, 6-3 win over 76th-ranked qualifier Alexei Popyrin of Australia. The one hour and 19-minute, third-round match on Manolo Santana Stadium advanced the World No. 2 from Spain against World No. 6 and fifth seed Alexander Zverev, who beat No. 26 Dan Evans of Great Britain, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in one hour and 38 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium.

“It was difficult. The court today was slippery, it was very fast, very dry conditions,” Nadal said afterward during an on-court interview. “The ball was flying a lot. The beginning of the match was super tough.

“[Alexei] was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. Very happy with the victory. It was an important victory. He came here playing well. Every match is tough.”

Nadal, who has won seven straight matches, is a five-time Madrid champion. He’s three wins from capturing the Mutua Madrid Open for a sixth time. If he is successful, it would be his second title of the year and second straight on clay after winning Barcelona last month.

Nadal, 34, improved to 9-1 on clay this year and the victory against the 21-year-old Popyrin was his 13th in 15 outings. He broke Popyrin’s serve three times in the opening set and added an additional service break in the final set. Nadal outpointed his younger opponent 57-45, which included hitting 11 winners to 15 unforced errors while Popyrin hit 20 winners and committed 20 unforced errors.

“I think I was doing things well, even if it was difficult to play against a player like him, [since] he was trying to hit every single ball,” Nadal said. “He was hitting every ball hard. I needed to adapt and I think I did that well.”

Thiem reaches fourth Madrid quarterfinal

Playing his first tournament on clay this season, World No. 4 Dominic Thiem of Austria has reached his fourth Madrid quarterfinal thanks to his 7-6 (7), 6-4 victory over No. 24 Alex de Minaur of Australia.

Thiem came up big in huge moments throughout his one hour and 51-minute third-round match on Manolo Santana Stadium. He saved at set point at 6-7 during the first-set tie break and saved four of five break points in the second set. When it ended after Thiem’s second match point was backhanded into the net by de Minaur at the conclusion of a 16-shot spirited rally, Thiem had earned his 15th victory in 19 appearances at La Caja Magica. De Minaur, who was aiming to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, dropped to 11-9 on the season.

“There were many long rallies, [which is] exactly what I need right now,” Thiem said during a post-match interview. “I am very, very happy again with my performance. … It was nice. I love the conditions, the court and the tournament.”

Thiem, who twice has been a finalist in Madrid and has reached the quarterfinals or better each year since 2017, will now face John Isner of the United States, who went the distance to beat No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and five minutes.

After taking a self-imposed sabbatical following an early-round loss to Lloyd Harris at Dubai in mid-March, Thiem has strung together consecutive victories without losing a set in Madrid.

“I feel way better than expected. In some points and some rallies, I still feel the lack of matches,” Thiem admitted. “I am a little bit more out of breath, I am a little bit too tight in some shots and some strokes.

“Everything has to be a little more relaxed again to be in the match mode. I lost a little bit of intensity after winning that close first set. I have to get back in a rhythm, but the more matches I play against these top guys, the quicker I will get back in the match rhythm I need.”

Around La Caja Mágica


• No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev advanced to meet No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal following his 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over No. 26 Dan Evans of Great Britain. The World No. 6 from Germany hit seven aces and 29 winners while garnering 80 percent (32 of 40) of his first-serve points. Evans managed just 16 winners against Zverev and was outpointed 71-61.

• No. 39 John Isner of the United States fired his 29th ace of his third-round match against No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev to cap a two-hour and five-minute 7-6 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory that was bookended by a pair of tie break sets on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium. It ended his six-match losing streak against Top 10 competition and put the 36-year-old Isner (who is the oldest player remaining in the draw) into his second quarterfinal-round appearance of the season.

Isner’s high-risk, high reward play resulted in him hitting 43 winners – including 31 on his serve – against 29 unforced errors while Rublev put up great numbers himself, 32 winners and 10 unforced errors. Rublev outpointed Isner 108 to 95, but it was not enough for the World No. 7 to turn back the six-foot-nine-inch American, who is now 61-49 in deciding third-set tie breaks.

The victory advanced Isner to the quarterfinal round against World No. 4 and third seed Dominic Thiem, while the loss dropped Rublev’s record to 27-7. It was the first time this season in seven tournaments that Rublev had not reached at least the quarterfinals.

During an on-court interview, Isner said: “I’m very happy. I wasn’t the better play out there today; I did win the match. My serve kept me in it. There’s a reason he’s won so many matches this year. …

“It’s perfect serving conditions out here, especially on this court. It’s got a nice sound, kind of like an indoor court. I can’t ask for anything better.”

• No. 16 seed Cristian Garin of Chile upset the No. 2 seed, World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-1, in two hours and 30 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium to equal the biggest win of his career in his Madrid debut this week.

The Chilean, who broke Medvedev twice in the final set to reach the quarterfinal round, outpointed the Russian 106-91. He hit six aces, won 75 percent (40 of 53) of his first-serve points and saved the only break point he faced, which came in his first service game of the match. The third-round match incurred a five-minute delay when the net strap broke at deuce point in the final game.

Next, Garin, who has reached the quarterfinals in consecutive tournaments following his performance at the Estoril Open, will play No. 8 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the draw, who beat 77th-ranked qualifier Federico Delbonis from Argentina, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

• Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik was first to reach the men’s quarterfinals in Madrid after beating No. 27 Aslan Karatsev of Russia, 6-4, 6-3. The unseeded and 44th-ranked Bublik, making his Madrid debut this week, saved seven of eight break points and advanced in just 74 minutes over the Dubai champion.

In garnering his 19th victory in his 30th match of the season, Bublik is through to his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal this year after achieving the same plateau at the Miami Open in March.

• Next, Bublik will face No. 22 Casper Ruud of Norway, who knocked out Monte-Carlo champion and No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in one hour and 34 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium. It was Ruud’s first Top 5 victory and he did it by withstanding 30 winners hit by the World No. 5 Tsitsipas. Ruud finished with 17 winners and 12 unforced errors. Points were even at 65-all.

The loss was just the second Tsitsipas has incurred on clay this season in 12 matches and it’s the first tournament this year in the eight that the Greek rising star has played that he hasn’t reached at least the quarterfinals.

During his virtual press conference, Ruud gave props to Tsitsipas: “He is one of the best players this year on the Tour, one of the ones who has won the most matches. He’s won his first Masters 1000 in Monte-Carlo. Barcelona he was very close to getting the title there, as well.

“But the conditions are a bit different here than other clay courts with the fast shots, the ball traveling faster through the air because of the altitude. You get a lot of free points with the serve that you don’t usually [get] on the clay courts. I think that also today went a bit in my advantage.

“I felt like he was doing some mistakes that he doesn’t always do. I was just trying to take care of the chances that I got.”


• World No. 7 and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus earned her first career victory against No. 41 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 6-2, 6-3, in 64 minutes, in their second career meeting Thursday night on Manolo Santana Stadium. The triumph lifted Sabalenka into her third WTA title match this season.

In reaching her second straight clay-court final this spring – and second against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty – the just-turned 23-year-old Sabalenka has given up only 18 games spread over five matches and not dropped any sets. Sabalenka beat the 29-year-old Russian in back of four aces and 21 winners. She broke her opponent four times, was broken just once, and outpointed her opponent 56-37.

Pavlyuchenkova was appearing in her first WTA semifinal since 2019 after stringing together consecutive Top 25 victories against Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova, Jennifer Brady and Karolina Muchova. However, Sabalenka was seemingly unstoppable, hitting with power and precision and seemed like a player on a mission.

“I just focused on my game, focused on the things I had to do on the court [to win],” Sabalenka told Tennis TourTalk during a post-match virtual interview with reporters. “I’m not really focused on the score. All of my focus was on the points and in the moment. …

“I’m enjoying my time on the court, enjoying the game. This year in Madrid, something has been clicking and putting me on the right way. I’m doing my best and, hopefully, in the final I’ll keep [it] going.”

• In doubles, No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, have advanced to Saturday’s final after defeating unseeded Swiss duo Belinda Bencic and Jil Teichmann, 6-2, 6-4. Meanwhile, No. 3 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands reached the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Ellen Perez of Australia and Zheng Saisai of China. Next, they will face Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on Friday for a berth in the final.

What they’re saying

Friday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play