Sabalenka Dances With Power, Wins Madrid Title

Aryna Sabalenka (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 8, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

In the end, Aryna Sabalenka celebrated her Mutua Madrid Open title inside La Caja Mágica with a smile, a stylish power pop dance move and a new career-high ranking. What will the Belarusian do for an encore? Stay tuned.

Saturday evening’s title match between the World No. 7 Sabalenka and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia was filled with plenty of excitement not to mention lots of twists and turns on Manolo Santana Stadium.

While Barty knows how to compartmentalize a match better than most, how else can one explain her ability to brush aside being bageled and turn the match around on her terms, then come within two games of capturing what would have been her fourth WTA title of this season – including her second straight WTA 1000 – only to let it slip away with a break of her serve in the penultimate game of the championship? Only Barty knows for sure and she had an explanation that gave props to her worthy opponent.

That worthy opponent was none other than the  fifth-seeded Sabalenka, chasing after her second title of the year following her title win at the start of the season in Abu Dhabi. She was playing Barty for the third time in five weeks – and in their second consecutive final – and in the end, who lofted the winner’s trophy high after she held on to beat Barty, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4, in one hour and 40 minutes. The Madrid title is Sabalenka’s 10th and first on clay – and come Monday, she will rise to World No. 4 and become a Top Five player in the WTA world rankings, a career-best mark.

Sabalenka was quite happy and upbeat during her well-attended virtual press conference and shared her feelings about winning the Madrid title. “Of course, I’m really happy that I could win this one. It’s really amazing. …

“I think what I did really well here, I stayed focused from the beginning till the end. I was putting her under the pressure, especially in the end of the third set. In those key moments I was a little bit more aggressive. That’s what really helped me to win this match.”

Tennis TourTalk asked the 23-year-old Sabalenka what she was most proud of at the end of her Madrid journey, in which she won six matches, lost just one set, and celebrated her 23rd birthday three days ago. She smiled at the question and responded: “I’m proud of my team, actually, this week. After that injury in Stuttgart (right adductor), honestly, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. I really wanted to withdraw from [Madrid] and make sure to get ready for the French Open. In just four days, they prepared me really well. I was able to play and win this title.”

During Sabalenka’s Spanish fortnight, she surrendered just 28 games in her six matches and the victory over Barty improved her 2021 win-loss record to 24-6.

Meanwhile, the top seed Barty’s loss in the Spanish capital city ended her winning streak on red clay at 16 and it leveled her career head-to-head against Sabalenka at 4-all. She was chasing after her sixth title in the last 12 events she’s played going back to the start of the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season.

Barty took both the first set – and the title loss – in stride and remained upbeat and positive during her virtual meeting with the international media. “I think it’s important [to remember] in the first set Aryna served exceptionally well,” Barty told Tennis TourTalk. Indeed, Sabalenka placed 75 percent of her first serves in play and hit 11 winners. She was en fuego. Her power was on display.

“She probably had too many looks at seconds serves and was able to really control the center of the court, control the first strikes. I think in a sense of resetting, there’s no better opportunity to do that than after losing a set six-love. It’s tough to take too many good things out of it.

“You just reset and start again. It was important to me to try and do and I think I just needed to try some different things. I shifted my court position more than anything to give her a different look and to try to create some rhythm and momentum. I was able to do that. I think I had two or three break points in the last set and she had the same. She grabbed her opportunity; I didn’t grab mine.”

Since last October, Sabalenka has gone 33-6 and won four WTA titles – indoors, outdoors, hardcourt and now clay. In back-to-back tournaments on red clay, she’s been to two finals and won one.

“I’m not really scared of this surface any more,” Sabalenka declared afterwards. “Before I was too much thinking about the clay court, that this is surface not for me, that it’s really tough to play on this surface, it’s long rallies. I was really too much thinking about this. This year I relaxed and just play my game. I worked a lot on the movement, so I prepare myself really well for the clay court.”

Sabalenka finished with nine aces and won 70 percent (38 of 54) of her first-serve points and backed it with a healthy 52 percent success (13 of 25) on her second-serve points. She converted five of eight break points against Barty and outpointed her 82-71.

“I think what I did really well here, I stayed focused from the beginning till the end. I was putting her under the pressure, especially in the end of the third set. In those key moments I was a little bit more aggressive. That’s what really helped me to win this match.”

Czech duo win their seventh WTA doubles title

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won their seventh WTA doubles title together and second of the season with their 6-4, 6-3 victory over Gabriela Dabrowski and Demi Schuurs, who were teaming for the first time.

The sublime final between the No. 2 seeds from the Czech Republic pair and the Canadian/Dutch duo, seeded third, was both entertaining and athletic. After the Czechs won the first set 6-4, they went to work in the second set of the one hour and 19-minute math and from 3-all took control.

Krejcikova finished an eight-shot rally with a forehand winner to break and go ahead 4-3 from which they would not trail again. The Czech duo backed up the break on Sinakova’s serve by winning a 40-40 deciding point to go ahead 5-3. Then, they set up match point on Dabrowski’s service game when the Canadian netted a return to end the fifth shot of the penultimate rally. On match point, Krejcikova hit a deep forehand return that Dabrowski returned wide to end the match.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, who dropped just one set during the tournament, outpointed Dabrowski and Schuurs 66-43, winning 32 points on serve and 34 on return. They hit 22 winners and committed just nine unforced errors while also converting six of 11 break points en route to the title victory.

“We were aggressive, we were just playing really well,” Siniakova said, quoted by the WTA website. “This final was a little bit tricky because it was windy … but I think we were just trying to stay focused, fight every point, and we were good as a team.”

Earlier this year, Krejcikova and Siniakova won the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne and also reached the Australian Open final. Three years ago, they teamed to win the 2018 French Open and Wimbledon titles. Saturday’s victory in Madrid was the 10th WTA doubles title for Siniakova and eighth for Krejcikova.

“I think we are playing well on every surface,” Krejcikova said. “The bigger tournaments that we [play], it’s more prestige, we just want to push ourselves to the limit and do our very, very best.”