It’s time for the Madrid-Rome double, beginning with the Mutua Madrid Open. Madrid is ranked as the more lucrative of the two events, but personally, I have always favoured Rome. The main stadium in Madrid, La Caja Mágica, is pretty ghastly and being at altitude, the clay plays differently to Rome and Roland Garros, thus not being the most accurate indicator in terms of form going into Paris. The draw is stacked with no byes and therefore, some huge early clashes. The qualifying draw was equally impressive and will throw out some very dangerous players, many of who have been in good form over the last couple of weeks. Let’s take a look at the draw…
Note – This preview was edited on Saturday evening to take account of the qualifier placements and update the list of 1st round predictions after each section.
FIRST QUARTER: S.Williams (1) v P.Kvitova (5)
Serena Williams makes her first return to action after a mystifying loss to Jana Cepelova, 6-4 6-4 in Charleston. Serena had just won Miami and complained of physical fatigue. It’s been over a month since that loss and I would expect her to be ready to go on the red clay where she remains unbeaten since the Razzano loss in 2012. Her first match of the week will be against Belinda Bencic; make note that the qualifiers this week are more than respectable and this will be a very tricky start for Serena. Bencic defeated Camila Giorgi in the final qualifying round and is showing a tremendous amount of promise in her ventures on the WTA tour.
Looking deeper into Serena’s draw, her third round opponent is projected to be Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard has looked in fine form on the clay, making the quarters in Stuttgart and the final in Oeiras. She pulled out of her quarter-final in Stuttgart with a wrist injury, but showed no ill effects of that in Portugal where she won her first WTA tiitle, blazing through the draw, losing just 14 games on her way to the final and even scoring a double bagel win along the way.
There are some brilliant first round matches in this draw and it’s hardly a surprise with Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams the only notable withdrawals. One of the best showdowns early on will be Flavia Pennetta going up against Lucie Safarova. The Czech player, who had a disappointing loss in Oeiras, holds a 3-1 head-to-head lead over Pennetta and has done well at this event in the past, making quarters in 2012 and semis in 2011. Pennetta on the other hand, has only ever won one match in four appearances. I’m clutching at straws because this is a tough first round match-up, but I like Lucie’s chances. I have developed a soft spot for Safarova this year and watched some of her matches where she has played extremely well without having the mentality to get across the finish line. The equally irratic, Petra Kvitova is the highest seed in this section and will play Sorana Cirstea in the first round. This match should feature an equal balance of magnificient winners and groundstrokes hitting the back fence. In my opinion, the winner of Pennetta-Safarova will make the quarters.
1st Round Predictions: Serena d. Bencic in 2 tight sets, Peng d. Nara in 2 tight sets, Kanepi d. Riske in 2 sets, Suarez Navarro d. Meusburger in 2 sets, Safarova d. Pennetta in 3 tight sets, Beck d. Rybarikova in 2 sets, Lepchenko d. Medina Garrigues in 3 sets and Kvitova d. Cirstea in 3 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: S.Williams v Safarova
SECOND QUARTER: S.Halep (4) v J.Jankovic (6)
Many people have been touting huge things for Simona Halep during this clay court season. Her first match in Stuttgart was a loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in two tight sets. After Kuznetsova made the final in Oeiras, that loss doesn’t look particularly disappointing. In a draw that is full of dangers, Halep has done reasonably well. She takes on Julia Goerges in the first round and will play Lara Arruabarrena or Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round. The first seed she could meet is Sabine Lisicki. The Wimbledon champion just cannot seem to gain any momentum this year although she does at least look to be healthy right now. She plays Karolina Pliskova in the first round and I am worried about her during the next two weeks.
Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic squared off in Stuttgart and it’s very possible the pair could meet in Madrid too. Both have potentially testing openers against promising teens; Ivanovic will play Madison Keys, meanwhile Jankovic takes on Elina Svitolina, who she defeated comfortably in Brisbane earlier this year. I’d fancy both Serbs to come through where they are projected to meet in the third round.
1st Round Predictions: Halep d. Goerges in 3 sets, Arruabarrena d. Pironkova in 2 sets, Pliskova d. Lisicki in 3 sets, Ivanovic d. Keys in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy), Jovanovski d. Knapp in 3 sets, Torro-Flor d. Pavlyuchenkova in 3 sets and Jankovic d. Svitolina in 2 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Halep v Ivanovic
THIRD QUARTER: A.Kerber (7) v A.Radwanska (3)
The third quarter where Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska are the headline acts, is a beast to call. Kerber opens against the toughest of the qualifiers, Caroline Garcia. The Frenchwoman won her first WTA title in Bogota and then almost single-handedly helped France beat USA in the Fed Cup a few weekends ago. Maria Kirilenko is a potential second round opponent for Kerber, but the world number 35 has played very little tennis this year. Clay loving, Sara Errani is also in this section and has a potentially gruelling opening match with Andrea Petkovic. I have a feeling this could be brutal. I apologise to Errani fans because I always go against her, but my immediate instinct was Petko. In the German player’s favour, she has beaten Errani before in a match that happened to take place in Madrid.
Agnieszka Radwanska finds herself in a tough-as-nails section that she would do marvellously well to come out of. Radwanska’s first round is probably the star attraction as she takes on the WTA’s favourite darling, Eugenie Bouchard. In fact, the website has displayed Radwanska v Bouchard as “breaking news” all this evening.
Radwanska and Bouchard played at the Hopman Cup earlier this year where Bouchard produced an encouragingly gritty display to force the Pole to three sets. Radwanska lost in the second round to Laura Robson in Madrid last year and generally, it’s not been one of her strongest tournaments. The winner of Radwanska-Bouchard will meet Svetlana Kuznetsova or Alize Cornet. I’ve already discussed Kuznetsova, but Cornet is on an equally fantastic run. The Frenchwoman hasn’t played since Fed Cup and winning the title in Katowice where she beat Radwanska in the semi-finals. Her form this year has been consistent, but she’s also scored some huge wins along the way. If Cornet is back to full fitness, I think she will make some huge waves during this clay court season and she’s my one, perhaps slightly wild pick for this tournament. Just go with it…
1st Round Predictions: Kerber d. Garcia in 3 tight sets *tough, tough, tough one to call*, Vesnina d. Schiavone in 2 tight sets, Petkovic d. Errani in 3 tight sets, Wozniacki d. Makarova in 2 tight sets, Hantuchova d. Vinci in 3 rollercoaster sets, Cornet d. Kuznetsova in 3 dramatic sets and Bouchard d. Radwanska in 3 sets *that’s alot of three setters haha*
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Kerber v Cornet
FOURTH QUARTER: M.Sharapova (8) v Li Na (2)
Maria Sharapova steadied her season in Stuttgart as she clung onto her place in the top ten, defeating Agnieszka Radwanska, Sara Errani and Ana Ivanovic to secure the title for the third consecutive year. It’s hard to look past Sharapova as, Serena aside, the most consistent player on clay for the last couple of years. The huge amount of ranking points to defend continues this week as she made the finals last year. Her draw is so-so; first up is Klara Koukalova, who she has played four times in the past two years. When she won the title in Roland Garros, Koukalova was her toughest match in the two weeks so she will be wary of the threat that the Czech player poses.
The in-form, Dominika Cibulkova is also in this section and has drawn a stinker playing Sam Stosur in the first round. Stosur is on a dire run of form; however the Aussie has won all three previous encounters with Cibulkova and can take control with her heavy kick serve on this surface. When the pair played in the Roland Garros quarter-finals in 2012, I went for Cibulkova to win. I watched the match and cursed myself for being so stupid! Admittedly, the pair have been going in different directions since that last match but I still favour Sam.
The final section of the draw is bolstered by Li Na. The Chinese world number two reportedly pulled out of Stuttgart with a knee injury but is back for the third Premier Mandatory of the year. Out of the eight mini sections in this draw, this looked to be the weakest, particularly with a handful of qualifiers. The other seed in this section is none other than Sloane Stephens. The American has drawn her fair share of favourable draws this year, many of which she has failed to take advantage of. She will play Monica Niculescu in the first round. It’s really difficult to gauge how Sloane will perform in this one, but based on her recent exploits on the tour it won’t be pretty.
1st Round Predictions: Sharapova d. Koukalova in 2 sets, Davis d. McHale in 3 sets, Muguruza d. Soler-Espinosa in 2 sets, Stosur d. Cibulkova in 3 sets, Niculescu d. Stephens in 3 sets, Cetkovska d. Voegele in 3 sets and Li d. Flipkens in 2 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Sharapova v Li
Moo’s Final Prediction: Serena d. Sharapova
I feel a little predictable going for a Serena v Sharapova final, but it’s honestly how I feel. Serena will be well rested and proved herself on the clay last year. Sharapova looks in much better form and the big match is likely to come in the quarters against Li. I’ve never enjoyed their matches but if that were to happen, I think it would be a brilliant contest. The winner would be a huge favourite to make the final. Although I have gone for Serena, I really don’t think she will have enough in the tank to do the Madrid-Rome double like last year. I’m not as confident about Serena winning as I normally am, but Charleston aside, she did win Miami in a Grand-Slam level field. Away from Serena and Sharapova, Ivanovic has a fine draw and could easily defend her semi-final points. The third quarter could be anyone, but I like Kerber’s chances with Radwanska drawing a killer draw.
When qualifiers are added, I will add them to the first round predictions. Please vote in the poll!