Saturday’s Set Points: Kuznetsova’s best win since 2017, Azarenka & Barty through to R2 in Madrid

Saturday was a busy day of tennis with the finals in Prague and Rabat, as well as the start of main draw action at the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open which is where most of my focus was. Ten first round matches were played on Saturday and there are another 22 set for super Sunday! Read on for the highlights of Saturday’s tennis action including an assortment of match reviews from Madrid. More to come on Lucie’s farewell ceremony in Prague…

Match reviews 🎾

Ash Barty d. Daria Gavrilova, 6-1 6-2

Playing her first match on clay this year, Barty enjoyed a comfortable win against an out-of-sorts, Gavrilova. I really feel for Dasha right now who is having a rough year. I thought Gavrilova got into some nice positions and pushed Barty back, but was unable to take advantage of her opportunities when coming forward with both execution and footwork left wanting. Barty had bundles of opportunities on return with Gavrilova’s serve continuing to be the most vulnerable aspect of her game. Increasingly using the slice to unsettle Gavrilova, Barty secured the straight sets win in just 65 minutes.

Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Aryna Sabalenka, 7-5 6-4

Kuznetsova on clay is still a glorious watch. Showcasing her full repertoire of shots on a clay court, Kuznetsova beat a poor-serving, Sabalenka in straight sets. Kuznetsova, who came back from a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to a knee injury in Lugano, recorded her first top ten win since Wimbledon 2017.

For Sabalenka, she seemed to knuckle down after a error-strewn start by getting stuck into the rallies. The first serve and forehand are still a lethal combination. However, she was in and out, and unclutch in the opener as she failed to convert on numerous opportunities. And 16 double faults (!!!) is just not going to cut it. Sabalenka is not the free-flowing juggernaut that tore up the second half of 2018 and she seems somewhat tense and on edge. I’m sure she will turn it around at some point but I do worry for her come Eastbourne time when she will have to defend a huge number of ranking points for the rest of the year.

Victoria Azarenka d. Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 6-4

An under-the-weather, Azarenka produced a gritty display to see off Kasatkina in straight sets. This certainly wasn’t a classic and they both seemed to bring each other’s level down in the opener. The quality improved a tad in the second. It was clear Azarenka wasn’t feeling her best – she was coughing away and sounded terrible in her post-match interview! Azarenka was a bit impatient at times, going too close to the lines, but ultimately was more stable on serve and played the big points better at the end of a tight first set.

There were moments in the second set where Kasatkina was hitting the ball pretty well. However, it was just too inconsistent and she gave Azarenka too many free points, particularly on serve. I think that Dasha’s level is higher compared to the start of the year but she’s still obviously a long way off what she produced last year. I don’t have any expectations during this clay court season. Hopefully she can start to rebuild her confidence and game, and only then the results will follow. I agreed with what Sophie Amiach said in commentary about not focusing enough on her own game and strengths.

Petra Kvitova d. Sofia Kenin, 6-1 6-4

Petra Kvitova began her title defence in Madrid with a straight sets win over Kenin. Kvitova overwhelmed Kenin for a set and a half with the serve being the big difference. Kvitova was unstoppable behind the serve, finding her spots and particularly down the tee, while Kenin landed only 41% of first serves in. Kenin upped her first serve percentage in the second set and competed well. The American played a great return game to get back on level terms at 4-4. When it was needed, Kvitova stepped her game up again to win the final two games and book her place in the second round.

Kiki Bertens d. Katerina Siniakova, 6-3 6-2

Matching the loss of just five games, it was a successful evening for last year’s Madrid finalists as Bertens was a comfortable winner over an increasingly ragged, Siniakova. The Czech player had an inspired spell in the first set to get back on level terms as she produced a series of drop shots winners. Then, rather inexplicably, her game fell apart with two double faults in the next game. Siniakova never recovered, both her game and attitude careering off into the abyss, as a rock solid Bertens strolled to the finish line. It was another very contained performance from Bertens who was able to rely on her serve when it counted. Next up is Jelena Ostapenko in the first confirmed second round match of the tournament.

Stat watch 🔢

Playing her first match in nearly two months, Aliaksandra Sasnovich recovered from a bagel first set to knock out the number 14 seed, Anett Kontaveit. Sasnovich and bagels have a rather curious record this year. Sasnovich has been on the wrong end of eight bagel sets this year. Amazingly, this was the third time this year (!) that Sasnovich has been bagelled in the first set before going onto win the match (stats via Tennis Abstract).

Point of the day 👏

Over in Rabat, Maria Sakkari won her first WTA title from a set and a break down. Sakkari beat Konta, 2-6 6-4 6-1 with one of the best Championship points of the year so far.

Hot shot of the day 🔥

Sveta’s movement on the clay 👏.

LOL moment 🤣

Funny moment with Jill Teichmann and Karolina Muchova pre-Prague final. It was Teichmann who won her first WTA title and out of absolutely nowhere, beating Muchova in three sets, 7-6(5) 3-6 6-4. By virtue of the title, Teichmann is set to crack the world’s top 100 in next week’s rankings.

Recommended reading 📚

Enjoyed this piece on Dmitry Tursunov where he talked about his charge, Aryna Sabalenka, needing to focus more on the process rather than results.

Tomorrow’s OOP ⭐

It’s a jam-packed schedule in Madrid on Sunday and i’m very much looking forward to another day of tennis! Most interested by Muguruza-Martic and Pliskova-Yastremska.

Final thoughts 💖

Thinking of Bally.

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