2021 WTA Madrid Previews

Madrid Final Preview

(1) Ash Barty vs. (5) Aryna Sabalenka: Barty and Sabalenka will reprise their head-to-head for the third time in five weeks and for the second consecutive time in a final. Barty has won both their 2021 meetings in Miami (6-4 6-7(5) 6-3) and Stuttgart (3-6 6-0 6-3). Both have gone the distance, both have seen Sabalenka with some kind of physical ailment in the third set and both have seen Barty ruthless in closing out the wins.

Sabalenka has been in absolutely devastating form in Madrid, dropping just 18 games in five matches and losing no more than three games in any of the 10 sets she has played. Barty’s route has had more obstacles with two sets dropped, but she’s also had the bigger wins over the likes of Swiatek and Kvitova, doing it all with a sense of calm.

Barty has been so smart, so intelligent, so serene and utilising all of her assets on the clay. She demonstrated in the Stuttgart final that she can go to Plan B and get Sabalenka out of her happy funk. Sabalenka has been brilliant this week, managing to be both aggressive and precise. I’m hoping that she can be healthy for this clash. In their two previous meetings, I went for Sabalenka. Third time lucky? Why not 😂 Sabalenka was my TDC champion so while my brain is shouting at me that Barty will find a way, i’m stubbornly sticking with Saba.

Madrid Thursday SF Previews

(1) Ash Barty vs. Paula Badosa: This will be a rematch from Charleston a few weeks back where Badosa beat Barty, 6-4 6-3. Take nothing away from Badosa in that one as she played a great match and was clutch on break points. I didn’t think Barty was quite herself and I wondered if she was fully tuned in having won Miami the prior week. Really impressed with how Badosa has backed herself at this tournament. She’ll have the confidence from her previous win over Barty and should have plenty of home support. Still, i’m going for Ash because she has looked so assured this tournament and has been utilising all assets and court craft on the red clay.

(5) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Pavs is having a fantastic week, her best of the year, with four top 25 wins over Keys, Pliskova, Brady and Muchova. Sabalenka has dropped just 13 games in four matches and looks in devastating form. Both looking good! Pavs beat Sabalenka in their only previous meeting, 3-6 6-3 7-5 in Toronto in 2019. Pavs is striking the ball beautifully but Sabalenka is next level right now. I’m going for Saba to reach the final. 

Madrid Wednesday QF Previews

(1) Ash Barty vs. (9) Petra Kvitova: Ash-Petra matches just fill my heart with joy because they have an unwavering respect for each other. I think both had noteworthy wins on Tuesday. Barty delivered yet another smart and focused display to defeat Swiatek in straights. Kvitova held her nerve to hold off a resurgent Kudermetova. The serve was key for both players in getting through those matches.

Kvitova leads Barty, 5-4 in their head-to-head. Barty won a streak of four straight matches in 2019 and 2020 but it was Kvitova who won their most recent meeting in Doha just before the pandemic hit, 6-4 2-6 6-4. From my vague memories, I think it was a really good match. I just realised I actually had Barty over Swiatek in my TDC which is not as i’d advertised below 😂. I did though have Kvitova over Barty in this quarter. I expected Barty to run out steam at some point and i’ve been trained over time to expect different champions every week on the WTA. It’s so rare for one player to dominate from tournament to tournament. Barty’s consistency and ability to bring such a high base level to every match is beyond impressive. I’m going to stick with Kvitova who tends to get up for big matches. I think that the Kudermetova match was huge for Petra and the Madrid conditions are perfect for her.

(8) Belinda Bencic vs. Paula Badosa: A big question mark over this one as Badosa wasn’t 100% physically in her rip-roaring 6-7(0) 7-6(3) 6-0 victory over Anastasija Sevastova. If she’s not bothered by the leg/hip injury then she’s probably the favourite. The pair played in Charleston in a bizarre match where Badosa dominated proceedings, blew the second set, but cruised through the decider to win, 6-2 6-7(2) 6-1. I think Bencic is in a much better place from that tournament and the three set win over Pera in the second round where she was on the brink was surely a big confidence boost. Bencic not to be written off despite expectations generally being lower on clay.

(5) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (13) Elise Mertens: A big breakthrough win for Mertens to beat Halep on clay from a set and a break down and then a break down in the decider. Another challenge awaits – can Mertens upset an in-form big hitter? Sabalenka has looked in awesome form all week and it’s hard to ignore how she has tore through her draw. Sabalenka for the win.

Karolina Muchova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: A really tough turnaround for Muchova who finished close to Midnight last night and is then back on court at 3:30pm on Wednesday. I was concerned to see her possibly feel her ab in the second set of her match with Sakkari. I hope she won’t push it if she’s feeling something. 

Madrid Tuesday R3 Previews

(16) Maria Sakkari vs. Karolina Muchova: Two players who are on my list of dark horses for Rolly G meet in the third round of Madrid. Sakkari followed up a shaky opening round win over Amanda Anisimova with a much more convincing display against Kontaveit. Winning ugly is a thing and Sakkari is really shining. Muchova has now beaten the world #1 and #2 this year after a three set win over Osaka. A tactical masterclass.

The pair have never played before on the WTA tour although they have met at a $100k in Sharm El Sheikh where Sakkari won, 6-4 6-1. As much as i’m sold on Muchova, I’m going for Sakkari in this one. I think the win over Osaka is a big one to back up and Muchova spoke in press about not being 100% after the injury yet. I think Sakkari is a bit more match tough right now.

(3) Simona Halep vs. (13) Elise Mertens: In their three previous encounters on clay, Halep hasn’t dropped a set to Mertens. I think Mertens is steadily progressing. Her defence in her last match against Rybakina was outrageous and she’s become so tough to beat. Hard to look past their recent meetings. I’d go for Halep but I could see Mertens nicking a set and really making this competitive.

(5) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Jessica Pegula: Sabalenka has hit 77 winners in her first two victories in Madrid. That’s a lot of winners. I haven’t seen anything of Pegula on clay yet. I don’t know if we can read into their two previous meetings? Pegula beat Sabalenka in Cincy-New York on hard court, 6-2 2-6 6-3 and then Sabalenka eased past Pegula in Paris on clay, 6-3 6-1. A first round win for Pegula over Cirstea, the recent Istanbul champ, was definitely encouraging. I’m going for my Madrid champ Sabalenka to keep on raining down the winners.

(11) Jen Brady vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Ring those bells for a first career meeting. Pavs quietly took out Ka. Pliskova for her best win of the year after a mostly indifferent start to 2021. Brady snapped her losing streak against Venus in the first round and then powered past Ostapenko for the loss of three games. I really like Brady’s game on the clay. She can use the kicker and has the heavy forehand. I think she’s less likely to waver of the pair so backing Brady in this one.

Madrid Monday R3 Previews

(1) Ash Barty vs. (14) Iga Swiatek: Ring the bells! RING THE BELLS! The 2019 and 2020 Roland Garros champs will square off for the first time and I’m quite excited about it. Something will have to give on Monday as both are riding significant winning streaks on the red clay. Swiatek has won her last nine, Barty won her last 13!

Barty dropped a set in her second round match against Tamara Zidansek. It was the seventh time this year where Barty has won the first set, fell away in the second, but recovered to win in three sets. Swiatek has dropped just eight games in her opening two matches in Madrid. I didn’t think she was at her best against Siegemund but she did more than enough to prevail.

Obviously no data points to go on with this match-up. I’m just fascinated to see how their games stack up against each other! My expectations are quite high which always makes me wary. I’ve noted that Swiatek has been overrawed in first meetings before with some of the top players on tour. Halep, Muguruza spring to mind. I don’t think Barty will blow Swiatek off the court so she should have time to find her feet. I actually went for Swiatek over Barty in my TDC but I do think Ash will get up for this one.

(9) Petra Kvitova vs. Veronika Kudermetova: Keep them bells ringing as we have another first time meeting. I’m still dwelling a bit on Kvitova’s loss in Stuttgart to Elina Svitolina from two match points up. It seems like Kvitova has moved on so so do I as she produced a quality display to beat Kerber in the second round where she played superbly in the critical moments. Kudermetova is a player in form and has won 11 of her last 12 matches. Kudermetova’s mentality is very impressive and it counts for so much in tennis these days. Definitely wary of the threat that Kudermetova poses. Super intrigued by this one. I guess I am still sticking with the Petra.

(8) Belinda Bencic vs. Ons Jabeur: Well bugger me, another first time meeting! Both players rallied impressively from a set down to win their second round matches. I think it’s quite a big match for both players with a WTA 1000 QF on the line. Jabeur has been pretty consistent this year but is still missing that big announcing breakthrough run. It felt like it was coming at Charleston 1 & 2 but didn’t quite materialise despite reaching the semis and final respectively. Bencic hasn’t quite found her range since the pandemic and isn’t at her best on clay so this would be a big deal. Not a clue who wins. Only thing I feel quite certain about is it will go three sets!

Paula Badosa vs. Anastasija Sevastova: This is the only one of Monday’s third rounders to have happened before with Badosa winning in the first week of the year in Abu Dhabi, 6-2 5-7 6-2. I was really taken with how Badosa front ran the third set of her second rounder against Teichmann so I’m interested to see if she can continue to back herself in what is a great opportunity on paper.

Madrid Sunday R2 Previews

(2) Naomi Osaka vs. Karolina Muchova: Fond memories of the last time Osaka and Muchova played each other in Cincy-New York. It was one of my favourite matches of 2020 (close to cracking my top 10) and Muchova gave Osaka a stern test. Muchova hasn’t played much since Melbourne because of an abdominal tear but I still think this is a very challenging match for Osaka. Big step-up from the first round. I guess i’d still stick with Osaka but definitely tag this with an upset alert.

(12) Victoria Azarenka vs. Jessica Pegula: Pegula beat an ailing Azarenka in Melbourne en route to a first ever Slam quarter-final. Azarenka will be relishing the chance to play Pegula again. I’m unsure of Pegula’s comfortability on clay although an opening round win over recent Istanbul champ, Sorana Cirstea was certainly encouraging. I really don’t have a clue how this one will pan out which makes it all the more intriguing.

(16) Maria Sakkari vs. Anett Kontaveit: This will be a ninth (!) meeting between Sakkari and Kontaveit in the last five years. The pair last played at the Grampians Trophy where Kontaveit won in a third set Champion’s tiebreak. It was the only time they’ve ever split sets before which surprises me as they are 4-4 in the H2H so it’s always been evenly contested. Kontaveit has just split with Nigel Sears which brings an end to one of the longest coaching partnerships on tour. Tough one to call. I think i’d go Sakkari after her resilient opener where she was far from her best but found a way to win.

Madrid Saturday R2 Previews

(9) Petra Kvitova vs. Angelique Kerber: 2021 just keeps on giving in delivering some of the finest match-ups that the WTA has to offer. Kvitova-Kerber is the ultimate clash in game styles and has made three appearances in my best matches countdown. Of my top five match-ups of all time since starting the blog, this will be the third one to happen already in 2021! Kvitova leads the head-to-head, 7-6 and Kerber leads their match-up on clay, 3-2. The pair last played each other in Sydney in 2019 where Kvitova win, 6-4 6-1.

Kerber’s form in Melbs, Doha and Dubai was rather concerning. Since then, she’s been steadily improving through Miami, Stuttgart and then here in Madrid where a first round win over Vondrousova was her best display of the year. Kerber served well and was really aggressive with the forehand. Madrid hasn’t been a happy hunting ground but I would have thought that the altitude in Madrid should be a boost. Kvitova’s record in Madrid is rather majestic, winning 32 of 39 matches, which includes three runs to the title.

Kerber will have to serve well to stand a chance because Kvitova will attack any short second serves. Kvitova is rightfully the clear favourite and I’d probably pick Petra as she is my TDC finalist in Madrid. I’m definitely thinking more that Kerber could do something here as I do think there is some vulnerability around Petra from that tough loss in Stuttgart to Svitolina.

(14) Iga Swiatek vs. Laura Siegemund: A hipster’s paradise. Wonder if Swiatek could get disturbed by Siegemund’s antics? Iga should be too good.

Ons Jabeur vs. Sloane Stephens: Surprised that Jabeur is the clear favourite in this match with the bookmakers? The pair have split their previous meetings. I would have said 50-50, perhaps even slightly on Sloane’s side.

Madrid Friday R1 Previews

(6) Karolina Pliskova vs. Coco Gauff: Gauff will tick off playing against another top ten player having already played six of the world’s top ten. Pliskova reached the quarters in Stuttgart and had two gutsy three set wins. She had her chances to take out Barty but failed to serve out the match. I’m still not convinced by her form. The serve though did seem to be a bit more effective in Stuttgart than recent weeks. I think Gauff is having a pretty solid year, it’s just not in line with the expectation. Not really sure what to expect from this match. I’d probably stick with Pliskova assuming she can get her serve going.

(11) Jen Brady vs. Venus Williams: This will be the first time Brady plays either of the Williams sisters. I’m surprised to see Venus here in Madrid. Brady’s lost her last four matches but I tend to think she’s going to turn it around soon. I thought she played a decent match against a supremely clutch Kvitova in Stuttgart and she ended the week on a high by winning the doubles title with Barty. My only question mark is if Brady will be phased by Venus’s aura and can hold it together mentally.

(16) Maria Sakkari vs. Amanda Anisimova: This match reminds me of a prediction fail when I had Anisimova as my finalist at last year’s US Open which included beating Sakkari en route. Not one of my finest! I’ve definitely simmered on Anisimova. I still think she’s dangerous and has the ability to knock anyone off the court on her day. Sakkari’s added some firepower to her game in the past year so it won’t be all about Anisimova’s level. Not brave enough to call an upset.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Madison Keys: Neither in good form with Pavs and Keys combining for just seven wins this year. It’s one of many 50-50 first round clashes. Keys leads the head-to-head, 2-1 and won their most recent match in Rome three years ago, 6-4 6-1. I’ll go with instinct on this one. I feel like Keys will turn it around sooner rather than later.

Madrid Thursday R1 Previews

(10) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Sloane Stephens: The pair have split their four previous meetings and all have been decided in straight sets with 6-4 being the most competitive set. Stephens’s win over Tomljanovic in Charleston reminded me how good Sloane is. There’s definitely signs that Sloane has turned a corner but she still remains one of the most unpredictable players on tour. In stark contrast, Muguruza has arguably been the most consistent performer this year and been competing tremendously. Historically, Madrid has been a pretty dire tournament for Muguruza and she’s failed to make it past the third round in her eight previous appearances. I’m interested to see how Muguruza approaches this year’s edition. I wouldn’t be that surprised if Stephens causes an upset and this is how I feel about a lot of these first matches. Still leaning towards Muguruza.

(9) Petra Kvitova vs. Marie Bouzkova: Bouzkova actually won their only previous meeting in Cincy last year, outlasting Kvitova in the heat of New York with a quality display, 2-6 7-5 6-2. Kvitova thrives in the Madrid conditions where she is a three time former champion. I am interested to see how Kvitova rebounds from a crushing quarter-final loss to Svitolina in Stuttgart. She looked so sad (😭) at the end of that one and I hope it doesn’t have any lasting effects. I like my Bouzkova upset picks but Bouzkova has been quiet of late. Not feeling the upset vibes taking into account the conditions.

(1) Ash Barty vs. Shelby Rogers: This is becoming one of the most popular match-ups of the year with the pair set to play each for the fourth time in 2021. Barty has won all three previous meetings although two of them have gone the distance including their most recent meeting in Charleston where Barty won, 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4. If there’s any chance of Rogers breaking through for the upset then it will be taking on Barty cold in the first round. Still, i’m going for Ash.

Angelique Kerber vs. Marketa Vondrousova: Ring the bells for a first time meeting. There’s not much to say on the match-up and who will win with so few data points. I guess Vondrousova is more comfortable on the clay. Kerber has looked better in her last two tournaments. I’m just really looking forward to see how their games stack up against each other.

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter and Facebook.